The Boys in Blue Ch. 02byRobinLane©
The C17 touched down and quickly taxied to the dispersal area.
As the rear ramp lowered, ambulances reversed up to it to receive the wounded.
Robert's stretcher was conveyed to a waiting Bell 206L Long Ranger helicopter, belonging to Sir Royston; the helicopter was painted in the colours of a med-evac aircraft.
After loading its passengers and receiving clearance from the tower it took off for the hundred-mile flight to The Grange.
Staff at the Grange were already waiting to receive Robert, who was still under sedation. Sir Royston had phoned ahead giving explicit instructions of what he required to be carried out on his arrival.
As soon as the helicopter landed Robert was transferred to a gurney and transported to the X-Ray department.
"I'll need a complete set, with emphasis on the lower lumber area." He said addressing his senior radiologist. "I'm going up to shower and change."
He was still in the desert camouflage uniform he had been issued with.
For a man who always travelled first class around the world, sitting in a canvas bucket seat of a C17 for twelve hours was an experience he would rather forget.
Once out of X-Ray he was taken to a private bedroom where he was re-connected to tube's that dispensed fluids from a drip stand and drugs from an automatic injection system. Four large monitors recorded his vital signs from sensors placed on his body and head. A nurse sat by his bed studying the monitors.
After he had showered and changed into his usual charcoal pinstriped suit he returned down stairs to his office.
Mrs Walker his private secretary was waiting for him clutching a writing pad.
"OK, Ann what do we know about him?"
Ann Walker had been with Sir Royston for over thirty years and was well used to his abrupt manner at times,
While she occupied a chair at the front of his desk, and he settled into the large leather
"Flight Lieutenant Robert Barlow aged 28.
Joined the RAF aged 21, holds two degrees in Mechanical Engineering (Aerospace) and Modern History from Bristol University.
He's an only child.
No immediate next of kin, mother, and father killed by a terrorist bomb aboard the aircraft they were in, bound for New York June 6th, 2002.
Both are buried in the village church at Aventon, a small village mid way between Fordingbridge and Salisbury in Hampshire.
They had lived in the village for twenty-four years at Lark Hill Cottage.
The father was a retired petrochemical engineer he took retirement early, and played the stock exchange, very successfully by all accounts.
The mother was a senior nursing sister at Odstock Hospital she retired aged 60. And it appears the New York trip was a retirement present from the father.
A Mrs McKee is a very close friend of the family, and still maintains the cottage for Robert. In fact, she supplied most of these details.
He has no girlfriends, in fact; he appears to have shunned the company of girls since the death of his parents, concentrating on his flying duties.
The closest you could call to family, is a Jeremy Free, a Barbadian.
Robert's father struck up a friendship with him in London, where he worked at the investment company that the father used. It seems they both shared a mutual love for cricket.
Mr Free spent a great deal of time mainly at weekends, with the Barlow's and played in the village cricket team.
He and Robert became very close friends; in fact Robert, was best man at his wedding and also God father to Mr Free's son."
Ann continued, "I've typed up the relevant details for you; I'm still waiting to hear from members of his squadron. I under stand they return to the UK at the end of the month." With that, she passed over a sheet of paper to Sir Royston.
"Thank you Ann that will be all."
As she closed the door, he settled down to read through it again.
At seven am the next morning Sir Royston entered the room, "how's the patient?" he asked the night nurse who was due to go off duty at seven thirty.
"Very little change sir, he did show signs of discomfort at two this morning, and he was mumbling in his sleep.
I made a note of what he was saying." Consulting a note pad, she carried on, "as near as I could under stand he said 'Mum I'm trying, for Gods sake I'm trying,' 'then an hour or so later," again she consulted the note pad, 'Feel the pain, must feel the pain,' he repeated that two or three times sir."
"Umm unusual, well he's going into theatre at nine; we hope to reduce that pain somewhat. They will be coming to prep him shortly, thank you nurse."
"He's been through an awful lot hasn't he sir."
"Yes nurse," Sir Royston replied, "I'm continually amazed at how much suffering and pain a body can endure."
Robert opened his eyes; his brow furrowed confused by what he saw, his mouth felt like it was filled with ashes; he coughed.
