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Article: Headley Court - Shaun Curry

Headley Court - Shaun Curry

Headley Court - Shaun Curry

Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court (DMRC Headley Court, more commonly known as Headley Court) is an 85-acre UK Ministry of Defence facility in Surrey, England.

It was used as a rehabilitation centre for injured members of the British Armed Forces between 1985 and 2018. 
Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court. Photo: Graham Harrison MoD/OGL
In June 2010 I was asked by the Financial Times newspaper in London to visit Headley Court to meet up with bespoke shirtmaker Emma Willis MBE 

Since 2008 Emma has been visiting patients at Headley Court every 2 months, measuring them for a bespoke shirt as a gift of thanks for their bravery and sacrifice and to help them prepare for life after their discharge.

Emma realised their need for smart, well fitting clothing to wear for interviews and formal occasions to help with confidence and morale as dressing properly was such a fundamental part of military life. 

Style for Soldiers was born. 

Style for Soldiers now receives support from Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, Lock & Co Hatters, The Crown Estate, Huntsman Saville Row, Barclays Bank, as well as a Morale Award from the British Forces Foundation.
I sometimes talk about this particular assignment to friends and family, ithad something very special about it at the time and has done ever since.
As a working press photographer most of my time seemed to be spent sitting or crawling around on the floor, standing in the pouring rain, freezing conditions and always accompanied by a very expensive 15Kg+ bag  of cameras and lenses that was guaranteed to ruin the integrity of your tailoring at all times. Unlike those pressmen of yesteryear in trilby hat sand suits, for the modern snapper sartorial elegance was pretty far from a priority requirement - at any time.

I think there is even a quote from the Duke of Edinburgh referring to press photographers as "those people in their crunchy jackets" I managed to escape the all weather material and opt for a Barbour jacket..which was relatively lo-key and silent.

However, once or twice a year I might get sent to cover the Mansion House banquet or a Royal occasion which regulations requested a suit, shirt and shoes - which I always slightly dreaded. Not for any reason other than my only suit and shirt / lack of shoes left a lot to be desired.

I can distinctly remember a Royal household member of stafflooking disapprovingly at my suit and black sneakers combination that I washoping to smuggle past their eagle eyes 2 minutes before taking agroup photograph including Queen Elizabeth II, British Prime Minister TonyBlair, the Lord Mayor of London and all their partners.

As I was the only photographer assigned this picture, the Royal household member begrudgingly allowed me to carry on. 
Laughing at my sneakers. Photo AFP / Shaun Curry
Once through Headley Court security checks I met the Financial Times Journalist Simon Brookes and shirtmaker Emma Willis upstairs in a large recreation area.

With lots of people and activity going on in the room Emma had a table laid out with material example books and completed shirts, talking to the soldiers and measuring them for their fitting.
I was completely unaware of what to expect in terms of how these guys would react to being photographed. This was a military facility and its sole purpose was to protect, help and rehabilitate injured military personnel and certainly not to provide haven for press photographers.

I knew my time was limited, but a slow and tentative start was required.
As I started to take pictures I remember feeling very aware and some what intrusive.

Within a few minutes I realised that they were all exceptionally relaxed, up beat with lots of banter and jokes. This was made all the more astonishing as most had utterly brutal life changing injuries.
I cant really explain how this made me feel at the time, but suffice to say it put a lot of things into perspective and left me feeling that way ever since.

What Emma provides to these guys was and is something very special and they were extremely appreciative, which was clearly mutual. 

I subsequently gave all my photos from this assignment to Emma and Style For Soldiers. Not a great contribution in the scheme of things, but every little bit helps. 

I must have photographed just about every world leader over the years, endless celebrities, actors, politicians, musicians, artists, protesters. But the silent cheerful shadow of these people and their enormous courage has had the most lasting and positive impression. 

And in case you're wondering, Emma help fix my wardrobe 'problems'. I'll never feel sartorially under-endowed again.

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