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Harry's Arctic Heroes: My North Pole adventure

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Martin Hewitt Martin Hewitt | 11:11 UK time, Tuesday, 23 August 2011

On completing a ski race I arrived back at the mountain lodge to publish the results on my blog and noticed an email from a friend, which was entitled "North Pole". My heartbeat raised and I became immediately excited.

For the first time since my injury I knew without hesitation that this was a challenge I wanted in on, and was prepared to do whatever it took and make any sacrifice to be a part of it.

Captain Martin Hewitt pulling a pulk

Captain Martin Hewitt pulling a pulk

I was serving in Afghanistan as a platoon commander in the Parachute Regiment when I was shot leading an attack on an enemy position.

While moving forward I was shot through the upper chest, shortly followed by a bullet in the foot.

The impact threw me to the ground and I immediately realised that the bullet had severed the artery supplying blood to my right arm and severed the nerves, rendering the arm paralysed.

I'd always looked for challenges, which is why I commissioned into the Paras, and enjoyed working under pressure in the austere conditions of the desert. I wanted to see if I could do this in the Arctic.

On returning from racing, I was interviewed in London alongside dozens of other hopefuls and invited to attend a selection weekend in the Arctic Circle that May.

I'd never seen a pulk or Nordic skis so it was all rather strange.

The selection process involved pulling a pulk over undulating terrain for two days, and camping out overnight in a tent with my new teammate Guy, who'd lost a leg in Afghanistan.

I hit it off with Guy "Maximus" Disney and the rest of the team immediately, and while the selection was challenging, I enjoyed every minute of this barren environment and the other team members.

On completion of the selection weekend I was invited to begin training as part of the team.

I was still undergoing the occasional operation on my injuries and thought that the training would help me maintain drive and a good standard of physical fitness.

Should I make it to the Pole it would not only be an achievement, but to me it would signify overcoming the injuries I'd sustained in battle.

Captain Martin Hewitt, Prince Harry and his colleagues in the arctic.

Captain Martin Hewitt walking with his team: Left to right - Simon Daglish, Prince Harry, Inge Solheim (behind), Capt Martin Hewitt, Pte Jaco Van Gass, Sgt Steve Young, Henry Cookson, Capt Guy Disney, and Ed Parker.

I've had to adapt everything since my injury - from learning to write and type with one hand (my non-dominant hand), to searching for a new career.

I'd found the greatest physical challenges to date were regaining independence in independent living with one arm.

If I could achieve that in the most inhospitable environment on the planet, it would signify overcoming the additional challenges my disability have presented me.

While I'd faced mental challenges coming to terms with the loss of my prized career, I felt that I'd maintained a strong mental robustness too, post-injury, and thought this would be a great test of that.

As the training progressed, and more people became aware of the expedition, I was getting messages from other injured colleagues stating that what we were doing was providing them with motivation to get their own lives back on track.

This was something I never anticipated at first and it had a huge impact on me. I now felt that I had a professional duty as a serving officer to ensure success in order to provide an example to others.

It was this - and the desire to achieve success - that drove me on in training.

I just had to convince my poor parents, who'd hoped I'd calm down a little post-injury, that ski racing downhill for the country and walking to the North Pole were perfectly safe. Erm...

Prince Harry in the water

Prince Harry on the Arctic Circle expedition

Throughout the expedition we worked to each other's strengths and supported each other with our injuries. This is something we found came naturally with a military background.

While there were long periods in our own thoughts walking, walking, and a little more damn walking, we'd push each other on with jokes, banter and taking the piss.

I've always found that soldiers have a slightly dark, even warped, sense of humour and that made the expedition significantly more bearable than it could have been.

On the ice I found that I was back to my old self, as this was the first time post-injury that I was part of a close team, which the expedition has highlighted I'd missed enormously.

Harry's Arctic Heroes will show the journey in more depth than I can go into here but I'll culminate by staying that we succeeded due to drive, determination, team work and a great support structure - along with a little blessing from lady luck.

Captain Martin Hewitt is a participant in Harry's Arctic Heroes.

Harry's Arctic Heroes is on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday, 23 August.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    Excellent, that's allyou can say.

    Heroes one and all.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well done boys! You are truly an inspiration for us all! It makes you think twice about a cold/flu we complain about or everything else we take for granted.

  • Comment number 3.

    these courageous men how inspirational they are. i was very pleased to see how big prince harry was in helping these men. it brought a lump to my throat

  • Comment number 4.

    Amazed, inspired and incredibly humbled as I watched your stories unfold. Thankyou for all you have done and continue to do. Truly inspirational to all!

  • Comment number 5.

    What an inspirational, amazing, and sometimes heart wrenching story about 4 wounded soldiers. Not only did they overcome their injuries, but also achieved something that very few able bodied people have been able to do. They make my own health problems pale into insignificance. Well done to the whole team involved in making the programme - can't wait to watch the second part next week. Hope that a book and DVD will follow?

  • Comment number 6.

    A truly super endeavour - we did in fact meet Martin on a dive boat in Komodo some 18 months or so ago with a buddy of his and its no surprise having met him that he's up for this challenge - you were memorable then for all the right reasons, humor, tenacity, courage and your positive attitude towards pretty much everything. Good luck in this and all that follows - we shall be watching and I hope it also encourages people to give to the forces charity for injured soldiers.

  • Comment number 7.

