South Pole trek soldiers hail Harry

Halstead Gazette: Walking with the Wounded team Glenfiddich members, from left, Kate Philip, Duncan Slater and Guy Disney, arrive back at Heathrow Airport, after reaching the South Pole with Prince Harry Walking with the Wounded team Glenfiddich members, from left, Kate Philip, Duncan Slater and Guy Disney, arrive back at Heathrow Airport, after reaching the South Pole with Prince Harry

Prince Harry was praised by his brave band of wounded soldiers as they received a heroes' welcome after returning from a "crazy" South Pole adventure.

The injured British service personnel who formed the Walking With The Wounded charity expedition arrived at Heathrow after catching a flight from Cape Town in South Africa to spend Christmas at home.

They faced such extreme weather conditions during their 200-mile (322km) odyssey that organisers had to call off the competitive element of the adventure.

But working as one unit, the UK team and squads from the US and Commonwealth made it to their Antarctic goal together on Friday December 13.

In total, 12 injured servicemen and women who have overcome life-changing injuries took part, with Harry serving as Team UK's patron.

Amputee Major Kate Philp, 35, from Worcestershire, lost her leg b elow the knee w hile serving in Afghanistan in November 2008.

The only female member of Team UK hailed Harry, who returned to Britain separately, for being "fantastic from beginning to end".

"Especially considering he hadn't had as many training opportunities because he is so busy, he was a really strong, fit individual.

"Personally speaking, there were a couple of days where I was struggling and he was there every time, at rest breaks, helping me out, buoying me up and pulling me on.

"He was exactly what you would expect from a military man - no airs or graces, he just mucked in with everyone else."

Sergeant Duncan Slater, 34, became the first double amputee to reach the South Pole during the trip.

He lost both his legs after the vehicle he was travelling in was hit by an IED in the Babaji area of Afghanistan in July 2009.

The Team UK member, originally from Muir of Ord, near Inverness, said: "It was pretty crazy - you couldn't have written it.

"It was a big disappointment when the race was called off but some of the guys were really struggling, some had frostbite, so I can see why they did it."

Holding his young daughter, Lilly, he added: "I'm just happy to be home to this little one."

Ed Parker, co-founder of Walking With The Wounded and expedition director, said: "It was far harder than we were expecting.

"We were expecting flat snow from south of 87 degrees to the Pole but actually there's been bad storms through the winter over there, so it was very broken up.

"We also had a couple of days which were much colder than we were expecting.

"Psychologically it's hard, there's nothing to see, it's very, very flat, so your brain has nothing to focus on."

Asked what the wounded soldiers gained from the experience, he said: "I think for them it proves they can do just about anything."

The team tackled a challenging training programme beforehand to prepare themselves for the conditions in Antarctica.

Decorated member of the Yorkshire Regiment Ibrar Ali took part to honour the memory of comrades who were killed in 2012, and especially two who died in Iraq while he took part in the selection for the South Pole challenge.

The 36-year-old captain, from York, who lost his right arm during a roadside bomb explosion in 2007, said: "It was quite poignant when those two fellows were killed while I was on selection for this event.

"Having served in the Yorkshire Regiment for just over 10 years, our losses have been quite high, as it has through every unit in the armed forces and I really wanted to honour all of them but especially those two guys."

Aiming to trek around nine to 12 miles (15km to 20km) a day, the teams endured temperatures as low as minus 45C and 50mph winds as they pulled their 154lb (70kg) sleds, known as pulks, towards the southernmost point on the globe.

Harry had previously taken part in some of a Walking With The Wounded expedition to the North Pole in 2011.

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