DADDY HURT ARM, HURT LEG.
[The words of a two-year-old
…This little boy’s haunting
description of the appalling injuries of his hero father, who lost an arm and
a leg in Iraq.
In this courageous interview, his mother reveals the
quiet dignity of the war’s forgotten victims.
January 16, 2006
Five month’s ago, explosives expert
Captain Peter Norton 43, lost an arm and a leg after a bomb blast in Iraq.
Warning his comrades not to come to his assistance, he risked death rather than
Here his wife Sue, a 34-year-old
archaeologist and former MoD civil servant, now mother to Tom, two, and, 11 month - old Toby, tells
FEMAIL of her determination to make a new family life with her husband at their
specially adapted home near Gloucester.
-DONG, ding-dong, I heard my two - year-old son Tom’s voice calling out as I
looked at the clock. It was 3am on
Monday, July 25, 2005. I remember
thinking Tom must be having a disturbed night again. It was hardly surprising -
he was missing his father, my husband Pete, and a bomb disposal expert for more
than three months.
Toby, our younger
son, lay sleeping in a cot beside me. He had recently started crawling. I hated
the thought that Pete had not been there to see his son do that. Tom wasn’t the
only one missing Pete. I loved and
missed him very much, and was finding it hard to look after the children on my
own for so long. I was grateful that my parents were staying to help out.
Now I heard Tom’s voice again, this
time more insistent. I realised with a shock he wasn’t dreaming but mimicking
the sound of the front door bell.
I jumped out of
bed, my heart pounding. Drawing back the blind I saw a man and a women, both in
military uniform, on the doorstep. A
visit at this time of the night could mean only one thing. Something must have
happened to Pete. My blood ran cold.
Grabbing Toby up
in my arms, I ran into Tom’s room. My
parents were already on the landing in their dressing gowns. Looking very
nervous. None of us needed to say anything.
We all knew what this might mean.
Handing Toby to my
mother, I ran downstairs. All I could keep thinking was: I’ve lost him. Oh God,
I’ve lost my husband.’ The thought was
unbearable. Pete and I had been married for ten years. We met when I was a civil servant with the
MoD. Pete had just been promoted to warrant officer.
We had a very
happy marriage and Pete was thrilled when we had our two beautiful little
boys. We hoped to settle down to a
peaceful family life in Cambridge together, but Pete was by now back with his
regiment, the 11th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment of the Royal
The country was at
war with Iraq and I knew it was only a matter of time before Pete might be
called on to go.
I tried not to
think about it and time passed .We celebrated Toby’s birth and still Pete had
not been sent. But then in March 2005
he told me he was going on a four- month term of duty.
officers like him; he said, since explosives, in particular secondary
incendiary devices - where a second bomb goes off while the first one is being
investigated - were now one of the worst threats to both soldiers and civilians
We’d heard on the
television about explosives that had killed Iraqi men women and children every
day, and although I was terrified about losing my husband, I knew he had an
important job to do in Iraq.
After he had gone
I cherished every letter or phone call I received. I desperately hung on to the knowledge that he was still OK.
Every night I watched the evening news with dread in my heart. ‘Please keep him
safe,’ I prayed.
Now I opened the
door to two military officers, in the early hours of the morning, I
thought: ‘Are they going to tell me
Pete is dead?’
They both insisted
I sat down before they said anything.
The man was holding a piece of white paper, a fax he said they had
received three hours earlier.
‘I’m sorry to tell
you this but ,Pete has been seriously injured,wounded’ he said.
Strangely, I felt
my heart flood with relief at his words. ‘Injured’ to me could be coped with,
got over. I felt we could recover from anything as a family. Just so long as
Pete was still alive.
I whispered, my mouth dry from anxiety.
investigating a bomb site three miles south of Baghdad. Two American soldiers
had been killed there and Pete was looking for forensic evidence.’
The man’s voice
went on . I felt as if I was listening to some horrific news on TV. Only this was about my husband. ‘He was part
of a team of coalition troops, including Americans and Australians, when he
stepped on a secondary device, two Iraqi shells wired to a pressure sensor.’
