Now, I’M saving Private Graham
- 14 Aug 2009
- Daily Mirror Back to Portfolio
Now, I’M saving Private Graham
Hero tells why he quit Army after hell of Helmand
Dramatic pictures of Davey Graham’s rescue from a ferocious Taliban firefight brought home the realities of war in Afghanistan.
“Saving Private Graham” read the Mirror headline, alongside pictures of Davey being stretchered to safety. It was exactly two years ago today that he was shot in a gunfight with insurgents.
Three bullets ripped out his intestines, and one lodged in his pelvis.
Twice declared dead in the helicopter, no one expected him to survive.
He was flown home to Birmingham and spent six days in a coma with his family has been keeping a bedside vigil. Today, Davey tells why he quit the Army rather than return to notorious Helmand province, where scores of young soldiers have died.
“It is called Helmand and it really is hell,” says Davey, who has been left with a 12in scar along his stomach. Following his recovery, Davey chose to remain with 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment. He served six months in London and a year in Belfast.
He says: “I integrated straight back into the platoon as though nothing had happened.”
But faced with the prospect of a third tour in Afghanistan, Davey, 23, decided to leave and take his chances in recession-hit UK.
“It was horrible,” he says from the Nottingham home he shares with Natasha, the childhood sweetheart he married.
“Every day you are fighting for your life and you really don’t know what the day is going to bring. One day it could be a bomb, or you could be fighting, or it could be quiet all day and then they suddenly attack you in the night. It is really hard.”
Despite the recent toll of deaths hitting the headlines, Davey doesn’t think the public can ever really understand “how bad it is or what it is like out there”. He says: “You can’t understand until you have been there. There are a lot of Taliban and a lot of them are not Afghan people. A lot are from Pakistan. Some are mujahideen who have been fighting for 40 years. You are fighting experienced, hardcore veterans, not a load of farmers.”
For his trouble, Davey – who joined up at 17 and spent six years serving his country – was even branded a coward. He says: “Me and a mate were getting ready to leave, getting our papers together, when an officer asked what we were doing.
“He had never done a tour and does not have any idea what it is like out there. I told him we were leaving and he said, ‘I will send you some white feathers’.”
Although Davey was furious, he realised it was not worth getting into trouble for.
“He will get an eye-opener when he gets there,” he adds.
“That was the only time something like that happened. Ninety per cent of people say, ‘You’ve done your bit.’ “Because of my injuries, the fact that I didn’t return without a scratch, they understand.”
Surgeons say Davey is likely to get digestive problems when he is older after two fifths of his intestines were removed.
But he feels physically fit, although mental scars remain.
He says: “I go for a long period where it won’t bother me, then something close to my heart, for example a mate I know may die, and it brings it all back, and this will trigger nightmares.”
Davey and Natasha now hope to start a family and Davey felt the time was right to move on.
He planned to stay in the Army for 10 years to make the most of the training and skills to take to Civvy Street. But he says getting shot “completely changed my mind about what the Army was”.
He recalls: “I didn’t trust my own mind. I didn’t know how I was going to react when I got there. I wasn’t ready to go back.
“I thought I am not just going to sit in camp doing nothing, I might as well get out and make my own life, then I can control it more.”
Nine troops in his regiment were killed during Davey’s second tour in Afghanistan, and in May this year, his close childhood friend, Lance Corporal Kieron Hill, 20, was also killed.
Davey says: “I was gutted. I knew his family, they were quite close, and I went around to see them straight away. I tried to comfort them as best as I could and answer any questions they had.”
Asked whether he thought that could have been him, Davey shakes his head.
“Every situation is different,” he says. “No one else will go through my situation.
When I hear someone has been injured and it is really bad, I wonder if he will make it or if he will pass away later on.”
Recalling the moment he was shot, Davey says everything went into slow motion like in an action movie.
He says: “When you see Hollywood movies with Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis and the action is going really slow, that is how my brain and body felt.”
But nobody thinks that will happen to them when they go on tour, he adds.
He says: “You think how many guys you go out there with and how many guys are out there already and you think, ‘What are the odds of it happening to me?’ “It was a big shock, but when you are out there you can’t think, ‘Am I going to get shot or am I going to die?’, because then you start lowering morale.
“You always look for a confidence boost and aim to keep those around you going. If you start to think of getting killed and getting shot, it will eat away at you slowly and it is a long time out there.
“Six months fly by when you are in England, but when you are out there each day is a long day.” Davey says he respects the decision of those soldiers who are injured and who choose to return to Afghanistan, but he adds: “They would probably treat it differently to how I did because I could see myself having a different life when I got out.”
Care assistant Natasha, 23, is relieved to have Davey home.
She has known Davey since he was 16 and says: “I told him that if he wanted to go back I would support him, but I am glad that he didn’t.
“If he had gone back to Afghanistan I would have been terrified in case it happened again or even something worse.”
Finding work in the middle of a recession has not been easy for Davey so far.
“As soon as I got out I started applying for jobs,” he explains.
“In the Army, they teach you a lot of skills and build you up saying that when you get out people will snap you up with all your skills, but with the recession you are just a normal person in this pool of people who haven’t got a job.
“You don’t really stick out at all, you are trying to compete with people who have experience.”
Meanwhile, his award of £70,000 compensation has helped him and Natasha set up home. Davey also receives a pension of £750 a month and says he couldn’t ask for “any more than I have got, I am happy with what I have got”.
And he says he will always look back on his Army years with pride.
“It has made me a better person, I learned so many life skills. I have so much experience and memories from the last six years, I don’t regret it at all.”
Davey is currently volunteering twice a week as a trainer with a local cadet attachment of 12 to 18-year-olds.
His 16-year-old sister Courtney, inspired by her big brother’s experiences, now intends to join the Navy as a nurse.
And Davey will surely one day be as proud of her as she is of him now. He says: “It is a job that you are particularly trained for and one that not everyone can stick with or cope with, so deep down inside you really do feel proud of what you are doing.”
And, ever the joker of his regiment, he remains upbeat about his chances in the future.
He says: “I believe in fate. I have had it hard recently so maybe it is now my time to have some good luck.”