Instantly a woman's body was leaning over him dressed in a white cotton smock with what appeared to be a nametag pinned to her chest.
"Good morning Flight Lieutenant how do you feel?" she asked.
Bloody awful thought Robert, "could I have some water please?"
"Of course" she turned away, returning with a beaker with a nozzle on it. She pressed a button at the side of the bed, and with a low hum the back part slowly raised allowing him to drink from the beaker.
Handing the empty beaker back, he asked, "Where am I? What day is this?" his mind filled with questions.
"Now don't excite your self, you need to rest now try to get some sleep. Unfortunately, Sir Royston wanted to be here when you woke up. But he's had to go to London, but he'll be back this evening and will answer all your question then."
"Who the heck is Sir Royston?" Robert asked, confused.
Seeing that he would not rest until he knew some of the answers Senior Nurse Beverly Andrews explained about Sir Royston Smith's involvement with him, his trip to Afghanistan, and his return with him, to his private clinic, here at The Grange.
All Robert could say was "Oh."
His eyes closed, and he drifted off into a deep sleep.
Beverly looked down on the sleeping pilot, his light brown hair beginning to grow back, where they had shaved it to perform the operation on his skull. She knew from his medical service records that Sir Royston had brought back. That he was 6-foot 1inches tall and weighed 180 pounds and that he had blue eyes. But, it didn't say that he resembled a young Gregory Peck in looks.
He awoke, noticing that the curtains were drawn in front of the window, the room was in semi darkness but a low light was on over a desk at which a figure in a white smock and slacks sat writing.
"Hello," Robert mumbled.
"You're back amongst us again." the nurse replied with a smile on her face.
She turned a switch by the door, and lights came on in the room, returning to the desk she picked up the telephone and pressed a button. "The patient is awake sir," paused then said "very well sir," disconnecting the call.
"Sir Royston is coming down to see you, is there anything you would like?" She asked.
"Some water please."
The nurse was just retrieving the beaker when Sir Royston walked in. He said a few words to the nurse listened to her response before drawing up a chair to the side of the bed.
"Well young man, I under stand you have been badgering my nurses with questions," he said.
"Oh no, sir," Robert replied, "its...it's just I'm totally confused."
"Of course you are my boy" Sir Royston said in a much gentler voice, "what is the last thing you remember?"
"Hanging from a parachute, I think I was hit in the leg, and then every thing went black."
"I see" murmured Sir Royston, he walked over to the desk returning with a blue file, after reading some of the file notes he continued.
"Well let me bring you up to date on what has happened to you.
That incident occurred nine days ago. You were, in fact, shot three times in your right leg. One bullet passed through your calf missing the bone but tearing up your calf muscle; another hit you in the thigh breaking your femur; fortunately the bullet must have been at the end of its range, because it didn't shatter the bone but merely cracked it. The third bullet was more severe; it struck your kneecap destroying it.
More seriously though were the injuries you sustained that coursed you to black out. Fragments from a grenade, I believe they are called RPG's, which fortunately exploded some distance from you.
Had it been closer, you would be dead.
Anyhow a piece hit you in the small of the back, it didn't break the skin, I understand your Gee suite overalls and flight suit cushioned the blow, never the less it displaced a vertebra, I believe a common name is a slipped disk. Well that disk we later discovered was pressing against your sciatic nerve, which would have given you a great deal of pain, and left unattended could have resulted in permanent paralyses of the right leg.
The most severe wound was the one that struck your head, or I should say your helmet. The force of the blow broke away a portion of your skull. That piece was resting against your brain creating pressure that had to be relieved.
The medical team at Camp Bastion carried out that operation successfully.
When you had stabilised sufficiently, I had you flown back to my clinic here, I conducted the operation to your back thirty six hours ago, and all indications are that it has been successful."
"I see," said Robert "but I have to ask, will I ever walk again?"
"Young man," replied Sir Royston in a stern voice. "I have not wasted my valuable time, or my considerable skills on you, for you not only to be able to walk again, but to return to your flying duties if that is your wish."
"I'm sorry Sir," muttered Robert suitably chastised. "I don't know how I'm every going to repay you for what you have done, or how the MoD will for that matter."
