A SOLDIER from Hadleigh has recounted his close brush with death after being shot by the Taleban while out fighting in Afghanistan.

The gun shot wound in the groin missed Lee Gayler's artery by millimetres, but severed his vein and shattered his pelvis.

Two months since his injury, the resilient 23-year-old student is preparing to spend a month rebuilding his strength at Headley Court - the defence services medical rehabilitation centre in Surrey.

Lee had been helping to clear a hilltop village with members of his 1st Royal Anglian Regiment, when their vehicles came under fire from insurgents.

He said: "It took a couple of seconds to realise I'd been shot. The adrenaline was pumping, it wasn't painful. At first it felt like I'd been punched in the stomach.

"I went straight into my casualty drill, got into the bottom of the vehicle and started applying a dressing to my wound."

Despite Lee's calm response, the regiment's remote location meant he faced a desperate struggle to reach medical aid.

His comrades drove their vehicle back down the hill as far as it could go, then two soldiers helped him reach a waiting quad bike and trailer.

The crew then had to dodge repeated rounds of ammunition as they drove to the nearest camp.

He was immediately placed on a drip to replace lost blood, before being helicoptered to the main British base, Camp Bastion, and rushed into theatre for two emergency operations.

His journey home was just as tricky. The former King John School pupil was initially transferred to the American base at Kandahar, before being flown overnight out of the war zone to Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, to be reunited with his parents.

He said: "I really wanted to be back with the lads. I felt bad being at home while they were still out there doing the business - but it was great to see my family.

"For a good ten days after surgery I couldn't stand up for more than a few minutes. I kept feeling dizzy and thought I was going to faint."

The dedicated Territorial Army soldier opted to complete an active tour last November, taking a year out from his degree in product design at Hertfordshire University.

He was called up in the spring to help his regiment take over duties from the Royal Marines, before becoming its first battlefield casualty on April 9.

He said: "Hopefully I won't have any future problems with my hip. I knew what I was in for when I went out there, but I'm not bitter. At then end of the day I've been very lucky.

"I don't think I've changed, but people say I have.

"I recently went to a comrade's funeral, which was hard. Seeing the coffin made me think it could easily have been my family witnessing me coming back in a box."

His mum Anita added: "He's been so resilient and positive about everything. We knew he could easily have come home as a fatality. I feel very blessed he came home alive."