Lifelong ordeal for Thorney couple caught in Tunisia gun terror attack
A Thorney couple have spoken of their 21 months of hell after suffering horrific injuries in a terrorist attack in Tunisia.
Shirley Church’s world was turned upside down when she was enjoying a beach holiday in Tunisia with husband Joseph in 2015, when gunman Seifeddine Rezgui launched a devastating attack. A total of 38 people were killed, and dozens more injured.
Shirley nearly lost her life when a grenade thrown by the terrorist exploded just four feet away from her as she hid in a corridor.
Two weeks ago - 21 months after the horror attack - she had her right leg amputated as a result of her injuries.
She has also had numerous operations to remove shrapnel from her legs, back and hand - but has had Joseph by her bedside at hospital and at home throughout to offer his vital support.
The former cleaner is now facing an agonising wait to see if she will be given the chance to start her fight to learn to walk again - while also facing the psychological demons following the attack with her husband.
Shirley said: “It has been a hell of a 21 months, both mentally and physically “My sciatic nerve (the nerve which runs from the back, the length of the leg to the foot) was cut in half by shrapnel from the attack.
“I have been back and forth to hospital, in London and Peterborough, and had a big operation on my foot in October.
“But the operation did not do what it was expected to do, and in February I was given a date for the amputation.
“I was shocked when I was told. It has been the hardest part - it is like starting again.
“I haven’t been able to go out on my own for 21 months. I have been housebound.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to work again.”
Joseph - who was physically uninjured in the attack, but still suffers nightmares ‘everyday’ about what he saw and heard - has now handed in his notice at his job as a farm worker to look after his wife.
The couple have also had to make a range of alterations to their home, from fitting suitable toilet and bath seats, to buying mobility scooters and even a new car.
He said: “I can’t leave her alone at home for hours on end. We have had to do everything ourselves - we do not want to ask anyone for help.”
Along with the physical effects of the attack, the couple revealed they were still mentally scarred.
Joseph said: “We don’t like being in big crowds anymore. Even when we go into Peterborough, we are always looking to see who is about.
“We are so frightened of crowds.
“I know we won’t be able to ever go on a beach holiday again. It would bring it all back again.”
Shirley added: “It has changed our life in so many silly little ways.
“The first time bonfire night happened I thought, my god someone is out there. Living in the country you get a lot of gas guns, to scare birds – every time that happens, it makes you think.”
Joseph said they relived the nightmare every time they heard about another terrorist attack.
He said: “When you hear it has happened somewhere else, it brings it all back. It is so horrible.”
Now Shirley is facing an agonising wait to find out if she will get the chance to learn to walk again,
She said: “I don’t know if I will be able to wear prosthetics. I have to wait to see how the swelling goes down, and I might not know for months.
“If I can, I will have to go through lots of rehabilitation. I have to learn to walk again. It will involve lots of sessions in the gym, and I will start with a trainer leg.
“Because the amputation is above the knee, it will be much harder. I will be lucky if I can even walk round the house. Stupid little things like trying to get dressed are difficult.
“It is very odd, as the brain still thinks the leg is there. It is very difficult to describe. The phantom pain in my foot is really bad. It could take years for my brain to realise it is not there. I could have phantom pains for the rest of my life.
“The hospital staff have been brilliant. I can’t fault them. They have had no experience of dealing with anything like this before - it is like I have been in a warzone.
“We have had lots of counselling. I was still having counselling before I came back into hospital. It is down to me if I need more.”
A website to raise funds to support Shirley and Joseph has now been set up by their son Chris.
To make a donation, visit