Young soldier gets posthumous bravery medal for ignoring orders to save comrade's life... and being blown up and killed in the process


Selfless: Private Martin Bell, 24, from Bradford was killed in an improvised explosive device IED to the south of Nahr-e-Saraj in Helmand province

Selfless: Private Martin Bell, 24, from Bradford was killed in an improvised explosive device IED to the south of Nahr-e-Saraj in Helmand province

He acted with selfless disregard for his own life when confronted with the terror of a colleague grievously-injured in an explosion on the Afghan battlefield.

Private Martin Bell, a young paratrooper with a reputation for remarkable courage, ignored a direct order not to help his stricken friend because his own life would be at risk.

Displaying unimaginable bravery the 24-year-old dashed across land strewn with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to reach his comrade, who had lost both legs in the blast.

He administered immediate first aid, saving his friend's life.

But he tragically triggered a homemade bomb during the rescue bid and was killed.

On Friday Private Bell, from the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, posthumously received a George Medal - the UK's second highest accolade for bravery not in the face of the enemy.

His mother, Elaine Bell, 53, who lives in Idle, Bradford told the Daily Mail: ‘You can never come to terms with something like this.

‘As a family we are really, really proud of him but then, at the same time, desperately sad because he’s not with us anymore.

‘I’m sad for my mum and dad who still cannot mention his name without crying.

‘You hear people saying that will never happen to us and all along I believed that it wouldn’t.

‘I was more concerned about what Martin might witness whilst he was out there.

‘I never thought anything would happen to Martin. He always seemed quite a lucky one. At 24 his luck ran out.’

She added:  ‘His citation refers to his breath-taking gallantry and those two words sum up what he did perfectly.

‘It was Martin being Martin. That’s what he would have done and he would have done it instinctively.

‘As a Mum I remember saying to him: ‘Martin, no heroics’.

'I remember saying those exact words to him when he went out there. ‘Martin, no heroics’, and he just laughed.’

Private Bell, a police community supporter officer before joining the Army in 2009, was among 140 servicemen and women who received awards in Friday's FRI operational honours list.

Three were posthumous.

Devastated: Mother of Private Martin Bell, Elaine (centre), is comforted, as she waits for the hearse carrying his coffin to pass through Wootton Bassett as he is repatriated back to the UK in February

Devastated: Mother of Private Martin Bell, Elaine (centre), is comforted, as she waits for the hearse carrying his coffin to pass through Wootton Bassett as he is repatriated back to the UK in February

General Sir Nick Parker, the Commander-in-Chief Land Forces, said: 'The sacrifice of those who have not returned are not in vain.

'They gave their lives in service of their comrades, their regiments and their country. They will not be forgotten.'

On the morning of January 25 last year, Private Bell and his comrades set off on patrol from Patrol Base 2 in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.

Picking their way across fields and through thigh-high grass seeded with booby-trap bombs, their perilous early-morning mission was to retrieve a missing rifle and Vallon metal detector that had been dropped by a soldier caught in a blast hours earlier.

This was vital so the equipment did not fall into the hands of the enemy.

The soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment could not locate the bomb-detector but were ordered to withdraw from the scene of the explosion because their commander believed the danger was 'untenable'.

Suddenly a devastating booby-trap bomb was triggered by a comrade, blowing off both his legs.

Private Bell and the officer were knocked to the ground by the explosion.

'No heroics:' Elaine at home in Idle, Bradford with her sons Philip (left) and Oliver (right)

'No heroics:' Elaine at home in Idle, Bradford with her sons Philip (left) and Oliver (right)

Despite direct orders not to attempt to reach the grievously-wounded victim, Private Bell ignored his commander and picked his way across ground strewn with IEDs.

His citation stated that 'in an act of supreme selflessness' Private Bell ran to the casualty to administer life-saving first aid to his stricken colleague.

He repeatedly shouted out details of the victim's condition so the information could be relayed to the medical team flying at top-speed to the scene of the carnage in a Chinook helicopter.

Urging and inspiring his fellow soldiers, Private Bell grabbed the stretcher and helped carry the injured Para to the evacuation point.

Tragically, as he dragged the stretcher up a steep bank he himself stepped on an IED - suffering fatal injuries.

The citation praised Private Bell for 'judging the needs of a critically-injured casualty greater than the risk to his own life'.

His remarkable heroism meant that the wounded soldier was rescued from the battlefield and airlifted to the military hospital at Camp Bastion, Britain's HQ in Helmand, before being flown back to the UK. He is currently recovering.

