Martin and Jacqueline

When her soldier-fiance Martin was involved in an roadside accident Jacqueline made use of SSAFA's Norton House to support him in his recovery at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre.

Martin and Jacqueline

When her soldier-fiance Martin was involved in an roadside accident Jacqueline made use of SSAFA's Norton House to support him in his recovery at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre.

When Private Martin Tavendale was in an accident involving an HGV, his family and fiancée Jacqueline were told to prepare for the worst. But despite horrific injuries Martin pulled through, and currently receives specialist care at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Staffordshire. For more than a year, Jacq has made a monthly 500-mile round trip from Motherwell to visit Martin, and she stays at SSAFA’s Norton House. The charity has been there to support her, as she supports him.

After multiple surgeries, two comas, and time in intensive care, Martin is still recovering from a broken pelvis, a burst artery, damage to his internal organs and damage to his leg. The couple have both had to come to terms with, knowing he might never walk again, and Jacqueline suffers from anxiety triggered by the accident. Together they tell their story:

We were told to prepare for the worst.

“The accident happened on 1st December 2018,” Martin explains. “I was based in Catterick and had just been promoted from Private to Lance Corporal and was getting ready to finish up for Christmas leave. I was out celebrating and having a drink and then 10 days later I woke up in hospital.

“I had tried to make my own way back to camp and had fallen asleep at the side of the road. At four o’clock in the morning, a lorry ran over me, crushing my pelvis and rupturing my internal organs.

“A friend heard the noise and ran over and started first aid, stemming the bleeding. His actions are a significant part of why I am still here today.”

Jacqueline, who lives in Motherwell, was unaware what happened until hours later.

“I was on the train going into the Christmas market in Edinburgh, an hour away from my home,” she explains. “Martin’s sister phoned me and she told me that Martin had had an accident. No one knew what had happened to him or if he was okay. I got the next train home and my dad drove me to the hospital, five hours from where we were. I contacted everyone I knew in his troop but no one had any information. I didn’t know if he would be alive when I got there.

“It wasn’t until I arrived at quarter past six that evening that we found out how serious the accident had been. We were told to prepare for the worst, and that he may not make it through the night. I was just speechless. When I first went in to see him and saw all the tubes, it was very overwhelming. I don’t think you can put any words on what it feels like to see somebody in that position because its true what they say, you don’t expect it to happen to you or anybody you know.”

Martin was saved by the staff at James Cook hospital in Middlesbrough, and went through hours of gruelling surgeries, was in and out of a coma and spent weeks in intensive care. Despite surviving the crash, there were many complications in his care, including a bleed on his stomach and a severe infection after metal plates were put into his side, and his wounds burst open. Martin lost part of his leg, required a skin graph and had his coccyx removed.

“I didn’t really know what was going on,” he said, “I thought I’d crashed my car or something. I never actually found out the full story until the police came in one day with my sister.

“The hospital took two photographs of me, when I was in my first coma, and I’ve still got them. They were quite hard to see, breathing tubes, tubes feeding me, dialysis, all sorts of things, that was quite hard to see. In comas, you’re hallucinating, you’re dreaming, daydreaming, you don’t know where you are for a while, it takes a while for your brain to catch up. That was one of the scarier parts.

“They put in a stoma on the side of my stomach and I was begging them to take that off. For the first two months I couldn’t look at it, I couldn’t change it or anything. I wanted them to put me back together the way it used to be because I was a solider.”

I was just thinking when this is over, I want to spend the rest of my life with her.

Martin and Jacqueline had been together for just a year when the accident happened. He proposed while he was in hospital.

“I was waking from my second coma, I was tired, sore, and Jacqueline was still sat in the chair next to the bed. I was just thinking when this is over, I want to spend the rest of my life with her, so I asked her if she’d marry me. She thought I was out of it, off my face on medication, and she said ‘ah yes, you’ll forget about that in ten minutes’, but I really meant it.

“We hadn’t been together that long, and if it was too much for her I could completely appreciate that. Its life changing and it’s not initially what she signed up for. But she stayed.”

I will never be a soldier again, that stings.

Martin was eventually taken to DMRC Stanford Hall in Staffordshire to start rehabilitation.

“For the first month I just lay in bed flat, I couldn’t move. But once the physiotherapy started my mobility slowly improved. There was a good team around me who’d seen similar injuries before and knew how to handle the physical and mental challenges I was going through.

“I never imagined I’d be in a wheelchair. You always imagine it would happen to somebody else, it’ll never happen to me. One night where I’d had one too much to drink, and wasn’t in control, changed my life.

“I still don’t really talk about it. It’s a lot to overcome and I am still seeing the psychologists. There is so much to process; a good chance that I’ll never walk again, losing the old me, the guy that I used to be and the plans I used to have. My career and promotion all those changes. It really hit me on Remembrance Sunday. I saw the parade and I was just there in a wheelchair and that’s when I realised that I’m never going on exercise or patrol or a tour. The fact that I will never be a soldier again, that stings and the fact that I worked hard to get promoted from Private to Lance Corporal. I didn’t join until I was 26, so I was a late joiner and I really enjoyed it, I was really happy.

