Feature: Triple amputee vows to go back to Afghanistan

Giles Duley - self portrait
Giles Duley - self portrait

This month marks the first anniversary of photographer Giles Duley’s horrific accident in Afghanistan in which he became a triple amputee.

Reporter RICHARD GLADSTONE speaks to him to see how he has coped with his devastating injuries and how he is getting his life back together.

A YEAR ago last Tuesday (February 7), Giles Duley’s life drastically changed forever when he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan

In Afghanistan

He lost one leg below the knee, the other leg above the knee and his left arm was severed above the elbow.

But following months of physiotherapy and countless operations, Mr Duley refuses to see himself as a victim - and still vows to return to Afghanistan charting the plight of the ordinary populace.

He recently spoke in London for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Landmines and Unexploded Weapons of Conflict (APPG), a cross-party group made up of MPs and peers, whose aim is to campaign for the clearance of such weapons.

Mr Duley, 40, said: “People say to me how it must be terrible what happened to me and call me a victim. But I do not see myself as a victim. I was doing a job I love and think is important, and just got hurt doing it.”

He was speaking on behalf of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a not-for-profit organisation that clears landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in conflict zones.

Mr Duley was in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan with US troops last February working as a freelancer for the Camera Press agency when he stepped on a landmine.

He intended to cover the plight of bomb victims while working for the Camera Press agency but snapped up the chance to join frontline troops in Afghanistan, and had been in the war-torn country for less than two weeks when he was wounded.

Mr Duley still remembers clearly the day his life changed forever.

He said: “I turned to chat to one of the soldiers, stepped on the mine, and was thrown through the air. I remember the searing heat and a white light. I landed on my side and knew my legs had gone. To be honest I expected to die.”

The photographer, who has been taking pictures in conflict zones for more than seven years, fought to stay awake the whole time he was taken to hospital, fearing he would die if he passed out.

Mr Duley spent 110 days in intensive care at hospital before going to the military rehabilitation facility at Headley Court, near Epsom, Surrey, where he underwent gruelling, intensive physiotherapy to get walking again.

He now has two prosthetic legs and a prosthetic left arm and is still undergoing physiotherapy.

Mr Duley admits it has been a tough 12 months.

He said: “I have stopped counting how many operations I have had since. I think it has been more than 20. I am in constant pain and unable to do a lot of things.

“Physiotherapy has been really intense and I can probably walk a couple of hundred metres now with the prosthetic legs.”

Following his accident the photographer was inundated with messages from friends, family and well-wishers, who praised him for his humour and resilience.

Sue Stoten, landlady of the Hastings Arms, where Mr Duley worked, set up a fund to raise money for his recovery, and hundreds of pounds were already donated within days of his accident. Thousands have since been raised.

in November, Mr Duley also held an exhibition of his work taken over the last 10 years at KK Outlet in London.

The three-week event, called Giles Duley: Becoming the Story, included pictures of ordinary people in conflict zones, such as former Unita soldiers in Angola and acid-burn survivors in Bangladesh.

Mr Duley said: “The exhibition went really well and there were more than 40 people from Hastings who came to see it.”

Since his accident he has built up a friendship with another photographer, Joao Silva, who suffered similar injuries.

Mr Duley always maintains he was ‘incredibly lucky’ not to have been killed, as another man who suffered exactly the same injuries as him just a week after his accident did not make it to the hospital.

Mr Duley had another brush with death earlier in his career after stepping on a landmine in Angola in Africa. Thankfully the device did not go off.

He added: “I was angry and distraught at what I had seen in Angola. There was a village where everywhere had been mined. It was shocking to see people having to step over landmines and seeing children with no legs.

“Now I wake up with anger every day because there are children around the world going through the same suffering I am but without the help and support I have had.

“There can be something done about it and that is what’s crazy and unfathomable because it is not a situation that’s unsolvable. With the right funding these places can be cleared of mines.”

Mr Duley lived in High Street in Old Town for eight years before moving to London three years ago.

He spent 10 years working as a photographer in the fashion and music industries in both the USA and Europe before focusing on humanitarian projects, and has worked in Sudan, Angola and Congo.

He has worked with Medecins sans Frontieres, as well as other charities.

His work has been exhibited and published worldwide in publications like Vogue and The Sunday Times.

He ran the tough Marathon des Sables across the Sahara desert in 2007, a six-day gruelling race, to raise money for research into Alzheimer’s disease following the death of his mother from dementia.

Mr Duley said: “I intend to get back to work and return to Afghanistan but I do not have a timetable. The main purpose at the moment is getting my health back.”