Wales

Stuart Hughes' prosthetic leg is war reporting exhibit

Stuart Hughes and his original prosthetic leg
Image caption Stuart's false leg has seen service in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Iraq

BBC World Affairs producer Stuart Hughes talks about his unique contribution to a exhibition on war reporting - a prosthetic leg.

I'm not getting any younger - but I certainly didn't consider myself to be a museum piece just yet.

However, when a former editor told me he was helping to organise Britain's largest-ever exhibition about war correspondents at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester I hoped there might be a glass case with my name on it.

In April 2003 I was on assignment for BBC News in northern Iraq. One bright spring morning my team travelled to a frontline position in the town of Kifri, which had been abandoned the night before by Saddam Hussein's forces. Our guide, a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier, assured us the area was safe. He was wrong.

Just seconds after stepping out of our vehicle I triggered an anti-personnel landmine. It blew off my right heel.

On hearing the explosion my cameraman, the Iranian photojournalist Kaveh Golestan, instinctively thought we were coming under mortar fire. He tried to run for safety. Instead, tragically, he set off two more landmines.

He was killed instantly.

I received emergency medical treatment in Iraq before being flown back to the UK. Although I now live in London I chose to return to my hometown of Cardiff to be nearer to my parents. Five days after stepping on the landmine my right leg was amputated below the knee. Shortly afterwards I began the long process of rehabilitation.

Image caption Stuart was on assignment in northern Iraq when he stepped on a landmine

The process of learning to walk again was frustratingly slow. The pace was dictated by the speed at which my wounds healed and the swelling around what remained of my damaged leg eased.

Three months after the amputation I was fitted with my first prosthetic leg at Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff. It felt alien and unwieldy at first, a clumsy appendage compared to real skin, bone and muscle. Even so, being able to walk upright again was still infinitely preferable to sitting in a wheelchair.

Six months after the explosion I was well enough to resume my old job as a World Affairs Producer for BBC News. Wherever I went my artificial leg came with me - from the streets of Damascus, Beirut and Jerusalem to the British military base in Basra.

But a few years ago, after countless foreign assignments and many thousands of road miles, the time finally came to retire my trusty prosthesis.

My piece of precision Welsh engineering was showing its age. It was battered, worn and past its best - not unlike its owner. If it looked like it had been through the wars that was because it had - several times.

I was fitted with a new leg and Old Faithful was consigned to the back of the wardrobe like a child's toy that has fallen out of favour.

But it's about to enjoy a new lease of life.

In a few days' time it will be packed in bubble wrap and cardboard and sent to the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. There it will form part of the exhibition "War Correspondent: reporting under fire since 1914."

It'll be in illustrious company.

From May until January next year it will stand alongside other relics donated by war correspondents from down the ages; the burka John Simpson wore when he secretly entered Afghanistan in 2001, a bullet that narrowly missed Kate Adie during the Gulf War and one of Martin Bell's trademark white suits.

Sadly, journalism can be a perilous profession. The campaign group Reporters Without Borders says 57 journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2010. In recent months a number of journalists have suffered horrific injuries in roadside bombings in Afghanistan.

Image caption Stuart became a patron of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and met a fellow amputee in Cambodia

Just a few weeks ago a cameraman for Al Jazeera, Ali Hassan al-Jaber, was shot dead in an ambush near the Libyan city of Benghazi. Other journalists working in Libya have been detained and beaten.

I can't claim mine will be the first prosthetic limb to go on public display. A replica of a Roman artificial leg dating from 300 BC is on show at the Science Museum. A prosthetic arm worn by the photojournalist Mo Amin, who lost his arm when an ammunition dump exploded in Ethiopia, is kept in a case at the Frontline Club, a watering hole for foreign correspondents in London. I raise a glass to it every time I'm there.

It's strange to think a part of me will soon be on display, naked for all to see. I hope all those who see it at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester take a moment to reflect on the risks faced by newsgatherers around the world who willingly put themselves in the line of fire to bring the news to audiences back home because they believe that bearing witness to momentous events is worth the risk.

I just hope my leg doesn't get lonely without me.

War Correspondent: reporting under fire since 1914 runs at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester from 28 May 2011 to 2 January 2012

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