Reluctant hero awarded Victoria Cross

Last updated at 11:43 18 March 2005

A soldier has been awarded the first Victoria Cross in over two decades for saving 30 colleagues by guiding them through an ambush in Iraq. Private Johnson Beharry, 25, said he was "just doing the job".

Private Beharry was struck by a bullet as he guided a Warrior armoured convoy through the flashpoint town of Al Amarah last May.

A month later, the young soldier saved more lives in a second ferocious exchange and suffered serious head wounds in a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) assault that left him in a coma.

Pte Beharry, who is still recovering from his injuries and bears a scar across his skull, said: "Maybe I was brave, I don't know. I think anyone else could do the same thing."

Adding: "At the time I was just doing the job, I didn't have time for other thoughts.

"I want to return to service, but I don't know when that will be and I would go back to Iraq if I had to."

Pte Beharry's becomes the first living recipient of a Victoria Cross - the highest award bestowed on British and Commonwealth soldiers for

gallantry in the face of the enemy - since 1965.

It is the first Victoria Cross awarded since Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones and Sergeant Ian John McKay received posthumous awards after the Falklands War.

Only 13 other living holders

Pte Beharry, who lives in London, joins only 13 other living holders of the prestigious medal.

Born on the Caribbean island of Grenada, the former construction worker came to the UK in August 1999. He enlisted in 2001, serving tours in Iraq, Kosovo and Northern Ireland.

"I joined the Army for a change of life. I've really thought about it, it was a good decision to make," he said.

Wife Lynthia, 23, a civilian worker for the Ministry Of Defence's medical supply department, said she was told at the time her husband had only a 50/50 chance of survival.

"This makes me even more proud to be his wife. He deserves everything, he was very brave and courageous and I know he would do it all again if he had to," she said.

"I don't think he has taken it in yet. He doesn't even think it was an act of bravery, he was just doing his job at the time."

Valour praised

Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, praised his valour and said that given the nature of his injuries, it would be the soldier's decision to return to duty.

"His citation is an extraordinary story of one man's courage, in the way he risked his life for his colleagues not once, but twice."

Pte Beharry was among more than 140 servicemen and women to be honoured in the latest operational honours list for service in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, Liberia, the Congo and Sierra Leone.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, said: "These honours and awards recognise the outstanding achievements of these extraordinary men and women and their acts of great courage, bravery and determination."

Troops launched a campaign for Pte Beharry to be given the Victoria Cross after senior officers recommended him for honours.

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