Remembrance Sunday 2014 will be a significant one for former soldier Michael Greggan of Blacon. For it will be the first time since he was seriously wounded in Afghanistan that he will feel strong enough to join the march with fellow veterans in Chester city centre. In this special report, Michael talks to Rachel Flint about the day he was shot and shares memories of his closest friend who was killed in the conflict
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Ten years have passed since he watched his best friend die on a dusty roadside in Iraq.
But fresh tears ran down Michael Greggan’s face as he described the horrifying moment he saw the truck flip through the air and his mate’s body crumpled on the ground.
“I remember running over and there he was,” says the former Lance Corporal, breaking down as he described how his friend fell asleep at the wheel while returning from a long bomb patrol.
“There he was; he was dead. The wire cutters had hit under his helmet. There was blood everywhere, it was just horrible – he was only 22.”
Every Remembrance Sunday Michael puts on his uniform and places a single cross on the war memorial in the grounds of Chester Cathedral in memory of his fallen comrades, including his best friend Fusilier Stephen Jones who died fighting for the country he loved on September 10, 2004.
But, for the father-of-two, this year will bring back more than just memories of that tragic day when his friend, who he’d asked to be his best man at his wedding, was killed – it will be the first time he joins the march with fellow veterans since he was shot in the leg while serving in Afghanistan.
“I went to do it last year but I stopped. I find it really hard,” said Michael, now 36, who has a tattoo with the names of his fallen comrades inked on his leg as a lasting tribute to them.
Michael had been serving in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers for eight years when he was shot in the kneecap during an ambush on his convoy in 2007 – but he didn’t even notice at the time as he was trying to treat two of his comrades who were seriously injured.
He told his mum he wanted to be in the Army when he was just five-years-old, but in the midst of the battle he was to sustain an injury so severe he would never return to the front line again, despite staying in the armed forces for another five years.
But despite risking his life to save his friends, Michael refuses to be called a hero and seems embarrassed by the very thought of it.
“I’m not a hero, I did my job. The people who died, they are the real heroes,” he said, describing how he had enlisted at 21-years-old following in the family tradition.
He can still vividly recall the events of the day he was seriously wounded.
“There was a burnt out truck in front of us, and as we drove down the road all hell broke loose,” said Michael, describing how he was briefly knocked out as the truck hit a bump and flipped, tossing the soldiers on to the ground.
“We were getting hit from both sides. All I remember is waking up all dizzy and my head was killing me.
“I was walking around dazed, and a Colour Sergeant came down alongside with his truck to protect us – I was behind it.
“As he got out of the truck to come and see us he took a round and it clipped the major artery in his thigh. It just exploded, there was claret everywhere – just loads of it, so I started giving first aid to him.
“And then I was shouting for help, every man and his dog, it felt like, were shooting at me at this point. It was horrible.”
Speaking about the events as if they happened just yesterday, Michael described how his commanding officer raced over to help and got shot in the eye.
“At this point I had two casualties to deal with. And I couldn’t do it, I had a big headache, it was horrible. I never want to face that again.”
It was only after Michael, with the help of a young Fusilier, had put the casualties in the back of the truck that he realised he was badly injured – he had not felt the bullet pierce his knee as he was too busy helping others.
“I decided stupidly that I would run over to my vehicle and put a grenade in it. Obviously I didn’t realise I had been hit at this time, I’d got the claret all over me.
“I started getting this horrible stabbing pain in my leg, and then I just hit the deck, I just couldn’t move.”
At first no one realised that Michael wasn’t on the truck and they started driving off without him, but they spotted him lying in the road and came back and took him to safety.
Michael was awake when surgeons spent 14 hours trying to put his knee back together after being flown with the other injured soldiers to Camp Holland, a Dutch military base on the outskirts of Afghanistan.
It was at this point he was told he would never serve on the front line again, something he still struggles to believe to this very day.
“I will never forget, the drugs doctor said to me ‘do you like being a soldier?’ I said ‘yeah it’s my job, I love it’. And he goes ‘well you’re not going to be a soldier anymore when you get back to the UK’.
“I called him a liar. I told him I would always be a soldier, and I would be back on the front line in the next six months.
“I don’t think I ever accepted it really, it’s just that they finally got rid of me, they pensioned me off. I don’t think I ever accepted the fact that I was going to lose the Army. I fought it every chance I could, I tried everything I could to stay in.”
His wife Kerys, who was at home with their children Liam, three, and Alicia, two, at the time, received the phone call she had been dreading, saying that her husband had been injured in an ambush.
“It’s just every knock on the door, you think it’s going to be bad news,” she said.
Michael spent months receiving treatment for his injury in Headley Court military hospital, having multiple operations and at one point even begged for his leg to be cut off, the pain was so bad.
The family struggled financially while he was in hospital and received food vouchers from the Poppy Appeal, something which Michael said made a massive difference at the time.
Now, as he sits in his house surrounded by photographs of his loving family, Michael, who works for a security firm in the Wirral, is still in pain and takes daily medication for his injury, but he says that it has all been worth it.
“It’s quite hard civilian life. I always look high, look low,” he said, saying that he is now almost a black belt in karate, something which he took up to help during his rehabilitation.
“Yes, it was [totally worth it]. In Afghan every Friday the Taliban would take people out to the swimming pool and shoot people.
“Because we have our freedom we get all isolated, it shouldn’t be like that. We have an obligation. It’s like now with what’s going on we should have a more active role in that. We shouldn’t be dropping bombs on people.”
And as for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, Michael watches the news and can’t hide his disapproval.
“I think it’s a disgrace that our lads have died over there, people have died there to try and make people have a better standard of life.
“And, yeah, millions more people are in education, but all that’s going to happen now is that those soldiers are going to get disheartened and they are living in constant fear.
“We have an obligation to help these people, that’s what you and me should do. When good people turn away, bad things happen and that’s what happening again.”