AMENDED: 18 MARCH 2014
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“I’m terrified for myself to be honest, hugely daunted, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s going to be like for them. And you know to take a double amputee to the South Pole it’s really going to be really quite a moving moment when we get there. For me, it’s bigger than just these guys, we are trying to raise money but also raise awareness for the fact that the injuries they have sustained they are going to carry for the rest of their lives.” (Prince Harry speaking ahead of the expedition)
Prince Harry’s epic 200km trek to the South Pole with wounded service men and women is captured in this new two-part factual series.
The series provides an at times raw and emotional insight into the team members’ traumatic experiences and their determination to overcome life-changing injuries and complete the challenge.
Led by Prince Harry, the British team taking part in the Walking With The Wounded South Pole Allied Challenge 2013 were, double leg amputee Duncan Slater, arm amputee Ibrar Ali MC, a member of the Yorkshire Regiment who walks in memory of two colleagues killed in action, left leg amputee Kate Philp, the first British woman to lose a limb on the frontline, right leg amputee Guy Disney, taking on a second pole after joining Walking With The Wounded and Prince Harry in the Arctic in 2011, and guide Conrad Dickinson.
Originally a race, with the Brits competing against teams from the US and the Commonwealth, the competitive element was abandoned as the punishing Antarctic conditions took an increasing toll on the team. Instead all three teams joined together to complete the challenge. As well as servicemen and women, Team Commonwealth was joined by honorary member Dominic West and Team US by Alexander Skarsgård.
It’s day one of the race, and with spirits high, Team UK, Team US and Team Commonwealth set off, vying with each other to get ahead with the Brits, led by expedition patron Prince Harry, at first taking lead. The teams will be skiing for up to nine hours a day, hauling 80 kilos of kit in temperatures as low as -40C.
Despite the teams’ intensive training, in just a matter of hours the biting conditions and savage terrain begin to take their toll. When the teams finally turn in for their first night, Prince Harry reflects: “It’s going to be tough, there’s no two ways about it.”
Across the next few days a positive mental attitude becomes increasingly hard to sustain as frost bite, sores and altitude sickness set in, affecting seasoned polar guides as well as the wounded veterans of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Right leg amputee, Guy Disney, says: “There’s not a single person here that isn’t feeling knackered and sore to the core. It’s just really how you get on with it now.”
Finding a moment of tranquillity in this hostile environment, Duncan Slater says: “Such a privilege to be here, you’re treading in the footsteps of a lot of people who have been here before, explorers and all the rest of it, I’ll say this, if you ever get the chance to come here, you’ve got to grab it it’s a beautiful place.”
Four days in, as the battered teams limp in to the first checkpoint, Ed Parker, Expedition director and co-founder of the organising charity Walking With the Wounded is faced with a difficult decision. With safety at the forefront of his mind he delivers a bombshell to the team, he says: “Right at the beginning of this our aim was to get 12 wounded individuals onto the pole. If we go on like this, we are simply not going to do it. I have decided the race is over.”
With the race element suspended, the teams come together in one united expedition, men and women more determined than ever to finish what they started.
The race may be over, but there are still 112km or 70 miles of gruelling terrain between them and the Pole. The Antarctica remains merciless and one by one expedition members have succumbed to its rigors: - Kate Philp, Britain’s first female combat amputee, with frostbite and infection in her stump; blind US veteran Ivan Castro felled by the cold and the savage terrain; Canadian bomb disposal expert Chris Downey collapses with exhaustion and his fellow Canadian, combat engineer Alex Beaudin D’Injour, with old battle injuries exacerbated by the extreme cold. Showing just how brutal the Antarctic can be, it’s not just the wounded who fall victim to the punishing environment. For the first time in a 20 year polar career veteran Australian guide Eric Philips is hit hard by fluid on his lung. He also suffers from altitude sickness, a debilitating condition which also puts Prince Harry temporarily out of play.
As he recovers in the medical tent, Prince Harry reflects on the tenacity of his fellow servicemen and women in such testing conditions. He says: “I’m a 29 year old relatively healthy young person with all 4 limbs and it took me by surprise, I thought I could come out here and just crack on and see it through without any issues, it really does prove quite how mentally and physically tough these guys are.”
As the South Pole nears and with everyone recovered for the final push, Prince Harry says: “Feelings? Relief, I think, is probably the biggest one. Not just for me but for everybody. But at the same time I get the fact that for some of these guys it’s been a hellish two, three weeks, stuck out here.”
Team mate Guy Disney says: “It’s been harder than some of us would like to admit but it’s been good. For me it’s been an utter privilege to do it Dunc (Duncan Slater) The days when I felt a bit sore or a bit tired, I look at him soldiering on, it’s amazing.”
As the twelve wounded soldiers near the pole expedition organiser and charity co-founder Ed Parker says: “We have got a double amputee, a blind person, people with appalling burns, people with mental injuries. I hope people see these young men and women and I hope they are inspired out of their dark place get up and move forward.”
Despite lost limbs, burns, blindness and psychological injury, the teams overcome everything the Antarctic can throw at them to arrive at the South Pole together. Duncan Slater says: “What happened in Afghan took my legs, it didn’t take my spirit.”
Notes to editors: Please use Prince Harry quotes in the context in which it was said.