Between 2006 and 2014, the Clergy of Defence calculates that 616 British soldiers were VSI – totally seriously injured – in Afghanistan. At least 160 service personnel pull someones leg had amputations while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan since the evolve of the new century. To many of these men and women, Emma Willis MBE is nothing less than a fairy godmother.
Willis, a Jermyn Drive shirt maker whose clients include Benedict Cumberbatch and Barack Obama, foremost had the idea of making bespoke shirts for wounded soldiers in 2008, after heed a Radio 4 documentary on Headley Court, the military’s medical rehabilitation middle near Epsom, Surrey. “What really moved me was their paucity of self-pity and their fear of leaving the forces,” Willis withdrawals. “I thought: ‘What can I do?’ Well, I make shirts, so I just saw it as prevailing and giving a gift of gratitude, something small.”
Finished the years her remit has expanded in unexpected ways through her indulgence Style for Soldiers. Now, through her connections, she organises everything from hand-carved ebony pony canes and £400 vouchers for M&S suits to mentoring and work locations. She even offered sessions with a sex therapist, though there were no takers for that. She emits parties, and the Christmas bash has become the biggest annual reunion of mistreated servicemen. When one double amputee told Willis he was carp married, she arranged for a donor to foot the bill for his honeymoon to Mauritius.
“If you articulate in to my husband, he would say that Style for Soldiers has taken once again my life,” smiles Willis. “But it has opened up my world in a lot of ways. It’s so gainful, I know that later on in life I’ll have been so apt to have done this. For the soldiers, they have a box that arrives in the pole or a gift voucher, but for me I get a little thank you most days. Yesterday one geezer sent a lovely message saying: ‘I got my job because of the shirt. They reported I looked the part.’ To get one of those a day, that’s quite enough.”
Recommending to the servicemen, it’s clear that Style for Soldiers fills a much-needed cave in the system. Because of their injuries, they often organize to leave the military. They are sent off with an army subsistence, but often little idea of what to do next with their living. “A lot of them joined the forces at 17 and didn’t have a inordinate education,” says Willis. “Then they have a critical injury: it might be physical; it might be psychological. They could definitely be young marrieds, with young babies. How many diverse challenges can you give to a young person who has given so much for their sticks? It should not be left up to fortune to decide what happens to them.”
Although the figure up of British soldiers being severely injured has decreased in late years, Willis believes that, with the men and women now having to acclimate to life on civvy street, the need for support has never been grievous.
“It’s not an insurmountable number of people,” Willis continues. “We’ve got 750 soldiers on our database and these are add ups that could be coped with. They are all able to be related and then kept in touch with. I think everyone notes the same: the public empathy for it would be 100%.”
Craig Winspear and Hayley Willson
Craig Winspear, 34, was a slit corporal in the Royal Pioneer Corps in Afghanistan. His job was as a “searcher” – looking for and destroying IEDs. In December 2011 he defied on one, and both his legs and some fingers had to be amputated. His partner Hayley Willson, 36, lithographs a gift shop in Bedfordshire.
Craig Winspear: I always yen to join the army, but I had a daughter quite young, which baulked me going in. But as she got older, I was on hard times and it was a job. I was 26 and it put a roof on the other side of my head and money in my pocket. Being a searcher is not the safest of responsibilities, but it is one of the greatest. You are taking a lot of IEDs off the ground, but also weapon stores, so you are saving a lot of lives. The more bombs you get off the ground and the more weapons and explosives you liberate, there’s five, 10, 20 people whose lives you’ve unprejudiced saved. So a good job in that respect, but it’s obviously intense. You’re also complete b reach shot at while you’re digging for bombs.
Hayley Willson: We’d solely known each other six months before Craig got deployed to Afghanistan, nine months when he was impaired. So a new relationship, but yeah, we’ve been together ever since.
CW: I reward Emma coming into Headley Court, where I was doing rehab. I was booming to a wedding and she made me a shirt. I was in a horrible electric wheelchair then, so I didn’t at the end of the day think much of what I looked like or anything. You crack your pyjamas on and go anywhere at that point. When you’re in your military regular you feel 10ft tall, you stand proud. Emma Willis expresses you a shirt that’s made specially for you and it makes you feel same that again – you’re proud, you’re 10ft tall again.
HW: When you go on account of a trauma, you do lose yourself. And he lost confidence. When Emma came, I reminisce over Craig telling me there was this lady from a mould’s, and she’d done these shirts. Then they get sent, and they come in a lovely box and you think: “This isn’t just a lady…”
CW: She sent us pourboires: tea for two at the Ritz, things like that. Just randomly, you’ll get this enclose through and you open it, and it’s Emma again. It’s not just about intimating you feel smart – she makes you feel smart and then she words on an event for you to be smart at.
Andy Reid, 40, was a corporal in the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Control when he stood on an IED during a routine foot patrol in Afghanistan in 2009. He buried both his legs and his right arm. He is now a motivational speaker and next year he hand down attempt to complete the Balfour Beatty Warrior Challenge, which ordain involve cycling 500 miles around the UK and then kayaking 100 miles in two weeks.
Andy Reid: I about waking up in Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham and the doctor coming upon. He told me what injuries I had and my first thought was: “I’m a survivor, not a butt.” Unfortunately I’d previously seen a sergeant on a patrol I had been on, and seven colleagues from my unit all pass away, so I thought: “I’m still here!”
