Local Freemason and former soldier rows length of Atlantic Ocean for front-line NHS workers

Lance Corporal Mark Harding served with 1st Battalion Duke of Lancaster Regiment for 16 years, mostly as a sniper with the reconnaissance platoon.  His service included operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, Mark was deployed on operations to the Nadi- Ali district of Afghanistan, it was his fifteenth year of service in the British Army. The area was a well-known trouble spot that was notorious for heavy sniper fire. On 28 May 2010, Mark was leading four-man patrol sent from the platoon base to investigate an Improvised Explosive Device at 41 West, Qudrat.  Whilst out on a routine patrol, Mark’s platoon came under fire and he was shot by a Taliban sniper, he says his only memory of that incident is ‘I looked down and saw that the left hand side of my body armour was covered in blood, I then blacked out’.

Mark’s injured spinal chord

Upon evacuation to Camp Bastion, Helmand Province it was discovered that the sniper bullet had passed through his neck, leaving him paralysed from the neck down and with severe injuries to the spinal cord.  He returned to Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham and was placed in an induced coma for six days and it took another four weeks to stabilise him.  Mark was in hospital for seven months and was told by his doctors that he may never be able to walk again.  Mark then spent a further two and a half years at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey, undergoing physiotherapy.  Ultimately he became more mobile and more determined to walk again.

The Soldiers Charity, the National Charity of the British Army has supported Mark considerably, first providing funds for home adaptations and a specialist wheelchair, helping Mark to live as independently as possible. Mark’s progress has seen him climb Skiddaw in the Lake District raising a fantastic £6,000 for The Soldiers Charity and undertaken ‘Challenge Mark’a series of extreme challenge events around the UK also representing Gt Britain at the European Dragon Boating Championships and in China in 2014, all alongside able bodied team members raising money for injured soldiers. Mark was a founder member of Purple Warriors the UK’s first dedicated dragon boat racing team for ex-Service Personnel impaired by their service in some way.  Mark says that he wants to continue to push himself and make a difference, ‘I want to show people with injuries from Afghanistan, Iraq or any war zone that you can still do things and do them well’.

During his long and painful recovery Mark missed the discipline and team spirit the army life had given him and particularly the bond of brotherhood with his colleagues, he learned about the Freemasons from his uncle, carried out some research and decided to become a member of St Michaels Lodge in Carlisle in the Province of Cumberland and Westmorland. Mark enjoys the camaraderie and sense of belonging being a Freemason gives him, bonds of friendship, respect and a team spirit along with the ability to support local charities have all contributed towards his rehabilitation. 

Early on in his fight for recovery Mark decided to do his best to repay the organisations and charities who continue to support him and his fellow injured comrades by raising funds particularly for the NHS.

The Covid19 pandemic has given Mark the compelling urge to give something back and support the NHS staff.  Mark says that without the care and support of the military staff at Headley Court and the NHS staff at James Cook Golden Jubilee spinal unit I would not be in the privileged position I am today by being able to put one foot in front of the other.

In May 2020 Mark set himself a personal challenge to row the distance of the Atlantic Ocean from his  Wigton, Cumbria base to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA, a distance of 4000 miles on his kayak machine in his back garden to show his gratitude to the NHS staff.

Mark in action

He says ‘The NHS staff have continued to provide superb care to patients, day in day out throughout the pandemic and every day, their selfless commitment to their communities really hits home, as like soldiers they are on the frontline’. 

Mark rowed around 100 miles a day and completed his demanding challenge on 28th May, the 10th anniversary of his operational injury.  The Atlantic row will be in memory of his friends Kingsman Ponipate Tagitaginimoce and Corporal Taniela Tolevu. Mark is raising funds for the NHS and ABF The Soldiers Charity, the total currently stands at £3,200.00 and any donations would be welcomed at:


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An edited version of Mark’s story appeared in Freemasonry Today this week.

Mark is currently Inner Guard at St Michael’s Lodge in Carlisle.

Submitted by Peter Clark Provincial Communications Officer.

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