In a gentle voice, Sir Royston replied.
"In that hellhole which was that wadi, was a young Second Lieutenant. He was my grandson, my only grand child. But for your actions that day, he assures me he would have been killed. So you see Robert, it is I who is in debited to you.
One thing that has puzzled me," continued Sir Royston, "on your first night here you were mumbling in your delirium," he consulted the file, "you apparently said I'm trying Mum, for Gods sake I'm trying, and then later, feel the pain must feel the pain do you recall that?"
Robert frowned trying to remember, "It's odd that you should say that, but I distinctly heard my Mother saying, "Bobby that's what she always called me," looking apologetically. He continued, "Bobby don't be such a wimp; you must fight this, fight this," he paused before continuing.
"The other comes from a lecture we had at Hereford; we were on an Escape and Evasion program run by the SAS. The Sergeant giving the lecture had covered 18 kilometres behind the lines in Bosnia with two bullets in him, on his own.
He said pain is good; pain lets you know you are alive, when you stop feeling the pain you start to die. So remember feel the pain and live.
I guess it kind of stuck in my mind."
"Um interesting" murmured Sir Royston, "Well now you need to get some sleep, in a few weeks we will be continuing your treatment, but for now you need to rebuild your strength, you still have a long way to go. Good night Robert."
"Good night Sir," Robert replied.
By the end of October, Robert had the last of three operations on his knee.
Sir Royston assured him that the prosthetic knee cap that had been made in the Granges own prosthetic workshop, would be infinitely better than his own adding it won't crack when you bend down in later life.
Robert had asked not to have any visitors, not wanting to be seen in his present situation.
So instead he had been given a laptop in which he could reply to the e-mails he received from Jeremy, and the folks from Aventon and the lad's in the squadron.
He also tried to reply to letters and cards he received from grateful family members of the men who had been in the wadi, but he never really felt comfortable about it, feeling embarrassed.
By now he had grown use to the routine and was no longer embarrassed about bed baths or answering natures call.
He still felt intense pain from his leg, has the mussels began to knit back again; never the less he longed to be free of the bed.
Then in mid November he was allowed into a wheel chair and for the first time he was taken outside.
To be able to breathe fresh air, all be it, cold November air, was a tonic. To escape the slightly antiseptic smell that all ways invades any medical facility.
The next day he had two visitors, Group Captain Alan Carr, and an Air vice Marshall.
Alan was Station Commander of RAF Renton Robert's squadron home base in the UK.
He introduced the Air vice Marshall as Sir John Bradbury. Robert was sat in his wheel chair by the coffee table; so they drew up chairs by it.
After going through the routine of asking about his well being, Alan got down to business.
"Robbie" he began "you have been put up for the VC."
Robert was stunned "but" he began, but he was cut off by Alan's raised hand.
"I know what you are going to say, but don't knock it. At the moment due to your action, the RAF is the flavour of the month with the British public. More to the point we are the flavour of the month with the MoD and we fully intend to exploit that."
Sir John broke in, "As you are aware Flight Lieutenant, the war in Afghanistan is a ground war fought in the main by ground troops. Whilst we recognize the RAF is involved in it, it doesn't get much recognition for its efforts. We intend to redress that to our advantage."
"I see Sir," said Robert meekly, but not really understanding.
"By the way Robbie," said Alan, "We are withdrawing the Harrier from Afghanistan, it's a good aircraft but it was never intended for the role it's had to play out there."
"What do you think is the best ground support aircraft we have out there?" Asked Sir John, directing his question to Robert.
"The Apache attack helicopter," said Robert with out any hesitation, he went on
"With its Longbow radar and target systems, not to mention its weapons array it's the most cost efficient, clinical means of targeting the Taliban we have."
"What do you mean by cost efficient?" Sir John enquired.
"Well Sir," Robert continued, "I know we can drop smart bombs, and fire guided missiles, but when you consider the cost of one of those. Just to take out a couple of the enemy hiding in a hut or the trees, well it doesn't seem cost effective to me."
"Point taken" replied Sir John, "But do's the Apache have a down side," already knowing the answer.
"Its cost and maintenance are pretty steep sir, and of course it's the Army's."