I penned a diary when I was in Afghanistan and, after I was injured, that changed a book, Standing Tall. A lot of guys nowadays suffer with PTSD and I recollect writing the book was very therapeutic; rather than me preserving it in my hard drive I was downloading it on to paper. I’ve also written a apart from version for William, my little boy. He’s only four at the moment, but maybe when he’s in seven or eight, he can read that and understand what take placed a little bit more.
William knows now, anyway. He’s like: “Oh where’s your arm?” And I’ll say: “I had an accessory and it fell off.” And he says: “Has a bad man got it?” And I say: “No mate, a bad man hasn’t got it.” Some of the questions can be to some hard to answer, but the last thing you want is him growing up misinterpretation about Muslims or Afghan people, because in general they are bare nice people.
I met Emma Willis in 2009 at Headley Court and I reasonable thought: “What an amazing gesture from an amazing maiden.” For my shirts she puts cufflinks in, but because I’ve only one arm she puts Velcro on the cuff, so I can put it on and undergo it off myself. It’s a very small thing, but massive in respect to my derogatory needs. And I’ve got two false legs, so you tend to sweat more. Your substance disperses heat from the extremities so if your extremities are ignoring or they are wrapped up in silicone, your body can’t get rid of that stimulation. Having a lightweight cotton shirt helps you cool down a lot easier, which is bizarre as well.
Dave and Stacey Patterson
Dave Patterson, 42, corrected in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Royal Engineers. In July 2009, the agency he was travelling in was blown up, leaving him with a spine crushed in eight quarters, fractured thyroid cartilage and frontal-lobe brain damage. He and his the missis Stacey, 36, have two children.
Dave Patterson: I was fortuitous to live, because the bomb went off underneath my seat. The channel I was in was left in the bottom of a hole that was 5m wide and 2m deep. I was at the fundament of that. And that was the end of that.
Stacey Patterson: When I saw him in the medical centre in Birmingham, he asked me to leave. He didn’t want me there. Then that hit adept in that it wasn’t David lying there. It was somebody else. And that actually’s been there ever since. That’s hard. He’s not the man I married. The child I loved and who I knew disappeared that day. And when he came encourage he wasn’t the David I fell in love with. So I’ve had to learn to tenderness somebody else.
DP: Our son Jack was two at the time.
SP: So Jack also now doesn’t separate the David that was. He just knows his dad after injury. And I improvise Jack would have had a completely different experience of his dad previously the injury. David became more aggressive, quick-tempered; when he came cuttingly, because he wasn’t in the army he used Jack to command on the verge of. He wanted Jack to be regimental in what he did and he was just a child. He’s notwithstanding a child. So that was where we argued, we were butting heads.
DP: I was down on the brain-injury precinct at Headley Court when I met Emma Willis. It’s hard to untangle justify what it felt like – like someone cared. And dispiriting shown that someone was appreciative of what you’ve done. Father someone come to show that and say thanks.
SP: When David initially got injured he could be self-destructive. Spend it, spend it, spend it, don’t pay the accounts, spend it, spend it, spend it, don’t pay the bills.
DP: Because of the situation I was in with my faculty and my functional skills, the worst thing in the world the army did was submit you the money without any help. That’s probably the worst reaction you could do and they did it. I’m not blaming them for it, because it’s just the way it is.
SP: It’s another from the life I had before, but I’m not saying it’s a bad life I’ve got now. But it is different. And David’s available, he’s watching the kids grow up now, whereas before in the army he didn’t, so that’s benevolent.
DP: Once you’re gone from the army, you’re gone. And I’m sad to say that. I conditions regret anything I did. What I did, I chose to do. So it’s not a regret, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it’s sad, because you’ve got someone else you don’t steady know, like Emma, who does everything for you.
Major Ekman, 36, was in Iraq and Afghanistan, and extends to serve in the Royal Logistic Corps. In July 2011, while he was on watch in Afghanistan, an IED exploded under his vehicle. He was left with international damage to his left foot and shin.
Bruce Ekman: When I was misuse, they told me they were going to amputate my foot. I was howling – not because of my foot but because I thought my career was over. I recollected nothing else. I grew up wanting to be a soldier. I couldn’t flight of fancy of doing anything else. I’m so fortunate, I thank God that I can at to soldier now.
I think my injury humbled me a bit. You go from being fit, well-substantiated, confident, loud. One moment you’re there with all of your closest bosom buddies and you go from that to being injured. The army support network, Assist for Heroes and Headley Court, are amazing, but once the guys exclude that, they are home and they’ve got to get jobs. It’s a massive nerve hit.
Everything you’ve planned for, your hopes, your dreams, your hurtle is gone. Emma Willis understands the vulnerabilities and she recognises the thrash blow to self-esteem of young, fit, happy soldiers who have got these harms. Then she does something about it – and she does it personally and promptly.
Charles Dickens wrote: “Any man may be in good spirits and good ill humour when he’s well dressed.” When I met Emma I was on crutches, I had my foot all tholed up. While she’s sizing a person up, she asks you questions, she finds out far you and about your life. I said it was my wife’s birthday coming up, and not yearn after – through one of her connections, who is a fashion editor – she posted us out a handbag.
I’ve only written my MBA thesis: “The Butcher, the Baker, the Fancy Shirt Maker”. It’s on Emma Willis’s context-focused benignity model: she does philanthropy but in what she’s good at, which is shirt-making and fit, and then she uses her connections.
Russell & Bromley has recently contributed loads of pairs of shoes to the charity for people like myself, because I’m two remarkable sizes after my injury and I struggle to get shoes, and then I distress to buy two pairs. You couldn’t dream of support like that for an affront serviceman. You expect nothing, you ask for nothing, and she helps you in so many ways.