Lowestoft veteran wins top award for soldiering on

As a veteran of the first Gulf war and two tours of the Balkans, Cpl Philip Monkhouse became used to seeing some horrific and heartbreaking sights.

But nothing could prepare him for the shock of waking up in hospital and being told his left leg had been amputated after a crash in a war zone. As he lay in hospital, Cpl Monkhouse pondered how his life would be severely restricted by only having one leg.

But, in an inspirational tale, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer took on a fresh battle on civvy street – by helping other veterans, including ones from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, discover a fresh zest for life.

A year after his injury in 1995, Mr Monkhouse, known as Bob to his army friends, was asked to join the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth branch of the British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association (Blesma) charity.

Since then, he has learned to teach other limbless veterans how to scuba dive and sail and go ski biking.

Mr Monkhouse, 42, who now lives in Carlton Colville, has organised Blesma's skiing and scuba trips to Austria and Egypt, and has taken veterans on a sailing voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, as a thank you for his work in helping other veterans regain confidence and rebuild their shattered lives, he is to be given a prestigious national award.

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On March 20, the father-of-two will mingle with royalty and top showbiz stars when he is presented with the Volunteer of the Year award at the inaugural Blesma 'Soldiering on Awards' at the Savoy Hotel in London.

The sight of VIP guests The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, actress Hayley Mills and musician Rick Wakeman applauding Mr Monkhouse on to the stage will be a stark contrast to the scenes of November 22, 1995.

On that day, his legs were crushed and mangled when he was hit by a UN truck outside Spilt, Croatia, as he was repairing a vehicle.

He was fitted with his first artificial leg in February 1996 and, after being asked to join Blesma by branch treasurer John Green, he started his work at the charity as a trustee and volunteer organiser.

Since then, Mr Monkhouse, who is married to Sue and works as an oil rig sign-maker for Seaward Safety, has relished every moment of helping other veterans on the ski-slopes and on or below the waves.

Some of those he has helped have been triple amputees from recent conflicts – with many laughing off their injuries as flesh wounds as they only lost their legs below the knees.

Mr Monkhouse, who moved to the Lowestoft area after the first Gulf War, said: 'I was a bit shocked and embarrassed when I found out I would be getting the award. Since my accident my life has certainly turned around and has given me opportunities I would never had before.

'Blesma is a fantastic organisation. It gives ex-servicemen the kick up the behind they may need to move forward in life. My message is 'life goes on'. Unfortunately the world does not stop: you have got to make the most of what you have got.'

A Blesma spokesman said: 'Philip's enthusiasm and generosity epitomises his selfless devotion and his mission to make life better for others. He is a real inspiration to other amputees.'