Poppy Appeal’s Mark visits Beer school

THE face of this year’s Poppy Appeal visited Beer Primary School on Friday.

Mark Stonelake, of 29 Royal Commando Regiment, took questions from the pupils and talked about the Royal British Legion’s annual appeal.

The 26-year-old gunner from Paignton was on a recce in Afghanistan in December 2008 when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. Mark was blown 20ft high, leaving him with horrific injuries including a fractured spine, smashed right foot and his left leg hanging off.

“At one point I was chewing on my own teeth because my teeth had got mashed up,” he said.

Initially treated at the field hospital in Camp Bastion, he was placed in an induced coma and flown back to Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, where his parents had to give consent for his leg to be amputated.

After eight weeks at a specialist back clinic, Mark was moved to Headley Court to start his rehabilitation. In March 2009, he took his first steps with his prosthetic leg.

“To start with, it was quite tricky, but you soon get used to it,” he said.

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The news that his fiancee Donna Canty, who serves in the Royal Navy, was expecting a baby, was a source of motivation whenever things looked bleak.

Now 10 months old, Grace remains Mark’s main inspiration. He said. “You don’t dwell on your injuries because you’ve got someone else to think about.”

For every serviceman killed, four or five are injured. Mark was eager to help promote the work the RBL does to get their lives back on track.

“It was an honour to be asked,” he said. “The Legion has given me the freedon to walk again, and it’s important to get the word out.”

With his active service brought so abruptly to an end, Mark is thinking of training as a counsellor, using his own experience to help other soldiers.

“It would be something I’d like to get into,” he said. “I’m keen on helping other people, as it’s not about yourself.”

Poppy Appeal fundraiser Carole Arnold, who organised the visit, said: “Mark shows the RBL is not just for veterans, it’s for people like Mark, those serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere now.”

Headteacher Martin O Mahony, said: “It’s been a real privilege to have Mark here today, it’s something that we can learn from.”