First published in The Sun on Sunday on 15 March 2015
THE raw courage that our servicemen have displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan must never be forgotten. To play a key role in not just one, but two, recent overseas campaigns has put a tremendous strain on our Armed Forces – and has involved huge personal sacrifices.
The recent award of the Victoria Cross (VC) – Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious gallantry award – to Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey encapsulated the bravery of our Armed Forces from 1990 to 2014.
I strongly believe that today’s heroes – men and women who took the fight to Saddam Hussein and the Taliban – will become tomorrow’s legends, individuals whose courage will be revered for ever.
My passion for bravery dates back half a century and was largely inspired by my late father, Eric’s, experiences when wounded shortly after landing on Sword Beach during the D-Day landings of June 1944.
So today I am delighted to make a significant donation to The Sun on Sunday’s £1million appeal for a memorial to our heroes from the conflicts. It is a wonderful, worthy cause and one that I believe we should all support.
Memorials provide a focus for a nation’s appreciation of great commitment and sacrifice, and they ensure that brave deeds will be remembered in the years, decades and centuries that lie ahead.
I could detail countless individuals to illustrate the bravery of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, I will highlight the courage of just two men – one displayed gallantry in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan.
In March 2005, Private (now Lance Sergeant) Johnson Beharry was awarded the VC for two acts of astonishing bravery in Iraq the previous year, when aged just 24. His award was for his courage as the driver of a Warrior armoured vehicle during two ambushes by the enemy.
In the second attack, a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) hit his Warrior’s frontal armour just six inches from Private Beharry’s head. Despite major head wounds, in great pain and bleeding heavily, he reversed the vehicle through the ambush area to safety.
In the two incidents, Private Beharry saved an estimated 30 lives and, despite being in a long coma, he eventually survived his horrendous injuries.
It is not just the frontline soldiers who have shown immense courage in the two campaigns: I have a great admiration for those who have repeatedly displayed premeditated courage dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).
One such hero is Staff Sergeant (now Warrant Officer) Kim Hughes, who was awarded the George Cross in March 2010 for bravery in Afghanistan the previous August after arriving at “a harrowing and chaotic situation”.
Staff Sergeant Hughes, then 29, was called to a scene where some comrades had been left dead and injured by a massive IED explosion.
Shunning protective clothing and other routine precautions to save time and lives, Staff Sergeant Hughes carried three high-risk “manual neutralisations” of further IEDs in a Taliban-laid circuit.
I have been privileged enough to meet both Warrant Officer Hughes and Lance Sergeant Beharry: I admire them both because their courage is matched by their humility.
Whereas Warrant Officer Hughes survived his ordeal, his comrade, Staff Sergeant Olaf “Oz” Schmid, received his GC posthumously – having been blown up and killed, aged 30, in October 2009 as he tried to defuse yet another IED.
It is for wonderfully selfless men and women that we must raise the funds to build a lasting memorial.
To achieve this aim, we need your help.
To donate £3 text DUTY to 70080
To donate £10 text DUTY to 70707
Or call 0330 123 2070 to make a donation
The Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial Project (charity number 1160028) gets all of your donation. Texts charged at donation plus standard network rate. Text donations do not work from outside UK and phone calls from abroad are charged at international rates. Donation services provided by Spoke, 0333 202 3390.