Private Johnathan Lee is learning how to walk again.
His face is concentrated, his back ram-rod straight as he grips the bars either side of him, determined to balance on his new prosthetic leg, fitted just four days ago.
The lower half of his right leg was so badly damaged below the knee by a landmine in Afghanistan that it had to be amputated.
Now all the 25-year-old’s energy and concentration is focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and learning a new way of balancing to stay upright.
“It is painful,” he admits as he finishes the morning’s rehabilitation session at one of Headley Court’s gyms.
“You’ve got to get over that pain and you’ve got to walk in it. You can’t give up, because then you might as well just go home. There’s no point being here if you’re not willing to work hard.”
Pte Lee’s vehicle ran over the mine as he was on the way to deliver supplies to a frontline base in Helmand province.
It took two long hours before the de-miners and medical help were able to reach his convoy from the main British military base at Camp Bastion.
In the meantime, he injected himself with morphine to deaden the pain until help could reach him and his colleagues from the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.
Yet today, his one ambition is to return to Afghanistan when he has finished his rehabilitation at Headley Court.
“I feel I let them down by coming home early. It’s quite strange to think that, I know, but I just want to get back there in 2014 to try to redeem myself by completing a full tour.” And he gives a rare smile.
“I owe it something”
Pte Lee has taken hope from men such as Sergeant Stuart Pearson, from the 3rd Battalion the Parachute regiment.
Sgt Pearson is now back at work in the regimental shop at Colchester, despite losing the whole of his leg in Afghanistan to a landmine in 2007.
He is at Headley Court for follow-up treatment, and is currently training for a 340-mile bike ride for the charity Help for Heroes.
It is trying to raise £8m for a new swimming pool for Headley Court, as patients currently have to use the local public pool in Leatherhead. So far, the public has raised £3m.
“I’m trying to run and get myself on the bike as much as I can, to train for the Battlefield Bike Ride in May,” he says, adjusting his prosthetic leg so it is at the correct angle for pedalling.
“I’m determined to do it because the Help for Heroes charity is doing so much for Headley Court, and I got so much out of Headley Court that I feel I owe something to it.”
But should charity, rather than the government, be paying for a facility so clearly needed for Britain’s wounded servicemen and women? Sgt Pearson and the others will not be drawn on that.
The commanding officer, Wing Commander Steven Beaumont, insists Headley Court gets the budget it needs.
“We do get good funding,” he says. “We had the 30-bed ward annexe built last year, we’ve got the accommodation planned for this year, so there is money there and support from the government for what we do.”
At the moment, Headley Court is 80% full. The majority of patients being treated here are those who have been injured in motor accidents or other incidents.
Only 26 of the current in-patients are those very seriously or seriously injured in the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Among them is Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, who is back for further rehabilitation after being able to spend his first Christmas back at home.
In the prosthetic limb workshop downstairs, staffed by six RAF technicians and an NHS expert in prosthetics, are a new set of legs for Ben Parkinson.
“We have a lot more challenges in our work here. The average NHS patient needing a new limb is aged 65 or above,” says prosthetist Ian Jones.
“These are young men who want to be active again, to go across country, doing sports, running and cycling, and that’s driving the development of prosthetics. Their new legs also have to be able to bear the extra weight of a backpack and sometimes a weapon.”
As the patients upstairs get ready for their daily warm-up exercises in the main gym, those with legs amputated below the knee are teased for simply having a “scratch”, admits Sgt Pearson, with a wicked grin.
The 32-year-old has never done a 340-mile cycle ride in his life. Now he hopes to complete one with a prosthetic leg.
The men here are determined to battle their way back to fitness, and - for Pte Lee - perhaps even back to the front line.
Answer the following questions:
1. What does Jonathan Lee feel as he is learning how to walk again?
2. What is the difference between private and sergeant?
3. Why is Pte Lee trying to run and get himself on the bike as much as he can?
4. What do you think about the acts of the government in attitude to the injured?
5. What does Mr. Ian Jones say?
Grim Secrets of Pharaoh’s City
Evidence of the brutal lives endured by some ancient Egyptians to build the monuments of the Pharaohs has been uncovered by archaeologists.
Skeletal remains from a lost city in the middle of Egypt suggest many ordinary people died in their teenage years and lived a punishing lifestyle.
Many suffered from spinal injuries, poor nutrition and stunted growth. The remains were found at Amarna, a new capital built on the orders of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, 3500 years ago.
Hieroglyphs written at the time record that the Pharaoh, who was father of Tutankhamen, was driven to create a new city in honour of his favoured god, the Aten, with elaborate temples, palaces and tombs.
Along with his wife Nefertiti, he abandoned the capital Thebes, leaving the old gods and their priests behind and marched his people 200 miles north to an inhospitable desert plain beside the River Nile.
The city, housing up to 50000 people, was built in 15 years; but within a few years of the Pharaoh’s death, the city was abandoned, left to the wind and the sand.
For more than a century archaeologists looked in vain for any trace of Amarna’s dead.
But recently archaeologists from a British-based team made a breakthrough when they found human bones in the desert.
These were the first bones clearly identifiable as the workers who lived in the city; and they reveal the terrible price they paid to fulfill the Pharaoh’s dream.
“The bones reveal a darker side to life, a striking reversal of the image that Akhenaten promoted, of an escape to sunlight and nature,” says Professor Barry Kemp who is leading the excavations.
Painted murals found in the tombs of high officials from the time show offering-tables piled high with food. But the bones of the ordinary people who lived in the city reveal a different picture.
“The skeletons that we see are certainly not participating in that form of life,” says Professor Jerry Rose, of the University of Arkansas, US, whose anthropological team has been analysing the Amarna bones.
“Food is not abundant and certainly food is not of high nutritional quality. This is not the city of being-taken-care-of.”
The population of Amarna had the shortest stature ever recorded from Egypt’s past, but they would also have been worked hard on the Pharaoh’s ambitious plans for his new capital.
The temples and palaces required thousands of large stone blocks. Working in summer temperatures of 40°C, the workers would have had to chisel these out of the rock and transport them from the quarries to the city.
The bone remains show many workers suffered spinal and other injuries. “These people were working very hard at very young ages, carrying heavy loads,” says Professor Rose.
“The incidence of youthful death amongst the Amarna population was shockingly high by any standard.” Not many lived beyond 35. Two-thirds were dead by 20.
But even this backbreaking schedule may not be enough to explain the extreme death pattern at Amarna.
Even Akhanaten’s son, Tutankhamen, died aged just 20; and archaeologists are now beginning to believe that there might also have been an epidemic here.
This corroborates the historical records of Egypt’s principal enemy, the Hittites, which tell of the devastation of an epidemic caught from Egyptians captured in battle around the time of Tutankhamen’s reign.
Answer the following questions:
1. Have you ever heard of the Pharaoh’s city?
2. Would you like to visit a place like this?
3. What can you say about youthful death amongst the Amarna population?