Now I could barely
go on listening to what was being said. But through the fog of terror, I
managed to concentrate.
Unbelievably it seemed that, in spite
of his horrific injuries, Pete had remained conscious throughout, shouting to
his comrades to stay away when they ran to help him in case there should be a
In the midst of my distress I felt
very proud when I heard this. It was so
typical of him to think of others’ lives before his own. As it turned out,
another device was finally found six hours later which would have cost more
lives had it gone off.
THE MAN read out the list, apparently
endless, of Pete’s injuries. ‘loss of
left leg,’ I heard, ‘left arm, severe
injury to the buttock and lower right leg…’
I must have gone
pale with shock as my mother and the women officer sitting next to me both
reached out to comfort me. As the list went on, I remember thinking:
‘How is it possible for Pete to have
so many injuries and still have survived?’
But I realised I
had to be practical. More than anything I wanted to see Pete, hold him and tell
him how much I loved him. ‘Where is he now? I asked.
‘In hospital in Germany. We can
arrange for you to go out there.’
My mind was
racing. I was still breast feeding Toby up to four times a day. Tom would be
able to stay here with my parents. But Toby would have to come on the plane
Both the officers were wonderfully
supportive, reassuring me that they would organise a passport for Toby who,
even at seven months old, would need one in order to be
allowed to leave and re-enter the
The officers told me I would be
contacted the following day about the arrangements. In the meantime, I would
also be informed about Pete’s condition.
After they left, I
lay awake for the rest of the night worrying myself sick about Pete. I decided to look no further ahead than the
next few days. It was all I I could cope with for now.
The next morning,
I was still in a trance-like state from shock as I went into my parents’
bedroom and asked was it a dream, Mum?’ My Mother looked sadly back at me,
shook her head and said:
‘No darling It
I felt exhausted
and shaky but I couldn’t allow myself to break down. I knew I had to be strong
for the children.
Over the next 48 hours I received
letters from several of Pete’s colleagues all paying tribute to his heroic
selflessness. I was very moved by these
and re-reading them helped me to stay positive. All I could keep thinking was:
‘At least he is alive.’
Two days later,
major Colin Morris arrived to collect Toby and me, taking us first to Newport
to collect Toby’s passport and then to London to meet my friend Sarah who had
kindly offered to come with us. From there, Major Morris drove us to Heathrow.
At Frankfurt we
were met by a military car and taken straight to the hospital to see Pete. I
was warned by hospital staff not to cry as this might distress Pete and
possibly delay his recovery. I remember thinking:
‘Oh please just let me see my
Toby was not
allowed in with me as Pete was suffering with an intestinal infection picked up
in Iraq. So suddenly I found myself in a surgical gown and gloves being led
into intensive care to see the husband I had not laid eyes on for three-and-half-long-months.
Suddenly, I was
looking at Pete, his next in a brace, covered in bandages, an intravenous drip
connected to his nose and mouth. I should have been shocked, but nothing
mattered except the overwhelming love that flooded through me.
I was happy to see
him alive that my eyes filled with tears of joy rather than sadness. I longed
to hug him properly, but knowing that would hurt him, I was forced to limit
myself to running my hands through his hair.
Even though Pete
could not answer me, the smile and love that shone in his eyes was enough. He
knew who I was and was clearly as happy to see me as I was to be reunited with
I was also
relieved to see that, although Pete’s injuries were undoubtly very severe, he
still had his left arm to the elbow, meaning fewer complications in getting
used to an artificial limb and regaining muscle strength. His left leg had had
to be amputated above the knee.
doctor later explained to me that there was no reason why Pete should not
eventually walk again, it was obviously going to take a long -time -at least a
year- and much willpower.
Pete was clearly
in a lot of pain and , over the ensuing months, was sustained with heavy doses
of painkillers. I reminded myself that Pete could have no better incentive to
recover than wanting to be an active father again to the boys he loved so much.
I stayed in Germany
for the next two nights, spending as much time with Pete as I could before
flying back to London. On the last day
the hospital staff allowed me to take Toby in, too. It was a wonderful moment.
