Stratford soldier tells of life detecting bombs in Afghanistan

A serving Stratford soldier has an simple way of dealing with one of his unit’s toughest jobs - banter with friends.

Private Thomas Purcell, of 23 Pioneer Regiment, recently spent six months on tour as part of the team tasked with clearing bombs in Afghanistan.

The role means he is more exposed to the harsh reality of losing a close colleague – or facing injury himself.

Pte Purcell, who grew up in Vickers Lane, was awarded a medal for his bravery at homecoming parade in Oxford earlier this year.

Speaking to the Recorder from his base in Bicester, he said: “I do talk about what I do with my friends. Some of them hate the thought that I might lose my legs.

“It’s good to talk about it with them because we can banter. Sometimes they get upset and we get upset together.”

Pte Purcell accepts the threat of death or serious injury as an occupational hazard. Groups of seven are sometimes given just one hour’s notice before being sent out on the road.

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During his tour, Pte Purcell was faced with his own mortality just once. He said: “We incurred a casualty in our team. I don’t think we were prepared for it – you don’t really expect it.

“You just have to change your mindset. All your work is focused on getting to him.

“If I think back on it now I don’t remember much because it was just too quick.”

When out of base, he stays with his mother, who has since moved to the West Midlands. His brother Kevin now works as a labourer after leaving the forces.

He said: “It is hard on tour, but it’s probably harder for family and friends because they are at home sitting and waiting. I did have a girlfriend but we broke up because of this.”

Pte Purcell regularly comes back to Stratford to socialise with friends, but admits he has not taken much notice of any changes to the area as the Olympics loom on the horizon.

“I’m just glad to be home,” he added.