Iraq Hero Receives VC
The Iraq war hero Johnson Beharry, who twice saved the crew of his armoured vehicle from ambushes, received the Victoria Cross today and was told by the Queen: 'You're very special.'
Private Beharry, 25, who is originally from the Caribbean island of Grenada, is the first person to receive Britain's highest military honour since the Falklands war in 1982 and the first living recipient of a VC since 1965.
It is thought that his actions in Iraq saved the lives of more than 30 of his colleagues. Speaking today after receiving the medal at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, Pte Beharry, of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, said the Queen had told him that "she doesn't get to present the VC very often".
Pte Beharry, from Tidworth, Hampshire, was struck by a bullet as he guided a Warrior armoured convoy through the flashpoint Iraqi town of Al-Amara last May. He jumped into a hail of bullets three times to rescue injured colleagues before driving his vehicle to safety.
A month later, he saved more lives during another ferocious fire fight and suffered serious head injuries when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) exploded a foot away from his head. As blood poured into his eyes, he managed to reverse his Warrior out of the ambush before he lost consciousness and went into a coma.
Still recovering from his wounds and bearing a scar across his forehead, he said today: "I know I'm lucky to be alive. Every day in Iraq, when I went out on patrol, I thought I wouldn't be coming back - then at the end of the day I thought, 'That was a lucky one.'"
The citation for his VC reads: "For his repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action, Pte Beharry deserves the highest possible recognition."
But Pte Beharry, who was accompanied to the palace by his wife, Lynthia, and his aunt Irene and uncle Raymond, played down his bravery. "When I hear what I did, I can't really believe it was me. But what I did was my choice - I knew I had to get everyone out because I wouldn't have been able to live with myself otherwise. I think it's the training that just kicks in," he said.
He said celebrations had been put on hold during his recovery. "There's too much happening at the moment," he said. "I never dreamt this would happen to me; I never thought I'd meet so many important people.
"I'm still receiving treatment for my injuries - I'm getting physio and seeing specialists - so I'm limited in what I can do. I hope 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 was joined at today's ceremony by around 140 other British troops awarded honours for their service around the world. His commanding officers, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Maer and Major James Coote, received the Distinguished Service Order for their leadership during the campaign.
"Pte Beharry's actions were superb," said Lt Col Maer. "The VC is hard won and he is following in a long and distinguished line of people awarded the honour. All of us, in the army and the nation, should be proud of him. And we should be proud of all the other recipients of honours won in Iraq - they reflect a team effort."
Pte Beharry moved to the UK from Grenada in 1999 and worked as a painter and decorator before becoming a British soldier in 2001. He is one of a growing number of troops recruited into the army from the Commonwealth. He is the first to be awarded the VC since Lieutenant Colonel H Jones and Sergeant Ian McKay received posthumous awards after the Falklands war against Argentina.
Today Pte Beharry outranked Britain's top soldier, General Sir Michael Jackson, for the day. The junior soldier's investiture took precedence to the general's who received the honour of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. When news of Pte Beharry's VC was announced in March, Sir Michael said he had never felt more proud of the British army.