Pete’s face simply lit up with joy at the sight of the baby son he had not seen
for so long.
Pete was flown to
Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham the following day. At the same time, Toby and
I got on a return flight to London, where we were met by Major Morris and taken
home to Tom and my parents.
Although I was beginning
to realise the problems that lay ahead, I felt I could cope with anything now
that I had seen Pete again. Major Morris had already assured me the Army would
do all it could to support us.
Before the injury,
Pete had been about to start an MSc course in Explosive Ordnance Engineering at
Shrivenham College in Wiltshire. Now we
would just have to wait and see how his recovery progressed. In the meantime,
we needed new accommodation, a house with wheelchair access and suitable
facilities for Pete’s eventual discharge from hospital.
Friends, including two US soldiers
who lost their legs in an explosion in Iraq the previous year, warned me the
prosthetics Pete might need were very expensive and that costs could run into
thousands of pounds.
would be those offered by the NHS. I made up my mind that Pete would have
whatever it took to get him mobile again.
I remembered his love of rugby, and how he used to enjoy horseplay with
the boys, and thought how tragic it was the boys that such a physical man should be injured in this way.
Still, I felt sure
that we could overcome this setback if we worked together as a family.
Later that weekend
I visited Pete in Birmingham and he was able to talk to me for the first time.
But then suddenly disorientated by all that had happened to him over the last
few weeks, Pete thought we were still in Iraq.
He began shouting at the nurses to
get me out of danger and became so angry that they asked me to leave. I was
really upset and when I tried visiting him again the following morning again he
flew into a panic.
Finally a few days
later, I asked a friend of his, a former colleague who had been with Pete in
Iraq, to reassure him that we were all safe. To my great relief, the next time
I saw my husband he was once again aware of his
surroundings and realised he was at last back in the UK.
OVER THE next few
months I visited Pete two or three times a week, always taking the children
with me. Being with the boys never failed to lift Pete’s spirits, as it did mine
to see my husband with both his sons again looking happy.
But, of course,
the boys were affected by their father’s injuries. Tom kept saying:
‘Daddy hurt arm…hurt leg
In time, PETE was
able to talk about the bomb going off.
Thankfully, he has no memory of the physical pain of losing his limbs.
But to this day he has nightmares.
inevitably been low moments for both of us, times when we would wonder how Pete
would be able to cope with his return to normal life as a husband and father.
Yet he’s remained so strong throughout his ordeal and even jokes:
‘My job cost me an arm and a
Pete is not political. Though he thinks we needed to get
rid of Saddam. I think the Government is covering up the real cost of the
conflict by releasing only the numbers of dead, rather than the overall number
is misleading for the public not to know about men like Pete, who have
sacrificed so much and whose lives and families have been shattered by tragedy.
We have to live
with the consequences, but the first thing is too get Pete as well and as
strong as possible. Though the consultant kept telling us it should not be long
before Pete could start physiotherapy, the wound to his right leg and buttock
is so severe that he suffers from repeated pressure sores, delaying healing
longer than had been hoped.
In the meantime
friends and family have rallied round, holding a sponsored walk in heavy bomb
disposal uniforms to help raise money. The Wales Rugby Team have also offered
to help, donating two signed rugby balls to be put up as a raffle prize.
the boys and I moved to a large detached house specially adapted with lift and
wheelchair accesss that the Army provided for us near Gloucester.
We still don’t know when Pete will be allowed
home for good, but we hope it will be soon. Theoretically, he should be able to
walk again. His arm and left leg are healing well and we are looking forward to
trying out the prosthetics.
Soon, I hope we can start looking
forward to the future again. It may not be the future we had planned for
ourselves, but It will be a happy one. As long as I have Pete and the boys, I
am convinced of that.
-bolding and underlining used]
Contributions (CHEQUES) made out to:
Pete’s ARM and Leg Fund
Can be sent to:
Major Colin Morris, HQ 43 (WY) Bde, Picton Barracks,
Bulford camp, Salisbury, Wilts
* * *
obtains almost half the COST of the
selling Army land - barracks-hospitals.July
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