The story of a Northern Irish soldier who lost his legs and was blinded in Afghanistan has proved an inspiration for seventeen-year-old George Wray from Ballymoney.
Three years ago Royal Irish Ranger Andy Allen, then just 19, was caught by a makeshift bomb detonated remotely by the Taliban. In a moment his life was changed for ever and Andy was left with devastating physical and psychological injuries.
His battle for survival and the slow, painful road to recovery were memorably charted in a television documentary in which Andy, whose courage is equalled only by his determination, shared his harrowing experiences with millions of shocked viewers.
Now Andy is bringing the same determination and energy to fund-raising for the charities which helped him. Most recently he encouraged George and other members of the Armed Cadet Force, together with their Adult Instructors, to put some fun into fund-raising for St Dunstan’s, the charity which provides training and rehabilitation to blind ex-servicemen and women.
This month George and nine fellow Cadets, accompanied by three Adult Instructors, stepped out on a thirteen mile charity bed push from Newtownabbey to Carrickfergus Castle.
Spurring them on and providing a reminder of the importance of their chosen good cause was their personal hero, Andy Allen.
Lieutenant John Read from the Army Cadet Force, said: “Anyone with a teenager in the family will know that it takes something special to get them up and moving first thing on a Saturday! It’s perhaps ironic that we’re getting them out of bed to push a bed … but it’s all in a very good cause!
“Andy’s story struck a real chord with our Cadets, partly because he was so young when he was injured. They related to his view of life as a 19-year-old caught up in unimaginable horror and they were both moved and inspired by his down to earth courage.
“The kids have genuinely been inspired by Andy’s story and they wanted to do something to help his appeal for St Dunstan’s so we’re hoping that friends, family and even the general public will respond with generosity to their special event.”
Andy who has taken the cause of St Dunstan’s very much to heart is understandably delighted at the support from the local Cadets. He says: “I couldn’t have even told you who St Dunstan’s were before this happened to me. Now, I feel embarrassed saying that, but I suppose that’s just human nature. Since being wounded, there’s a whole world of things I’ve learned and St Dunstan’s have been brilliant. They’re not as recognised as some other charities but there’s no one else out there helping like them and they deserve our support.
‘I’ll always be grateful for what they did for me and I’m proud to champion the charity, telling people about the importance of its work and encouraging fund-raising.”
Colin Williamson of St Dunstan’s was supporting the bed push every step of the way. He says: “I suppose, given our experiences at St Dunstan’s, we should never be surprised at the courage and determination which servicemen and women bring to rebuilding shattered lives and Andy is a great example. He is a fantastically positive individual whose energies and focus have made a real difference to our charity.
“Andy’s willingness to share his experiences has given people a greater understanding of what it really means to be seriously wounded while on service and what happens when the headlines fade. We were proud to support Andy and we are delighted that, in his turn, he and his family have elected to support us.”