Child bomb death haunts chaplain
An army chaplain has said he will struggle to forget the harrowing image of an Afghan toddler who was killed by a bomb that had been strapped to a motorbike.
Padre Albert Jackson, 53, from Londonderry, said he volunteered for the duty of washing the child's body to spare frontline nurses further trauma.
Padre Jackson, who deployed to Helmand just over seven weeks ago, said: "It wasn't that somehow I see myself as some great hero in doing that. I felt that at least I was taking away maybe some of the pain or some of the things that could have haunted them in the future. By keeping them free from that, maybe I have actually saved them from something."
The two-year-old boy had been brought to the field hospital at Camp Bastion with severe injuries caused by one of the thousands of crude, home-made bombs scattered throughout Helmand Province. Two of his cousins died in the blast.
"The surgeons were exceptional. They did everything that they could but, in the end there was nothing that could be done," said Padre Jackson, who is the chaplain for 3 Medical Regiment which incorporates a Territorial Army unit from Hydebank in south Belfast.
"Some of the female nursing staff had stepped forward and just needed to wash up the wee boy and take the dirt off before we put him up in the intensive care unit so he could quietly pass away. They were going to wash him but, I said 'no' because I could clearly see it was too close to home for them.
"So, something I never thought I would have to do and here I am washing down this two-year-old boy. The thing that stands out about the young boy was that he had beautiful white pearly teeth. And, just like any other wee boy his feet were as black as anything with grub and I had to scrub and scrub and scrub. His hands were the same."
Padre Jackson, who led the funeral of Corporal Channing Day, 25, the Co Down medic who was shot dead in Afghanistan last October, previously deployed to Helmand with infantry soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment in 2008.
This time he has been at the heart of things in the operating theatre. He said: "There is a place where I actually stand in ED (emergency department) so, I can see what is happening and am also just within a voice - saying 'Padre would you'. If they stand back and say 'that's it' then I will say to the staff 'let's just pause one minute and let's have a simple prayer'."
In the case of a Muslim patient, Padre Jackson, a Christian minister, does not pray but would ask interpreters to speak. He has a small chapel next to the field hospital. Inside there are crosses made from polished empty shell casings.