Phillip Gillespie

Phillip, more commonly known as Barney, was 16 years old when he joined The Royal Irish Regiment in 2004. He deployed on his first tour of Afghanistan in 2006, and then again on a second tour in 2008. In 2010, despite being just 22 years old, he deployed as a section commander on his third tour of the country. Four months into the tour Barney stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) whilst out on a patrol. As a result of the explosion he lost his right leg. He says ‘there was a ferocious sound; I was blown off the ground and landed back on the device. My foot was completely gone; I could see the bone from my shin to my knee. Straight away I knew that life as I knew it had changed; will I walk again?  Will my girlfriend stay with me? How will my Dad cope?’

After being evacuated back to Camp Bastion, Barney needed three operations before being flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. He describes seeing his missing limb for the first time as ‘A horrifying sight. Every second, every minute, every day for two weeks I replayed the incident in my head but then decided what was the point? It’s not about what happened, it’s about moving forward. From then on it was all about rehabilitation, physio and prosthetic legs. You realize that it wasn’t your fault, you were in a war zone, things like this happen’.

Phillip Gillespie at home
The Soldiers’ Charity helped adapt Phillip’s home to make it easier to use on his prosthetic leg

He then transferred to the DMRC Headley Court and within two weeks was learning to walk on a prosthetic leg. Over the next year physiotherapy was Barney’s priority but he faced spending Christmas alone in hospital when he urgently needed another operation. His partner Kirsty couldn’t afford to travel from Ballymena to Wiltshire to be with him so The Soldiers’ Charity stepped in with a grant to cover her travel and subsistence costs. We then provided further funding so his home could be adapted to his disability. A grant allowed external work to be carried out on his uneven pebble driveway thus making smooth tarmac so it was wheelchair accessible, and could be safely walked upon in a prosthetic. Barney says ‘The Soldiers’ Charity are unsung heroes, they just do the work and get on with the job quickly and quietly without any limelight or praise. The key thing for me is the aftercare that they provide, whether support once home from hospital or for the older generation. You know that they’ll always be there, just ticking away quietly’.

The key thing for me is the aftercare that The Soldiers’ Charity provide, whether support once home from hospital or for the older generation. You know that they’ll always be there.’

In January 2013, Barney completed the Dakar Rally, one of the most gruelling motorsport endurance races in the world. He did this along with fellow wounded military personnel as part of the Race2Recovery team and drove more than 5,000 miles in 15 days across some of the toughest terrain imaginable.

When asked what he took away from the experience he told us ‘The one thing for me personally is that injury and disability doesn’t stop you, it doesn’t stop you from doing anything, it just makes it a little bit harder. You just have to think about it a little bit more, and plan it a little bit harder, and want it a little bit more, but it doesn’t stop you, it definitely doesn’t stop you doing anything at all’.

Barney has now been medically discharged from the Army and is now working as an adventure training instructor.