The heroic last stand of a young soldier who died trying to defeat an insurgent sniper team has been recognised with the posthumous awarding of the Victoria Cross (VC), the country's highest recognition for valour.
Lance Corporal James Ashworth, aged 23 from Kettering, Northamptonshire, was killed by enemy fire when he made a lone advance on an insurgent position that was engaged in a deadly battle with his platoon in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand, Afghanistan.
His family (pictured top) were invited to a special media event at Lille Barracks, home of 1 Grenadier Guards, today, where Commander 12 Mechanised Brigade Brigadier Doug Chalmers held an address and read out LCpl's citation.
'Tenacious last stand'
LCpl Ashworth VC and his platoon had been inserted into the area by air on June 13th 2012 for a military operation to neutralise an insurgent sniper team, when they came under immediate fire as soon as they landed.
The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guardsman immediately raced 300 metres into the heart of the insurgent-held village with his fire team. Two insurgents were killed and two sniper rifles recovered during this initial assault, but an Afghan Local Police follow-up attack stalled when a patrolman was shot and killed by the fleeing enemy.
The gallant soldier insisted on moving to the front of his fire team as they continued their advance on the enemy held compound within the village. Stepping over the body of the dead patrolman he threw a grenade and surged forward into the compound, quickly driving the insurgent back to an out-building from where he launched his tenacious last stand.
The village was now under fire from several positions by insurgents desperate to protect their prized sniper team.
The platoon needed to detain or kill the final sniper, who had been pinned down by the lead fire team, and extract as soon as possible.
Needing to break the stalemate, LCpl Ashworth dropped to the floor and began to crawl behind a knee-high wall that ran parallel to the front of the outbuilding.
The wall provided just enough cover to conceal his prostrate body as he inched forward on his belly, armed with his last grenade to finally silence the deadly sniper.
Supremely courageous and inspiring action
As he moved a fierce fire-fight broke out above his head, and although the enemy couldn’t see him, he was still not safe from the flying bullets. Undaunted, he edged forward in his painstaking advance till he was within five metres of the insurgent’s position.
Desperate to ensure his last grenade landed accurately, LCpl Ashworth then deliberately crawled out from behind the low wall and its limited protection to get a better angle for the throw.
Now in full view of the enemy just five metres away, rounds started to tear up the ground around him, striking centimetres from his body. Undeterred, he was about to throw the grenade when he was fatally hit by enemy fire.
His citation concludes: “Despite the ferocity of the insurgent’s resistance, Ashworth refused to be beaten. His total disregard for his own safety in ensuring that the last grenade was posted accurately was the gallant last action of a soldier who had willingly placed himself in the line of fire on numerous occasions earlier in the attack. This supremely courageous and inspiring action deserves the highest recognition.”
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration, and is only awarded in exceptional circumstances for extreme bravery carried out under direct enemy fire.
The medal was created on January 29th, 1856, and is hand-made from the bronze cascabels of two cannons that were captured from the Russians at the siege of Sevastopol in 1854-1855.
The inscription on the Victoria Cross is “For Valour”, a traditional word for bravery. It was personally chosen by Queen Victoria, after whom the medal was named. The Queen turned down the first suggestion, “For the Brave”, explaining that all her solders were brave.
To date, only 1,360 VCs have been awarded. LCpl Ashworth’s is the 1,361st and is the first VC to be awarded to a British soldier since Corporal Bryan Budd was posthumously honoured in 2006.
The announcement was made today ahead of the release of the latest operational honours and awards list which includes 119 personnel. The awards are for actions during the period April to September 2012 during Operation HERRICK 16 as well as other acts of bravery across the globe.