    Martin, what a fantastic achievement. I watched the programme with awe. Being married to a serving paratrooper for over 26 years i was well tuned to your humour and antics. Thank you for having the courage to carry on. For being out there after your accident and showing people how to move on. Well done.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm totally phased by you guys - what an achievement. I only hope that some of the rioters of previous weeks watched it and felt a very deep sense of shame. Good luck for the future.

  • Comment number 9.

    You are all all amazing, true heroes and an inspiration to everyone.

    I am also keeping my fingers crossed for you and Pte Jaco Van Gass for the Mount Everest expedition as I know you are presently in training.

  • Comment number 10.

    WELL DONE BOYS!!! Thank you all so much for allowing us to share your journey. What an achievement!!! So so proud of you all!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    Martin and Jaco are now out in the Himalayas with 7 other wounded soldiers, just beginning the training for Everest. Another long journey, but the same fortitude and determination showing how extraordinary these guys are.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just amazing, your journey, your achievement, all of you! Your families must be so proud!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Corri, our families are proud, and gave us extraordinary support. People forget how they are affected by the injuries. They have to provide the support mechanism for the future, never questioning what's happened, just looking forward. They are owed so much by us all.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thank you Kargil. It was an amazing journey and watching it back this evening conjures up many emotions. We were privileged to be there, and I was privileged to be with an extraordinary group of people. And while you have been watching 4 young men, I can assure you that there are many more who have been wounded, equally determined, equally courageous, who would inspire you. They just need our support in the future.

  • Comment number 15.

    Watching this was really something. - Well done to everyone who challenged the North Pole and came out Victorious
    Completed Everest base camp last year and now I need to do this one!
    You're all truly inspirational - Congratulations to each and every one of you. Your families must be proud, I know I would be.

    I am truly motivated to do this myself, but the costs are huge - £25k
    Does anyone know another way around these huge costs?.

  • Comment number 16.

    Not sure how to say this. I know these guys did not sign up to being without a limb or two, but they did sign up to being shot at or to being blown up by an IED, and anyone should know that the consequences might be a loss of a limb.... I'm not sure how they are now heroes. How much support do they need? These "heroes" who through their Army pension, Help for Heroes, the best possible physio. and prostheses etc have an enormous amount of financial and emotional support. Not to mention a chance to walk to the pole with buddies. Just like being in the army again. Did they pay for it out of their own pockets? I don't think so. Please put me right...I expect wrath.

  • Comment number 17.

    Dear Solidus825, These guys go into the conflict zone fully aware of what could happen to them, and they dont expect people's sympathy to what has happened to them. But we do feel they deserve our support as they enter the civilian world, and we are looking to help them find jobs. That is the underlying brief of Walking with the Wounded, the charity. They didnt pay for their inclusion in the expedition, but all the costs were covered by our generous corporate sponsors so those who have generously donated can do so knowing they are not funding our expeditions, they are putting money towards the re-education and re-training of our wounded. And on the use of the word 'heroes' I can assure you it is a word they they are all uncomfortable with and they don't consider themselves one.

  • Comment number 18.

    I wanted to support what Ed Parker says about the families. Several years ago I had the pleasure to meet a family who told me about their son and brother who had been injured in Afghanistan. They were telling me of the day the two family officers came to the door, the dark days that followed and how their son/brother had recovered and was aiming to ski for the British Team. I cried when they left me. The pride that they had shone and I felt humbled by the experience that they had and yet they were still strong, supporting their son in his dream to ski when they could so easily have begged him to take care and slow down. Then I turned the tv on the other night to watch the expedition. Capt Martin Hewitt was introduced and that memory of the family I met came back to me. This was the man that I had heard of, the man who I have thought of often since when I have had a bad day and thought that I was hard done to. I remembered the pride of the family and the determination to support Martin to do what he wanted to do regardless of how it might worry them. Whilst soldiers are dealing with their own injuries and emotions the families are the ones that are to support despite their own emotional turmoil. Heroes come in many forms. I for one am not sure that I could hold myself together if I was expected to support a family member in this truly difficult situation but to then go on and support them in an adventure like this is truly remarkable. Thank you to all of the families for their unending love and support.

  • Comment number 19.

    Dear Cherisong and Ed Parker, I guess what I am trying to say is: "what makes these guys different to any other guys that have had a life changing injury either at work or at play?" Ed, I actually do sympathize with them - no one should have to deal with a losing a leg etc. And also, I have a deep respect for them. But don't these sort of injuries happen to civilian "people" too - people who didn't "sign up" for a life with a devastating injury, people who ended an ordinary day without a leg - often through no fault of themselves, maybe just an accident, but are then left with relatively little support? That civilian person's family will still have to provide an enormous amount of support, won't they? Whereas, the forces already offer a huge amount of financial support and emotional support - in excess of that offered in civilian life. It's just now, with the charity "hero" bandwagon of Help for Heroes, and yes, Walking for the Wounded, that are raising millions (£100m for HfH already apparently) they are getting even more financial and emotional help. This seems to be distracting from those other guys and charities also trying to raise the profile and funds for potentially seriously injured people that don't happen to be associated with the forces. Also, Ed, I fully understand how embarrassed all those guys are to be called heroes, but they are riding on the benefits of the term being used. It seems that yes, they do need support to return to civilian life - a life that is quite ordinary, often dull and definitely out of the limelight. However, full of injured people who have never been called heroes, but have had to deal with a life changing event yet without the financial and emotional support offered by the forces, without the "hero" worship and without the new finance or support opportunities offered by this bandwagon. Also, Cherisong, many civilian injured people recover and still aspire to ski...and many don't recover. I don't know what your point is except he happened to be in the forces...


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