'You’re supposed to die. But I just survived': Double amputee Marine shares candid account of Taliban blast injuries

12 June 2023, 07:35 | Updated: 12 June 2023, 08:33

Ben McBean with his family
Ben McBean with his family. Picture: Ben McBean

By Kit Heren

A double amputee veteran who was blown up in an explosion in Afghanistan has detailed the attacks that caused his horrific injuries for the first time.

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Ben McBean, 36, was serving in the Royal Marines in Afghanistan in 2008 aged 20, when a bomb blew off his lower right leg and his left forearm.

Remarkably, he did not lose consciousness and remembers the excruciating pain he suffered during the attack.

"When you get blown up by a bomb, you’re supposed to die. But I just survived," he said.

He had been in Afghanistan for about four months at the time of the attack.

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Ben McBean with his stepfather, mother and three siblings
Ben McBean with his stepfather, mother and three siblings. Picture: Handout

"We went out on patrol, we were running towards a compound to see who was in there. As I got towards the hole that was kind of the door of this mud and sand building, just before I got there, the bomb went off.

"Suddenly I was on the floor and my right leg was gone. The whole shin bone was gone, and my foot was missing. My arm was gone, I had a big hole in my a*** cheek, there was a hole in my groin and I was lying in a big ditch covered in blood.

"I was a mess. I'd broken my leg before, which was painful, but I knew this time I’m dead. There’s no comeback from this.

"I somehow crawled around for a little bit and met some other guys, and we tried to sort each other out. I somehow survived."

Read more: Double amputee veteran dubbed 'hero' by Prince Harry set to lose blue disabled badge after traffic warden's complaint

Read more: Taliban brands Prince Harry 'big mouth loser' and accuses him of war crimes after he admits killing 25 fighters

Mr McBean was in hospital for five months
Mr McBean was in hospital for five months. Picture: Handout

It took about 20 minutes for the medics to arrive, which Mr McBean said was "not that long".

"The Taliban’s out there and you can't just be running through a minefield to be fair," he said.

Mr McBean said he wasn't in shock and felt the pain.

"I’m a lot harder now, because I know that I will never experience that kind of pain again. It’s a bad thing, but it’s kind of a good thing because I know I will never feel it again. I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on anyone."

Mr McBean was patched up and airlifted back to the UK, but wasn't expected to survive the flight.

Mr McBean
Mr McBean. Picture: Handout

Prince Harry was on the plane back with him. Harry has called Mr McBean a "hero" and they have met several times. Mr McBean, for his part, said Harry was "a great guy", while adding he thinks that he should talk less in public about his struggles with the rest of the royal family.

Mr McBean woke up in hospital on his 21st birthday. He spent about five weeks in hospital, and a year in Headley Court, the army's rehabilitation facility.

But insult was added to injury when the NHS gave him a white prosthetic arm. He and his family were forced to go private to pay £7,000 for a black prosthetic. "My dad went absolutely mental," he said.

The limbs need replacing about every three years, so they had to fork out several times. The NHS has since apologised, covered the cost of his most recent arm and paid him back for one of the previous prosthetics.

Mr McBean
Mr McBean. Picture: Handout

In part because Prince Harry had drawn attention to Mr McBean by calling him a hero, when he came back, a lot of people knew who he was.

"It was kind of cool, there were a lot of people buying me a pint," he said. "I spent a good few years just drinking, everyone just saying hello and giving me high fives. I didn’t get to process what actually happened.

"At the same time, when I go home, I’m still a double amputee."

But as he recovered, he began taking on audacious challenges, including a marathon and running a 31-mile course in the shape of a poppy. He has also been to Everest base camp.

Mr McBean's marathon drew the attention of the pen-pushers at Plymouth Council, who took away his blue badge because he was able to run. It was reinstated after a years-long campaign spearheaded by local MP Johnny Mercer. He is currently embroiled in a second battle over his blue badge, which he expects to be resolved in his favour soon.

Ben McBean with Prince Harry
Ben McBean with Prince Harry. Picture: Alamy

Although he made an excellent physical recovery, the mental struggle caught up with him dramatically some ten years after he was injured.

By 2018, he had met his fiancee Zara and was living with her and their first child, Albie.

But despite having a young family, Mr McBean explained his mental state as his mind "saying that it wanted to die."

"I ended up living in Dartmoor in the back of my car for about four months. I still had my home, I couldn’t be near any human beings.

"I would sit in the back of my car and drink my beer. I’d think about different ways of killing myself."

Mr McBean has been to Everest base camp
Mr McBean has been to Everest base camp. Picture: Handout

Mr McBean said he would check in with Zara every day to tell her that he was still alive. Eventually, after four months, he decided he had had enough, came home and gradually began recovering.

He and Zara have since had a second boy, Maddox, and Mr McBean now works as a motivational speaker.

He said: "It’s hard to enjoy talking about the worst day of your life, and what I’ve gone through, as well as the mental health issues. Even though I don’t want to relive it, it might help someone."

Mr McBean says he is "fully independent." He added: "I’ll do school runs, and change nappies. The only thing I can’t really do is swim. My kids know about my disabilities but they don’t really know."

Ben McBean lost an arm and a leg in the blast
Ben McBean lost an arm and a leg in the blast. Picture: Alamy

Nuneaton-born Mr McBean moved to Plymouth as a child after his mother began a relationship with his stepfather, whom he considers his "real father". He has no memories of his birth father.

His uncle was in the marines, and McBean read a book about the elite Special Boat Service, which inspired him to join the military.

Asked if he was conscious of the danger he was exposing himself to, Mr McBean said: "No, you think you’re going to go to Afghanistan, kill all the Taliban and leave.

Ben McBean now works as a motivational speaker
Ben McBean now works as a motivational speaker. Picture: Alamy

"Even when you’re being shot at you can be laughing - 'oh my god that was so f****** close. If you took it too seriously, you wouldn’t go. It’s not a fist-fight."

Asked about plans for the future, Mr McBean said he would continue his motivational speaking, and wants to take a group of people who "feel quite low" up Mount Kilimanjaro, perhaps with a film crew. He is currently planning a fundraiser.

"I need to not be on my a***," he said. "I'll eventually be in a wheelchair, but I want to be as active as I can while I'm still able."

He added: "When you get blown up by a bomb you’re supposed to die, but I survived. Sometimes I dream that I didn’t get blown up."