Exhibition preview: Unseen Enemy, National Army Museum, London, until March 31 2014
Improvised Explosive Devices have been the weapons of choice for insurgents in Afghanistan.
Their profligacy makes their danger routine to the men and women who search for them, giving a matter-of-fact feel to the reflections of service people exposed to life-threatening risk.
“I started screaming,” says Captain Dave Henson, one of the personnel who spoke as part of this exhibition, remembering the moment he stepped on an IED.
“But it wasn’t like a scream of pain. There wasn’t really that much pain at that point.
“It was a scream of just sheer frustration, because it was at that point you realise that things are going to change quite significantly."
Given unprecedented access to the Army and Navy in combat, photographers pictured the bombsuits and robots charged with giving detectorists an element of confidence in their safety.
But the aftermath when those fail, from the point of injury to treatment at Camp Bastion hospital and rehabilitation in Britain, is an unthinkable test of resilience. Sometimes, soldiers and those responsible for planting the devices are even treated in the same room.
“Before I went on tour, I made sure I’d climbed a mountain so I could tick that box off of my things to list, just in case it happened,” says Henson.
“And then I actually lost my legs. So I was very aware of the possibility – that helped a lot, I think.
“All the guys seem to, you know, make jokes about losing their legs before they go, but I think I really knew that was a possibility. And I’d accepted it before I went.”
- Open 10am-5.30pm (closed December 24-26, January 1). Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @NAM_London.
© Col Simon Orr
© Col Simon Orr