Matt Fisher, 3 Rifles, 30
I was out on Op Herrick 11 in Afghanistan, in 2009, with 3rd Battalion The Rifles. We were in a terrible town called Sangin in Helmand Province, renowned for a lot of IEDs. It was Boxing Day, which wasn’t great – Christmas Day hadn’t been very good either – and we were out on patrol when we stopped in a compound to provide watch for another section. They were searching for possible enemy weapons caches nearby.
Suddenly, we came under fire and realised that we had to leave the compound, but the only way back was straight across an open field the way we’d come. Not ideal. It wasn’t heavy fire, but it was fire nonetheless. I was the first man out of the compound and I had a Vallon metal detector so I was clearing the route, which is obviously quite a slow process and not what you need when you’re being shot at.
I must have stepped literally into the path of a firing bullet, because I heard a crack – when you’re being shot at you hear a crack and a thump – and the thump, I presume, was in my foot. I think I realised pretty quickly that there was a lot of nerve damage, although I couldn’t immediately feel anything.
Then there was a slightly strange moment, looking back at a friend of mine in the doorway of the compound, when he said “have you just been shot?” “Yes, I think I have,” I replied. Then I fell over and realised I couldn’t take another step. I was pretty much pinned down out in the open being shot at.
The guys managed to get some fire down and then come out and drag me back into the compound where a medic had a look. She cut my boot off – I’ve still got it, actually – and promptly said “oh dear”. So she put the sock back on, strapped me up and they carried me on a stretcher until I could be picked up by a helicopter and taken back to Camp Bastion. I spent a couple of days there and then flew back to Birmingham, to Selly Oak hospital.
And that was the end of my army career – well, kind of. I was still in – I went to a rehabilitation unit and spent at least a year hopping about on and off crutches. I could walk but I had to have a wedge in my shoe: the bullet had smashed my heel bone so by the time they cut out what wasn’t any good any more, there wasn’t a lot left.
I was limping around for a while and then I decided – the foot needs to go. I made an appointment: the doctors were very good about not encouraging amputation. They always try to remain impartial. But I could tell they agreed with my decision. A lot of doctors had told me they could take a bit of muscle from here, a bit of bone from there and get me a foot I could walk on, but I said that’s no good, I need a foot that I can run on, a foot that I can walk 1,000 miles on.
So I made the decision. A lot of people expected it to be difficult, but I found it easy. A no-brainer. Perhaps if I’d been the first person to make that call it would have been harder, but I knew there are a lot of people who made the same choice and success has followed.
With my mates at Frimley Park Cadet Training Centre, where I’d been working between bouts of rehab, we had a ‘Fisher’s left foot leaving do’ in a pub up the road and a couple of days later in hospital, they lopped it off. I waited a few weeks for a slot at Headley Court rehab centre, and then I walked out of there a week later on my first prototype leg.
I got better and better at using it and even did the New York Marathon six months later – a crazy decision because I wasn’t ready for it and I didn’t train – but although it took me a very long time (six and a half hours), I did it.
My life has completely changed since then. I’ve got married; I’ve got two kids; I’ve bought a house. When I left the army I went to work in a school in Oxfordshire, doing the admin and logistics for the Combined Cadet Force, and then I stumbled across Walking With the Wounded’s Walk of Britain, and here I am. I’m now working for the charity because the planning side of this expedition is such a big undertaking.
I’ll be walking on a leg made by a private clinic. It is paid for by WWTW, which I’m very grateful for because it’s better than anything you’d get otherwise. Hopefully it’ll be the one to carry me 1,000 miles.
Do I miss the army? Yes of course, that was the life I chose, and it was hard to accept because I hadn’t fulfilled everything I wanted to do, hardly any of it. But you can’t look back like that. There’s no such thing as 20:20 hindsight. And would I swap the life I’ve got now, with my kids, my house and family, this Walk of Britain experience, my friends? No. This is an extension of the life I chose, it’s just not how I thought it was going to go. But that’s life. Onwards and upwards.
Support the walk
The team would like the general public to get involved in the Walk of Britain in any way they can, by donating, buying a mile or joining them along the route. See walkingwiththewounded.org.uk and follow the walk on Twitter.