Extraordinary courage: Victoria Cross for the guardsman who gave his life to protect his comrades

  • Lance Corporal James Ashworth given nation's highest honour for bravery
  • Soldier, 23, showed incredible heroism during firefight in Afghanistan
  • Deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire to shield colleagues
  • Only tenth member of British Army to receive VC since Second World War

By Lucy Osborne and Steve Robson

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Courage: Lance Corporal James Ashworth is only the tenth British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross since the Second World War

Courage: Lance Corporal James Ashworth is only the tenth British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross since the Second World War

The country’s highest award for gallantry is to be awarded to a British soldier who died protecting his comrades in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal James Ashworth is to be granted the Victoria Cross (VC) for an extraordinary act of heroism in Helmand Province last June.

The 23-year-old soldier of the 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards was looked up to by his fellow soldiers who have described him in eulogies as ‘loved by everyone’.

He was serving with a reconnaissance platoon in the Nahr-e-Siraj district last summer, when his platoon became engaged in a battle with Taliban insurgents.

He is understood to have fought with extraordinary courage against all odds until he was killed by a grenade.

His acts, which involved deliberately exposing himself to enemy fire, saved his comrades’ lives.

Officials said he had also taken care to ensure that there were no civilians in the line of fire,

James Ashworth, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, will become the tenth member of the British Army to be awarded the honour since the Second World War.

His unit was left grief stricken by the loss of the soldier who had already acquired extensive combat experience during a previous tour of Afghanistan and had been promoted shortly before his death.

 

In eulogies published by the MoD days after his death, Lance Corporal Ashworth’s comrades paid tribute to a soldier ‘bound for great things’ and whose courage ‘humbled’ those around him.

Tribute: The repatriation ceremony for Lance Corporal James Ashworth after he died in Afghanistan last June

Tribute: The repatriation ceremony for Lance Corporal James Ashworth after he died in Afghanistan last June

Valour: Colleagues said Lance Corporal James Ashworth showed extraordinary courage to protect his comrades during the firefight in Afghanistan (file photo)

Valour: Colleagues said Lance Corporal James Ashworth showed extraordinary courage to protect his comrades during the firefight in Afghanistan (file photo)

Captain Mike Dobbin, his company commander, said: ‘Lance Corporal Ashworth was killed while fighting his way through compounds; leading his fire team from the front, whilst trying to protect his men; and he showed extraordinary courage to close on a determined enemy.’

Guardsman Jordan Loftus said: ‘Selfless, brave, courageous — words like these don’t come close to what Ash demonstrated that day.’

His family paid to tribute to him after his death, saying: ‘We are devastated by the loss of our son, brother, uncle and boyfriend. He meant the world to everyone and has left an irreplaceable hole in our hearts.’

The Ashworth family has since raised money for the British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association by cycling from London to Edinburgh.

The VC is awarded for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’ to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories. It takes precedence over all other orders, decorations and medals.

It was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War.

VICTORIA CROSS - THE NATION'S HIGHEST HONOUR FOR BRAVERY

Unique: The Victoria Cross medal is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured during the Crimean War

Unique: The Victoria Cross medal is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured during the Crimean War

The Victoria Cross ranks as the nation's highest award for gallantry, along with the George Cross.

Instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856, the Victoria Cross is awarded for 'most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.'

The bronze cross, which has a crimson ribbon bears the inscription 'For Valour', is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured at the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, the campaign in which the first medals were awarded.

The Victoria Cross may be awarded to all ranks of the services - and also to civilians - to recognise gallantry in the presence of the enemy.

The medal has been awarded 1,356 times, the most recent of which was a posthumous award to Corporal Bryan Budd, of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, for acts of "inspirational leadership and the greatest valour" in southern Afghanistan in 2006.

Only 13 Victoria Cross medals have been awarded since the Second World War, nine to members of the British Army and four to the Australian Army.

L/Cpl Ashworth's is just the fifth to have been awarded since the Falklands conflict, and all but one have been posthumous.

Private Johnson Beharry, from 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, was awarded the honour for two separate acts of outstanding gallantry to rescue his comrades in Iraq in 2004, during which suffered serious head injuries.

The Victoria Cross has been awarded to the same person twice on three occasions - to doctors Captain Arthur Martin-Leake (1902 and 1914) and Captain Noel Chavasse (1916 and posthumously 1917), and New Zealander Captain Charles Upham (1941 and 1942).

The George Cross, which stands equal to the Victoria Cross as an award, recognises acts of gallantry by members of the Armed Forces or civilians in situations for which the Victoria Cross is not appropriate.

These can be incidents that are not in the presence of the enemy, such as bomb or mine disposal.

 

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

It doesn't matter how you dress it up, it is still a waste of a young life, that leaves us with irrelevant arguments.

Click to rate     Rating   251

Hero...makes me feel proud...RIP

Click to rate     Rating   385

should never have died because they should never have been there in the first place!

Click to rate     Rating   267

May this brave warrior rest in peace.

Click to rate     Rating   410

Absolutely right and every time I read about these wastes of space on their big fat salaries and about the nasty little yobs who infest our streets, it sickens me. To think this brave boy gave his life for his country, the ultimate sacrifice, whilst back home the scum of the earth goes from strength to strength. Yes, it does put things in perspective

Click to rate     Rating   620

Good Lad...

Click to rate     Rating   219

What a handsome young man, there's a lump in my throat, please folks dont post if you cant be kind.

Click to rate     Rating   489

good on you lad your family most be so proud

Click to rate     Rating   285

It is a sad fact that this courageous and decent man is a million times more valuable to the country than the self-seeking politicians who sent him and his companions off to this war in the first place. They shall not be forgotten.

Click to rate     Rating   423

Well done o good and faithful soldier. Through your example, and the example of other, not so honoured, men and women, put a bit of of pride in your spines, and goodness in your hearts. May the tears of paradise wash away your blood and heal the pain.

Click to rate     Rating   283

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