Photographer’s pledge to return to work after triple amputation

Giles Duley with his camera
Giles Duley with his camera

FOLLOWING his horrific injuries while charting the plight of the population in war-torn Afghanistan, reporter RICHARD GLADSTONE caught up with Giles Duley and chatted to him about his recovery from the brink of death.

“ABSOLUTELY!” - that was the defiant word spoken by triple amputee photographer Giles Duley when asked if he intends to return to work in war-torn Afghanistan.

Soldiers returning fire after being ambushed by the Taliban

Soldiers returning fire after being ambushed by the Taliban

The 39-year-old has been down a long road to recovery after losing both his legs and an arm after stepping on a landmine.

Even though the road ahead to complete recovery is still far away, Mr Duley remains upbeat.

He spent 110 days in total in hospital before going to the military rehabilitation facility at Headley Court, near Epsom, Surrey, where he is currently undergoing gruelling, intensive physiotherapy to get walking again.

Mr Duley lost one leg below the knee, the other leg above the knee and his left arm has been severed above the elbow.

Two soldiers head towards a Taliban fort recently destroyed by the 101st Airborne

Two soldiers head towards a Taliban fort recently destroyed by the 101st Airborne

Last Wednesday, the Observer caught up with the photographer to see how his rehabilitation was going.

He now has two prosthetic legs and a prosthetic left arm. and from 8am to 4pm, five days a week he has to undergo intensive fitness training.

“To work using prosthetic legs it takes 260 per cent more effort than walking with normal legs, so you have to be strong and fit,” Mr Duley explained.

His physiotherapy, which is expected to last another five months, includes swimming, weight lifting, rowing and other types of fitness.

Speaking about that fateful day, which changed his life forever, Mr Duley said: “Most people are knocked unconscious by the force of the bomb but I was fully conscious the whole time. I was thrown to the ground and I remember a sudden calm feeling.

“I knew straight away that my legs had gone and at that point I thought I was going to die. I was bleeding everywhere.

“Soldiers had to go around with metal detectors to see if there were any more devices.”

The photographer was in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan with US troops on February 7 working as a freelancer for the Camera Press agency when the accident happened.

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 praised the troops on the ground, saying they were ‘brilliant’ getting him bandaged up and rushed to the hospital in Kandahar.

“They gave me a cigarette, which was probably the best cigarette I had in my life,” he said.

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

He said: “There have been several journalists and photographers killed by landmines recently. Two men in the same profession as me were killed in Libya.

“I’ve also built up a friendship with Joao Silva, another photographer, who suffered similar injuries two months before I had my accident.

“I was incredibly lucky, as another man who suffered exactly the same injuries as me a week later did not make it to the hospital.

“There have been less than 20 triple amputees who have survived since the war started in Afghanistan.”

He 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.

“I’ve always known the risks doing this sort of work but it’s something you have to accept,” he told the Observer.

Following his accident in February 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. So far more than £4,000 has been collected by well-wishers.

The publican also gave her £750 prize money to Mr Duley’s recovery fund after winning the Shepherd Neame’s Tenanted Pub of the Year in the brewery’s annual pub awards.

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

He planned to move back to Hastings in March following his stint in Afghanistan and launch a magazine charting the war.

Mr Duley spent 10 years 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 started walking on his new legs two weeks ago and remains in fighting spirit.

He said: “I’ve literally had hundreds of emails from people encouraging me to go back to work when I recover. In fact, when I regained consciousness I vowed to myself I would not stop doing what I do.

“I hope to be walking independently by Christmas and plan to be sitting in the Hastings Arms with a pint by then.”