Published: 00:00, 15 June 2007
| Updated: 11:29, 15 June 2007
A YOUNG soldier has made a miraculous recovery after suffering horrific injuries in Afghanistan and is due to be married to the girl who has stood by him.
Lance Cpl Martyn Compton, 23, from Staplehurst, near Maidstone, serves with The Household Cavalry. He had been in Helmand province for five weeks when his convoy entered a deserted looking village on August 1 last year.
Signalman Compton was driving his tank that day because the usual driver was ill. As they passed through the village, the Taliban launched their ambush.
“All hell broke loose,” said Cpl Compton. “The vehicle in front kept going but my commander shouted at me to reverse as fast as I could.”
Cpl slammed the tank into reverse but a roadside bomb ripped the vehicle apart. He
Martyn said: "I looked behind me but the back of the tank was gone. So were my commander and the other two people who had been sitting there. They were dead – I was terrified.
“I saw a Taliban fighter appear over the wall and fire a rocket propelled grenade straight at me, into the tank.”
The vehicle’s engine exploded, engulfing Cpl Compton in flames. In agony, he leaped from the tank and ran behind a wall.
“I threw my body armour off. It was melting into my skin. I rolled around on the floor. I thought I was going to die.”
Incredibly, he managed to run about 80 metres and find cover behind a low wall. A Taliban shot him in the leg.
Eventually he heard British voices. His colleagues discovered three dead soldiers and realised a fourth was missing. They could not believe Cpl had run as far as he had. They assumed he had been blown from the tank.
They almost didn’t rescue him, almost mistaking his charred face for the dark skin of a Taliban.
But two brave soldiers provided cover for heroic Lance Corporal of Horse Andrew Radford, who ran to Cpl Compton, picked him up, threw him over his shoulders and raced back up the hill.
L Cpl Radford received the Conspicuous Gallantry Award for his courage.
“In the tank I began shouting in pain,” said Cpl Compton. “Then I began fading in and out of consciousness.”
It was a race against time to get him back to Camp Bastion, the British forces’ base in southern Afghanistan.
His injuries were so serious that he "died" on the way back to the base, only to be revived. Hours later he was flown to the UK – and "died" again during the flight.
Cpl Compton's fiancee Michelle Clifford, 27, from Frittenden, was waiting at the Broomfield Hospital burns unit in Chelmsford.
The couple had met in January 2006 at The Bull Inn, Staplehurst, and Cpl Compton proposed five months later – weeks before he was off to Afghanistan.
As youngsters, both had attended Angley School, Cranbrook, but their paths never crossed because Michelle was older.
“That first night the doctor told us there was a chance Martyn wouldn’t live,” said Michelle, a teacher at Aylesford School Sports College.
“But I’d been planning our wedding and I was not going to give up on Martyn. When I saw him I couldn’t speak. He was bandaged from head to foot.
"His head had swollen to four times its normal size but his body was half the size it had been because flesh and muscle had been burned away.”
Cpl Compton, who had also caught a potentially fatal skin infection from the Afghan soil and suffered a broken right thigh as a result of being shot, was sedated for three months and had to undergo 15 operations.
Surgeons removed dead skin from his body and performed skin grafts, using shark cartilage as a base for new skin on his face. His shattered thigh was pinned together.
Michelle, along with Martyn’s father, Robert, moved into an Army house close to the hospital. She spent every day with Cpl Compton and decorated his room with toys and pictures of their friends, family and wedding venue – Port Lympne.
In October, Martyn woke up and six weeks later saw himself in a mirror for the first time since the ambush.
“Michelle told me everything she loved about me was still the same and that she’d always stand by me,” said Cpl Compton. "I love her to bits for that.”
He left the burns unit in December and two months later began Army rehabilitation. He stayed with Michelle and her parents Rosie and Brian.
His goal now is to be strong enough to stand beside Michelle at their wedding next summer. He has more reconstructive surgery planned and hopes his regiment will find him a suitable job.
“I can’t help thinking how different it might have been if I’d been on signal duty as normal that day,” he said.
“I would have been sitting at the back of the tank and died. As it is, I lost a good friend Lance Corporal Ross Nicholls. I will never forget him.”
But Martyn said that for him, his injuries were simply something that happened. “It’s a part of the job. I don’t have any regrets at all.”