Damien Thomlinson in Afghanistan before a Taliban explosive device changed his life.
Damien Thomlinson in Afghanistan before a Taliban explosive device changed his life.

From losing my legs to walking Kokoda

Following the phenomenal success of the groundbreaking documentary series Voodoo Medics, The Daily Telegraph is bringing you War Stories - powerful tales of courage and heroism - with exclusive book extracts from the frontline. This is the story of how Damien Thomlinson survived horrific injuries and the loss of his legs in a bomb explosion and went on the conquer the Kokoda Track.

Damien Thomlinson is a young man whose life was changed in one violent instant on a dusty track a long way from home.

The tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed surfer from the NSW Central Coast was on patrol with his mates from the 2nd Commando Regiment in Oruzgan province, Afghanistan, in April 2009 when an insurgent bomb shattered his body.

With no memory of the explosion, he has only pieced together what happened via the recollections of his mates on patrol with him that day.

"My memory stops at some stage in the days prior," he says.

"I did look up at one stage (in hospital) and see someone who wasn't actually out in the field with us and I asked him what he was doing there, but then I passed out."

The explosion tore his right leg off about two-thirds of the way up the femur and his left foot was literally hanging by a thread.

Both his arms were fractured and he had a broken nose and torn mouth, but it was the damage to the right leg and the blood gushing from his severed femoral artery that was causing most concern as his mates moved quickly, despite their own injuries, to administer combat first aid.

The only reason Thomlinson is still alive today is because of the standard of first aid administered to him, firstly by his wounded comrades and then by the highly trained combat first aiders who kept him breathing until the medevac chopper arrived to fly him to a British field hospital.

Too Bold to Die by Ian McPhedran.
Too Bold to Die by Ian McPhedran.

Soon after he arrived home, Thomlinson set himself his first goal: to be standing on the airport tarmac to greet his mates when they returned home from duty in Afghanistan.

"Anyone can tell you that he's doing really well, anyone can tell you that, but until you have seen it with your own eyes it is not one of those things you take as seriously," he says.

"So I thought it was most important that I am there standing for the whole team when they get off that plane, that's the first thing they see."

That was a huge motivating factor as he recovered to the point where he could be fitted with prosthetic legs.

Then, in late 2010 Thomlinson got a call from Ray Palmer in Queensland, whose son Scott had been killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in June 2010.

Palmer had been on patrol in April 2009 and was one of the first on the scene after the blast that hit Thomlinson.

In July 2011 Thomlinson told Sydney's Daily Telegraph that Scott had phoned his dad and told him he didn't think 'Thommo' was going to make it.

Palmer senior told his son's mate that he and Scott had always planned to walk the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea and he wondered if Thomlinson might join him for the trek.

It comes as no surprise that Thomlinson completed the arduous walk across some of the toughest and most infamous mountain country on earth.

Too Bold to Die by Ian McPhedran is published by Harper Collins.


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