However, the citation makes clear that he was a key member of his platoon who repeatedly risked harm for the sake of his friends.

His citation stated that the incident leading to his untimely death was not 'an isolated act of courage... it was not the first time Bell's valour had saved lives'.

Private Bell's colleagues in 2 Para, who wear distinctive maroon berets and have a reputation for being among the toughest fighters in the Army, hailed him as a 'rising star'.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Harrison, said: 'The term 'hero' is overused in contemporary commentary, take a moment to reflect on the image of Martin Bell, who disobeyed a direct order in order to render life-saving first aid to his colleague.'

The soldier leaves behind his parents, Simon and Elaine, and brothers, Oliver and Philip. They will collect his medal from Buckingham Palace at a later date.

His mother, who works for the Inland Revenue said: ‘I heard from him the morning before he died.

'I just remember his brother Oliver’s last words to him.

‘He was due to return for rest and recuperation on February 14 and Oliver said: ‘I can’t wait to see you bro, I love you.’

'I said I love you Marts, see you soon.

‘He died doing what he loved. He loved the paras and he loved being a soldier. There's not a second, minute or hour that goes by when I don’t think about him.’

Most of Friday's FRI honours went to troops who served with 16 Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan between October last year and April.

Female sergeant honoured for saving 'countless' lives by detecting roadside bombs with the help of her Army search dog Obama

Sergeant Kaye Wilson, 35, from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, joked she would share her MBE with the devoted two-and-a-half-year-old Belgian Malinois, who was named after the U.S. president.

The Royal Army Veterinary Corps soldier also paid tribute to her comrade Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, 26, from Tayport in Fife, who was awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches at Friday's FRI operational honours list.

He and his sniffer dog Theo uncovered 14 homemade bombs and hoards of weapons in just five months - a record for a dog and his handler in the conflict.

But in March L/Cpl Tasker was killed in a firefight with the Taliban and his springer spaniel cross suffered a seizure and passed away too.

Sgt Wilson said: 'We are all very close, so what happened affected everyone.'

Private Conrad Lewis, 22, from Bournemouth, Dorset, a Territorial Army soldier with the 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, was also Mentioned in Despatches.

He was killed along with Private Lewis Hendry, 20, by a single shot from a Taliban sniper while on foot patrol in Nad-e Ali in February.

Killed: Private Lewis Hendry, from 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (left) and Private Conrad Lewis, from 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, who were shot dead while on patrol in Afghanistan

Killed: Private Lewis Hendry, from 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (left) and Private Conrad Lewis, from 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, who were shot dead while on patrol in Afghanistan

Corporal Martin Windmill, 24, was awarded a Military Cross for fighting off a Taliban ambush despite being injured by razor-sharp shrapnel from a grenade last November.

The soldier, from the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, was hurt in the thigh when insurgents threw two grenades into his section's compound in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand.

Despite the wound, he pushed two young soldiers into cover, threw a grenade back at the enemy and then turned towards another Taliban gun position and destroyed it with a grenade launcher.

Private Bryan Johnson, 24, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, received a Military Cross for his 'selfless courage' in rescuing a badly wounded comrade under fire.

The soldier, who grew up in Glasgow, dragged the injured British soldier into cover and administered first aid despite insurgents firing at them from just 20metres.

Mourners react as hearses carrying the bodies of Private Lewis Hendry, Private Conrad Lewis, Private Robert Wood, Private Dean Hutchinson and Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall are driven along the High Street in Wootton Bassett

Mourners react as hearses carrying the bodies of Private Lewis Hendry, Private Conrad Lewis, Private Robert Wood, Private Dean Hutchinson and Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall are driven along the High Street in Wootton Bassett

Second Lieutenant Paul McFarland, 28, of the Royal Irish Regiment, saved the life of a corporal by dragging him out of the way of an exploding grenade thrown by an insurgent.

The Belfast soldier acted when the grenade landed 1metre from his comrade in a compound in Helmand. He dragged his friend to the floor and laid across him as it exploded.

Incredibly, both escaped injury. Second Lt McFarland received a Military Cross.

Captain Michael Lowry, 31, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, of the Royal Logistic Corps, received a mention in Despatches for his outstanding courage and leadership when a member of his IED search team suffered a triple amputation after triggering a hidden bomb in Helmand in January.

As Taliban rocket-propelled grenades and bullets landed nearby, he helped to stem the flow of blood from the horrifically injured soldier, Private Alex Stringer, before getting him on board a helicopter to be airlifted to the Camp Bastion field hospital.

