We had the huge privilege of hearing Martin Kettrick speak at a Remembrance Day event last November, and meeting him again in December. “Inspirational” is a much-overused word but it’s hard to otherwise describe Martin and the work he’s done for disabled ex-servicemen - or his gritty single-minded determination. Here’s the first of what we hope will be a series of stories from Martin…
When I was young, academically I was not great, English, Maths, science were not my best subjects. However I truly enjoyed my school life because I was able to participate in my passion for sport. I played for the school in various sports, football, cricket, gymnastics, athletics, basket ball and cross country. I was always quite fit and strong and it therefore seemed the perfect fit for me to join the Armed Forces when I left school in 1974. I decided if I was going to join up I was going to join the best and so I joined the Royal Marines directly from school at 16 years old.
I have to say that although I knew I was to undergo some of the most arduous and difficult training of any of the Armed Forces throughout the world nothing could have prepared me for how difficult and challenging it would be. I was therefore extremely proud, after completing all commando tests, to pass out and receive the coveted green-beret. I went on to serve in 41 Commando in Malta, 45 Commando in Scotland and Norway and 3 Commando Brigade in Plymouth. However after an abseiling accident in 1980, where a rope was accidently cut and I plunged 40 feet to the base of the cliff face, I was left paralysed from the chest down. My transition into civvy-street were not easy after I found I could not claim any compensation due to a law which gave the Crown complete immunity to prosecution from members of the armed forces. I spent the first seven years after discharge fighting a battle with my local Stoke South MP of the time, Jack Ashley. The government eventually relented and the law was changed but never made retrospective.
Those first seven years were probably the most difficult and trying times of my entire life and I’m not ashamed to say that I felt, abandoned, let down, discarded and forgotten. I couldn’t afford a suitably adapted bungalow, the local authority had nothing suitable and my parents home needed extensive alterations to accommodate me with at least a two year waiting list to carry out a disabled facilities grant. I therefore, in some ways reluctantly, went to live in a bungalow with my sister and her family, I felt I had hobson’s choice, it was a very difficult and trying time, which led to me neglecting my health and wellbeing as I seemed to slowly slide into a state of depression without really realising it.
I needed a car port on the side of the bungalow to allow me to transfer from my car to the wheelchair in bad weather and I met a chap called Alan Barlow (“Big Al” to his friends – I likened him to marmite as you either loved him or hated him for his outspoken opinions) from Northern Dairies who persuaded to me to try and go around the Potteries Marathon with himself, John Dove, the consultant at the North Staffs orthopaedic hospital and two other guys. My fitness was at an all time low and the hilly course of the potteries marathon in an old cumbersome steel framed heavy weight wheelchair was extremely daunting and I agreed that some of the lads would assist me up the banks, especially Porthill. The team were no spring chickens and Alan was almost a chain smoker. I thought well, if they’re willing, count me in especially as we would be raising money for a very deserving local cause in the Rebecca Owen Trust.
The memories of that day will stay with me forever as we plodded through the Potteries on what seemed like a continuous uphill climb, first from Trentham Gardens to my home of Meir where the locals completely filled the entire road around the Meir Traffic lights, as they were then. I was somewhat overwhelmed when I heard them cheering and shouting my name as they all closed in across the road to try and touch or get a better look of me, or at least that’s what it felt like - it really was an amazing once in a lifetime experience of raw emotion. The remainder of the race was an absolute slog especially going up the dreaded Porthill bank, which seemed as if it would never end, but once again the support from the local potteries folk was simply amazing and kind of acted as a magnet to draw us up those energy sapping hills.
The memory of a chap running passed us with a set of huge ladders on his shoulder, another dressed as a bear carrying two buckets that the crowds were throwing money in, a group pushing a hospital bed, the busker Eric Newton passing me playing his clarinet and locals offering cups of tea and cream cakes along the route from Newcastle and Clayton was somewhat surreal but epitomised the fantastic atmosphere and warmth of the Potteries Marathon.
The team did become stretched from around Abbey Hulton as some members started to fade in the soring heat, but we soldiered on and came together again towards the last mile or so into the finish at Trentham Gardens. Some five hours or so after starting we finally came home to an unforgettable and rapturous applause of a large, very dear and supportive crowd who had obviously followed my story in the press, Evening Sentinel, Radio Stoke and BBC Midlands and national TV during the years after my accident, it was once again an amazing and an extremely heart warming feeling that I’ll never forget, how could I?
I will also be forever grateful to “Big Al” for the tremendous support and friendship he gave me over many years, his devotion and support for local charities was a great inspiration to me and many other disabled individuals and families who came into contact with him. He helped reignite my desire and passion for sport and helped me out of an ever increasing spiral of despair and frustration and for that I am eternally grateful. He introduced me to another legend of the Potteries in Sam Plank and together we went on an incredible journey of adventure to raise funds for local charities whilst forging great friendships. This was also the catalyst for me to really start looking forward in a more positive way again and I’ve never really looked back, even though I still had to encounter further setbacks in the future it really was a stepping stone to better things. Sport and challenges were the motivation for my life ahead, my coping mechanism if you like, and led me to a new world and experiences I could never have imagined. Perhaps one day I may go on to tell you all of what I actually did achieve - it’s an amazing and some say, inspiring story, I’ll leave that to others to decide but I have many more chapters to write before then as my journey continues over 30 years later.