Lionel O’Connor, soldier and amateur boxer, remembers lying in the back of his patrol vehicle after being blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He had lost his leg in the blast, was bleeding heavily and there were the bodies of two dead soldiers lying over him. When the rescue party arrived his humour shone through, he joked to them “Have you ever seen a one legged boxer?”
Lionel O’Connor always wanted to be a soldier. He grew up in South Africa, and moved to England in 2001 with his parents in his mid-teens. His father, an optician, had done his military service in the South African ‘Parabats’ (the country’s airborne soldiers) and SAS. O’Connor finished his schooling in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and studied music at college, but being - as he put it - ‘young and dumb’, he failed to complete the course. ‘I needed to change my life and sort myself out instead of just being a bum.’ So, aged 20, he pursued his childhood dream and joined the Army, becoming a private in the Royal Anglian Regiment. His battalion was deployed to Iraq in 2006, and a month later a roadside bomb (IED or Improvised Explosive Device) blew up beneath Lionel’s armoured Land Rover.
15 months later, Lionel was doing well on his artificial leg. He has no regrets, taking the view that what happens happens. ‘I could have lost my leg as a civilian, and I wouldn’t have been supported as I am now by the Army,’ he says. ‘I am far better off. To be honest, I am glad to be alive, and the Army has been good to me.’ Had the thought of being killed crossed his mind when he joined up? ‘The same thing goes: if your number is up, then your number is up.’
While he was in hospital at Selly Oak, Blesma sent an amputee (in this case a double amputee) to see him. ‘That was my biggest inspiration,’ he says. He had been wondering whether he would walk again, and in had marched a man once far more badly injured than he had been, ‘laughing and joking’. Lionel knew that not only was there life after amputation, but a good life too.
Lionel, Layla and thier two children moved into a 4 bedroom house in October 2012, as part of HHT’s Shared Ownership Scheme. The MOD will adapt the house to suit Lionel’s needs. Layla says “You guys have helped us so much, more then words can say and we can’t say thank you enough. At long last we will have a proper family home and our lives will be changed and so much more easier.”