Capt Lowry then continued with his mission, finding another two IEDs which were made safe by a bomb disposal expert.

He said the incident was 'pretty crazy', adding: 'I had to switch off my own emotions. I turned to the guys and said, "He's in Bastion, he's safe, he's alive". That's what I kept in my head.'

Steely flight sergeant disregarded his own safety to save two trapped climbers

Brave: Sergeant Mark Lean saved two trapped climbers without thinking of his own safety

Brave: Sergeant Mark Lean saved two trapped climbers without thinking of his own safety

Flight Sergeant Mark Lean received his award for confronting the perilous night-time rescue of two terrified climbers trapped on Ben Nevis in treacherous wintry conditions.

Displaying nerves of steel, the 39-year-old was winched on a icy, narrow knife-edge ridge on the Scottish mountain - a dizzying 1,000ft drop on either side.

He unhooked himself from the safety of the Sea King helicopter's winch cable and fixed himself to a rope tied between the two climbers - which, chillingly he learned later, was not secured to the rock face.

For his bravery in saving the climbers as they dangled over a precipice, a single slip leading to almost certain death.

The RAF search-and-rescue helicopter winchman was given the Queen's Commendation for Bravery - one of the highest honours for courage on Friday's FRI operational honours list.

Most of the FRI honours went to troops who served with 16 Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan between October last year and April.

But Flt Sgt Lean, from Elgin, Moray, received his award for his remarkable courage on December 12 last year while he and his RAF Lossiemouth-based crew were on a training mission.

Shortly after 5pm, their helicopter was diverted to rescue a group of five who had got into trouble on Britain's highest peak.

One climber had plunged 1,000ft to his death and two others had managed to scramble to the summit to raise the alarm.

But two men, both in their 20s, still clung by their fingertips to the treacherous 3ft-wide ice-covered Tower Ridge. It was dark and temperatures were plummeting when the Sea King reached the stricken climbers.

Painfully aware that the downdraft from the hovering helicopter's rotor-blades could swing him into the men, knocking them to their doom, Flt Sgt Lean used all the careful skills he had learned in hours of exercises.

But he also knew that speed was of the essence - because the helicopter was running low on fuel. Lowered to the level of the petrified climbers, he spotted a rope attached between them.

Told it was hammered safely into the rockface, he unhooked himself from his wince, linked himself to the rope and watched the first mountaineer winched into Sea King.

Because the aircraft was running dangerously low on fuel they had to leave the second man for 15 minutes while they restocked at nearby Fort William.

'He was very emotional because it was pitch-black, he was by himself and he'd just seen his friend fall to his death,' said Flt Sgt Lean.

Fortunately, the climber was still clinging to the boulder when they returned. Again, the winchman descended down the towering cliff to bring him to safety using a risky manoeuvre which involved him wrapping a rubber pipe around his waist.

Flt Sgt Lean, a father-of-two said: 'When I got him back on the aircraft, he just threw his arms around me and wouldn't let go. So I just hugged him back.'

Private Bryan Johnson of the Royal Regiment of Scotland received a Military Cross for his 'selfless courage' in rescuing a badly wounded comrade under fire

Private Bryan Johnson of the Royal Regiment of Scotland received a Military Cross for his 'selfless courage' in rescuing a badly wounded comrade under fire

His wife Adrienne added: 'I'm really proud. They work really hard - it can be quite scary for the families left at home when we know what they're doing, but they get lots of satisfaction out of it.'

His citation stated: 'Lean displayed outstanding professionalism, bravery and coolness under pressure despite the extremely challenging and unpredictable situation.'

Meanwhile, Private Bryan Johnson, 24, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, received a Military Cross for his 'selfless courage' in rescuing a badly wounded comrade under fire.

The soldier, who grew up in Glasgow, dragged the injured British soldier into cover and administered first aid despite rifle-wielding insurgents firing at them from just 20metres.
Pte Johnson was only 11 months out of training when he won the medal for his bravery in October last year.

He said: 'It's a massive achievement. I've got a lot of pride and honour for getting the award.

'On the other hand it's a job you get paid to do. I would expect the same from anyone else. I'm sure they would definitely have done the same if it was me.'

His mother Lynda and father John, he said, were immensely proud of him. But he added: 'Mum would kill me if she'd known what I'd done.'

His citation said: 'Pte Johnson displayed immense courage, coolness, dedication and compassion under fire. The fact that he has been a trained soldier for less than 11 months makes his actions all the more remarkable.'

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