“I have a young son from a previous relationship, and processing the injuries was especially hard because of him. I’ll never be able to take my wee boy to the park again to kick a football or ride bikes together. It’s not good for him to have seen his dad in that state, so I haven’t seen him much. It’s not fair on him to travel so far and to see what he has seen.”

I still struggle to sleep.

For Jacqueline, the accident has taken a toll on her own mental health too.

“Seeing somebody nearly die twice, shocks you.” Jacqueline says. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Being called to say goodbye because the doctors didn’t think he was going to make it.

“I sat by his side for five weeks, I was there every day but to me he’s still Martin, I don’t see him any differently, so I didn’t plan on going anywhere.

“I have become very anxious, and still am if I don’t hear from him for a couple of hours. I automatically think something bad has happened.

“I still struggle to sleep, and I think that is due to moving from hotel to hotel for six months, in different rooms, even at Christmas, while he was in hospital. Even in my own bed I would wake up with no clue where I was, and I had to turn the light on to calm myself down. But it’s getting better.”

I don’t think they realise how much they’ve helped me.

Jacqueline and Martin are determined to be together as much as possible, so every month she travels from Scotland to Staffordshire. She stays at Norton House, an accommodation facility run by SSAFA two miles from where Martin is being rehabilitated.

“I think this place is phenomenal,” Jacq says, “It’s nice to be around people that are experiencing similar situations to you. People back home don’t fully understand and sympathise with what we’re going through.

“It’s a beautiful place. And the people here listen. That means more than anything. I find it hard to talk about the accident. But when I am here it all comes out. I love the house overall, but it’s the people that run it that make the difference. I don’t think they realise how much they’ve helped me as a person, especially Michelle who manages the house, because I spend most of my time with her. She is the definition of a guardian angel and I don’t know if she realises that. She helps a lot.

“Here I can be with people and have my own space too. When I started coming here, I always used to just go to my room, and I would sit there, but now I talk, cry, hug, drink tea. It all matters.

“I’m usually in the same room, which helps me if I wake up through the night. It’s so much more than a bed for a night, it’s the home from home that has helped me cope with the trauma. It’s a sanctuary.”

For Martin, Norton House has been an essential part of his recovery, as his friends and family stay when they visit him, as well as Jacqueline.

“It’s much better knowing that my family are able to come and have somewhere nice to be when they would otherwise be stressed. Before they were staying in a Travelodge and were paying for them.

“Here they can enjoy the weekend, in what feels like a huge family home. They can relax and cook together, or just sit and watch tv. My mum especially enjoys speaking to other families and having another ear to bend and she likes hearing other people’s stories as well, whether that’s other parents, wives, siblings or friends.”

They don’t expect to be thanked, they’re there for all the right reasons.

Jacq and all of Martin’s family and friends are now firm supporters of Norton House, each raising money to go towards running the facility. When Martin’s gran died the family raised £500 in donations to go towards the garden and park being built in the garden for children who visit. His mother raises money and the couple now supports by playing SSAFA’s lottery.

“I want to give a little something back to SSAFA for helping Martin’s family a lot through this,” Jacq explains, “and I know it’s not a lot every month, but it’s something. It’s just a little thank you.

“We’ve won it before and gave the money back to the charity, but it was nice to win!”

Martin adds, “I didn’t play SSAFA’s lottery before my accident, but now I think everyone should. It’s like the lottery but supporting the Forces. It shows we’re all in it together. The money you put in goes to the charity, and it really deserves it. It’s difficult to truly appreciate what they do, until you experience it first-hand.”

The couple want to thank the fundraisers, volunteers and donors who make Norton House possible.

“Places like this don’t exist without people out organisations and people to back them. The people who are behind this are brilliant and I don’t think they can be helped enough” Jacq says.

“Some people may just think that this is a house where people can just come and go and stay when they’re coming to visit, but it’s much more than that. And they don’t realise how much it helps people.

“To the donors, you have made a life changing difference” adds Martin, “and that says a lot about them as people and their character. They don’t expect to be thanked, they’re there for all the right reasons, they’re there because they want to help.”

You only get one shot being here.

Martin is still in rehabilitation but has improved so much he is now able to visit home. He is in a manual wheelchair and can move about more freely and is even taking on a push up challenge to raise money for SSAFA.

“Time is the biggest healer and it gets easier; I’ve just got to find new passions and keep pushing on. You only get one shot being here and I’m lucky I still am here.

“The doctors said my nerves haven’t been severed, just crushed, so there is a possibility that in the next few years they might regenerate and grow back. I have no straight answers, but I all I can do is give myself the best chance possible. I still have bad nights where I’m in agony. There’s nothing I can do then. But slowly things are improving.”