The Military Cross is to be awarded to Rifleman Matthew Wilson, 21, who continued to fight after being just ‘a hairs breadth from death’ in Helmand ambush.
Rifleman Wilson had a lucky escape after being shot in the head as he ran to protect a wounded comrade in a deadly game of cat and mouse with an insurgent sharpshooter during a reconnaissance mission in northern Helmand.
Matthew, of 2 RIFLES attached to the Queen’s Dragoon Guards during OP HERRICK 15, was withdrawing from an operation in Nahr-e Saraj in October last year when an insurgent sharpshooter shot at the patrol – hitting one of the soldiers in the leg.
'Head was whipped sideways'
As the casualty lay out in the open being treated, Matthew ran forward with another soldier to provide cover to stop the insurgent shooting again. But as Matthew identified the enemy sharpshooters position to return fire a bullet glanced off the top of his helmet knocking him unconscious.
“There was a massive crack sound and then my head was whipped sideways,” recalls the Aberystwyth soldier, who was knocked unconscious for 30 seconds before being shaken awake.
“One of the other soldiers saw it and said he just saw dust come off the top of my helmet and me fall to the floor, but I don’t remember it happening. I just remember waking up with a massive headache but I didn’t realise what had happened right away. It’s weird. I didn’t just get up and think that I have just been shot in the head. But when I put my finger on my helmet it was really hot where the bullet had hit.
“As a soldier I know the preparations the insurgent would have taken prior to taking that shot, and it would have been just a minor mistake – a slip of the shoulder – that meant he hit the top of my helmet and not my face.”
The threat however still remained as the insurgents started to target the incoming casualty evacuation helicopter as Matthew started to come to.
Neutralise the enemy
With no option, Matthew began to crawl forward to identify the enemy position but the enemy sharpshooter was just too well hidden. His only choice was to run across an open field under a hail of bullets.
“When I got up the insurgent who shot me knew I was still alive so he kept on firing at me. Staying there wasn’t a good place to be, but also we couldn’t risk the helicopter going down or the shooter hitting the casualty again or one of the helicopter crew.
"We needed to do something about it and nobody else could get eyes on the shooter's position. So I started pegging it,” recalls the former Penglais School student. “You could hear him going for me... I was zigzagging, doing everything to avoid the bullets that at first were landing by my feet, and then whizzing past my head. He was getting closer and closer.”
Matthew, just made it to the protective cover of a ditch when an Apache attack helicopter arrived to give them cover as they extracted further to a nearby compound.
His head still pounding from the impact of the bullet, Matthew then climbed on to the compound wall to help identify the enemy firing point.
From his new position, Matthew was able to return fire and with the combined effort of the rest of the patrol was able to neutralise the enemy threat and launch a counter attack.
Amazingly, Matthew then continued with the rest of his four hour patrol back to his base where he was fully checked for injury – and then put the incident to the back of his mind till he was called to his commanding officers office four days ago.
'Rose to the challenge'
“I hadn’t forgotten about it, but I’d just moved on, so I was a bit confused when I was told to go and see the commanding officer as that’s not normally a good thing! I never thought I would I have something like this medal – it’s a pretty big deal and hasn’t really sunk in. But I can’t wait to go to the Palace and meet the Queen to receive the medal, although I’m really nervous about it,” admits Matthew who has suffered no side effects from the shot to the head.
“You have got to respect your enemy,” he concludes. “I have no special hate. I would have done exactly the same, except I wouldn’t have missed. It was a bloody good shot though.”
His citation says: “Wilson’s gallantry, coolness under fire and exemplary determination, having been literally a hair's breadth from death, was nothing short of extraordinary.
“Where many would have crumbled under pressure, shock or fear, Wilson immediately rose to the challenge and took the fight forward to the enemy. This young man is a fine example of conspicuous courage that few display in the face of mortal danger.”
The Military Cross is awarded to all ranks of the Royal Navy, royal Marines, Army and RAF in recognition of exemplarily gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land.
The announcement wad made today with the release of the latest operational honours and awards list which includes some 106 personnel. The awards are actions roughly during the period 1 September 2011 to March 31 2012 during Operation HERRICK 15.
Matthew is one of seven MC recipients on the list.