"Um quite," said Sir John. "Can you think of any fixed wing aircraft that would be suitable for the sort action it would encounter out there?"
"The only one that springs to mind sir, and it's not perfect is the American A10 Thunderbolt II.
Its airframe has been created to take punishment from ground fire; it can fly and fight at low speed 130 knots or so, but still achieve 450 knots. It's fairly cheap to build and is low maintenance. The big problem with it is, it was built around its gun. A Gatling 30mm cannon, which fires off some 800 rounds a minute in a burst. This is a little too much over kill for the type of engagement we have in theatre."
"So hypothetically speaking, what would be your ideal solution?" Enquired Sir John.
"The A10, but given some of the characteristics of the Longbow radar and inferred targeting systems. A new gun that could have dedicated burst control, wing mounts to take both Hellfire missiles and rockets, would be a start sir." Robert replied.
Sir John looked over to Alan, "An interesting theory."
"Well we mustn't take up any more of this young man's time Group Captain." He said addressing Alan.
"You will be hearing from us in due course."
After shaking hands, they left. Leaving Robert wondering what the hell that had all been about.
The next week he started physiotherapy, the first two weeks in his room.
Gale the young physiotherapist would gently massage his back and leg, each day increasing the movements of his leg.
One evening Ann Walker entered the room carrying a laptop computer case. "Good evening Robert," she announced.
"Evening Ann," he replied.
Ann had helped him with the correspondence to all the mail he had received from well wishers, and they had struck up a quick friendship.
"Sir Royston noticed that the old laptop you have been using. We've have had it years, and it must be on its last legs by now, so he's given you this."
With that, she unzipped the case and took out new Sony Vaio. "You will find this much quicker. It already has Microsoft Office installed and there is a built in camera and microphone, so you will be able to see whom you are talking too, I've already registered you, and created an account with Skype, so you are all ready to go."
Ann knew that Sir Royston was concerned about Robert seeming to wish to cut him self of from the world, regarding visitors. And she had suggested this as a means of breaking the ice and getting him back into the swing of things.
She showed him how to set it up, and he was relieved to see it only displayed his head when it was placed on the desk.
After a chat Ann, left.
Robert keen to try out his new toy, and entered Julian's e-mail address into the Skype page, remembering to make it an international call.
He was amazed when Julian's face appeared on the screen.
"Bob this is wonderful, how are you?"
Robert was suddenly filled with emotion and had to blink back tears that threatened to engulf him.
"Great man, living the life of ease." He lied.
He saw Julian turn away, and he could hear him yelling "Pearl, Pearl I've got Bob on the PC you can see him."
Julian's head was pushed to one side and Peals lovely face was there.
"Oh, Bob it's so good to see you at long last, how are you feeling? How are they treating you?" She rattled off question after question not giving him time to respond, tears streaming down her face.
After 45 minutes, and having tried to answer their questions, he broke off the connection, promising to contact them the next day.
When he closed the laptop, he sat back and smiled. It was good to know they cared, he thought.
The next week he started physiotherapy in earnest, being taken down in the lift to the ground floor gym.
The gym like all of the rest of the Grange's facilities was state of the art. Running machines, rowing machines, weight training gadgets, every thing you would find in a top London gymnasium. At the back was a large swimming pool with what appeared to be a sauna.
Robert was introduced to Ted, who would be over seeing him whilst in the gym. Ted was in his fifties, so Robert judged, dressed in a white tee shirt and white slacks but the most notable aspect of him was his muscular body; he didn't have once of fat on him.
"Right sir we are going to start you off on the bench, with some basic exercises for your back and leg. We're going to take it easy and as soon as you feel any discomfort you must let me know."
Ted studied Robert for several seconds, "I'd say 6 foot, eleven and a half stone and 42"chest how does that sound sir?"
"It's Robert Ted. I guess I have shed some weight I was 12- 6."
Ted went to a cabinet, returning with two clear plastic bags.
"These will be your tracksuits. Nurse will help you change from your dressing gown and PJ's. When you're ready, we'll start."
Initially, the sessions in the gym only lasted minutes, but as the weeks rolled by, and Robert grew stronger they were extended until he was spending up to two hours at a time.