Surrounded by Taliban insurgents in enemy-controlled territory, dodging fire in a dusty ditch with a broken camera lens, a man in front has taken a bullet to the stomach.
This was the situation facing Press Association photographer Andrew Parsons as he sheltered from gunfire while embedded with the 1st Battalion, the Worcestershire and Sherwood Regiment (1WFR) in Helmand province.
In remarkably personal pictures of soldiers on the front line trying to win control of the battle-scarred region, Parsons photographed Private Davey Graham receiving life-saving treatment for a bullet wound and being airlifted to safety.
Parsons, a PA photographer for six years and on his fourth trip to Afghanistan, said that the pictures were only possible because of his close bond with the regiment.
He also revealed that the panoramic shots of soldiers tending to Graham and carrying him to a waiting helicopter were made possible with a fish-eye lens, which Parsons was only using because he had damaged his main lens on his digital Canon EOS 5B diving for cover.
“If I was using my original lens I might have cut that shot a bit short,” he said.
Describing how the shots came about he said: “We went on an operation to raid three compounds where there was Taliban resistance.
“We raided them, but didn’t really find anything and we decided to go back to the first one and observe the area from there.
“We were crossing a ditch and I had been talking to Davey about doing some pictures from the front [of the group]. As we went into a cornfield I waited to go first, but it was too narrow and then I was third in line.
“The soldiers had been saying ‘we won’t see them today’, but their alert didn’t go any lower.
“About halfway along the cornfield I heard the bang and the shot went off – I saw Davey go down and there was a load of smoke.
“I dived on my front and had my camera on my neck and one on my shoulder. As I went down my camera fell on the floor and damaged the lens: it was hanging on by wires. Everyone was shouting, there was firing going on all around. It felt like half an hour, but it was probably only about five minutes.”
Parsons and PA reporter John Bingham, also embedded with the troops, then had to jump from one ditch to another – with both sides still firing.
When the regiment had carried the injured man to the relative safety of a compound, Parsons began taking pictures again – with a camera “caked in mud” and the fish-eye lens – but got the consent of the wounded soldier, who he built a friendship with, straight away.
“Davey was lying on the ground getting treatment. He saw me and said ‘Andy mate, Andy – take my picture, take my picture’. I was sweating and knackered; he was screaming and people were rushing in to work on him.”
The regiment’s Sergeant-Major saw Parsons shooting Graham and told him to stop, but the troops were adamant that it was what Graham had wanted. Graham is now recovering at home in Nottingham.