A SOLDIER has described the moment three comrades were killed when their armoured vehicle was thrown 20 feet in the air by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
Corporal William Savage, Fusilier Samuel Flint and Private Robert Hetherington died when their Mastiff armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED) during a routine patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj, Helmand province, in April.
The commander of the vehicle, Corporal David Gillies, was one of six soldiers who were injured in the blast.
He was among survivors who met the Duke of York when he visited the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 Scots) yesterday.
Prince Andrew is Royal Colonel of 2 Scots, the battalion of Cpl Savage, 30, and Fusilier Flint, 21. Pte Hetherington, 25, was a soldier with 51st Highland, 7th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (7 Scots).
During his visit to 2 Scots’ welfare centre in Penicuik, Midlothian, yesterday the prince held a private meeting with Fusilier Flint’s brother, Fusilier David Broughton, and Cpl Savage’s wife, Lyndsey, who gave birth to the couple’s first child, Connor, last month.
He then met the families of Scottish troops serving in Helmand province.
Speaking after the prince’s visit, Cpl Gillies, also of 2 Scots, described the “horrible” moment he learned that three of his friends had died in the bomb blast.
The 27-year-old, from Glasgow, was sitting in the commander’s seat at the front right of the vehicle and said the soldiers would have died “instantly” due to the size of the explosion.
“It was massive,” he said. “The shockwave was so big it made everybody in the vehicle unconscious and it flung us 20ft in the air.
“It lifted a 27-tonne armoured vehicle 20ft in the air, so you know it’s going to be big.
“It flung us 20ft backwards and made a ten metre by ten metre crater.
“I was the first person to wake up from being unconscious. I tried to wake up the driver and shouted into the back if everybody was all right and I could just hear people breathing and screaming.
“It was horrible. Once the dust settled, I looked at the back and there were no back doors, so it ripped the armoured doors straight off, it ripped the top hatch straight off and the whole turret came completely off.
“I was just asking everybody if they were OK and just trying to wake everyone up one by one. In the back, three of the guys weren’t awake. I didn’t know that they were dead at the time, I was just trying to get the boys to wake them up.
“It took a good 20 minutes for the guys to get to the vehicle – they had to go through their drills. I just had to try to tell everybody it was all going to be all right, just try and keep reassuring everybody.
“I was putting my hands on my face because I knew I had blood on my face. I knew I was all right but I was in shock.”
Cpl Gillies said he did not learn until the next day that three of his comrades had died.
“I knew I was unconscious, so I thought they might just have been unconscious,” he said.
“I was in intensive care in hospital, that’s when the commanding officer came in and told us the next day that the guys hadn’t made it.
“It was horrible, when someone comes in and tells you your pals haven’t made it. Cpl Savage I’ve known since I joined the army, I’ve known him for years. We were really close.”
Cpl Gillies’ injuries included a broken ankle, damaged right leg, damaged left knee, laceration of his spleen and facial scarring.
He said that, with the support of the battalion, he was making a good recovery at home with wife Veronica and their three children – David, eight, Darren, four, and Emily, eight months.
Major Alan Grant, commanding officer of the rear operations group of 2 Scots, said the prince’s visit had provided a morale boost for the families of the battalion.
Speaking about the deaths of the three soldiers, he said: “The tragic loss had a massive impact on us. However, we have moved on as best we can and what we have noticed is that it has gelled the community.”