Victoria Cross: L/Cpl Josh Leakey recognised for valour
A paratrooper who showed “complete disregard” for his own safety during a Taliban attack in Afghanistan has been awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest British military honour.
L/Cpl Joshua Leakey, 27, of the Parachute Regiment, was recognised for his valour during the 2013 attack.
He is the third serviceman – and the first living servicemen – to receive the medal for service in Afghanistan.
L/Cpl Leakey, from Hampshire, said he was “deeply honoured”.
He has been recognised with the VC almost 70 years after another member of his family was awarded the same honour.
L/Cpl Leakey’s second cousin twice removed, Sergeant Nigel Gray Leakey, was a posthumous recipient of the VC in November 1945, for his actions while fighting in Africa during the Second World War.
He has been awarded the medal for his bravery during an assault on a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, on 22 August 2013.
Despite coming under enemy fire, L/Cpl Leakey twice came to the aid of a wounded US Marine Corps captain and helped forces regain the initiative after they had been pinned down by fire and surrounded by insurgents.
The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry in the presence of the enemy and can be given to all ranks of the services and civilians.
Introduced in 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts during the Crimean War, it has been awarded 1,356 times. But this is only the 15th time since the end of World War Two.
L/Cpl Leakey is the third British soldier to receive a VC from the conflict in Afghanistan. On the two previous occasions, it was given posthumously – in 2013 to L/Cpl James Ashworth from 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, and in 2006 to Cpl Bryan Budd of 3 Para.
Until now Pte Johnson Beharry from 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment was the only non-posthumous British military recipient since 1965, for two separate acts of gallantry in Iraq.
Each medal is made from the bronze of Russian guns captured at the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimea War, although modern research suggests Chinese guns may have been used at various times.
After dismounting from helicopters, a group of UK and US forces came under attack from around 20 insurgents armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Soldiers from the group became pinned down by fire on the side of the hill and surrounded by insurgents.
L/Cpl Leakey ran to the top of a hill, despite enemy fire, to assess the situation and provided first aid to a wounded US Marine Corps captain.
He then ran back up the hill to reposition a machine gun and began firing at the insurgents, despite bullets “ricocheting” off the machine gun’s frame.
Despite the danger, he returned to the injured captain – drawing enemy fire again – to retrieve a second machine gun, before running back to the crest of the hill once more, where he managed to help regain the initiative.
During the battle, 11 insurgents were killed and four were wounded.
L/Cpl Leakey said the only thing he was scared of during the fire fight was “letting my cap badge down”.
“You don’t really think what could happen to yourself, you think ‘how is what I’m doing now going to improve the situation?’,” he said.
“It’s part of the very nature of being in the Army, and especially the Parachute Regiment, that we have to adapt to situations you don’t expect to happen.”
“In that particular incident I was in the best position to do that. If it had been any of my mates they would be in this position now.”
“I don’t look at it about being about me in particular, I look at this as representing everyone from my unit, from my battalion, who was involved in the campaign in Afghanistan,” he added.
In a statement, his parents said they were “hugely proud” of their son.
“As Josh’s parents we are so thankful to God that he survived that day – along with many other occasions during his three operational tours in Afghanistan.
“Our hearts go out to so many other parents whose sons and daughters did not survive that long conflict.”
L/Cpl Leakey’s medal was announced during a ceremony at St James’s Palace on Wednesday, before recipients of military awards were welcomed at 10 Downing Street.
L/Cpl Leakey “epitomised valour with his actions on that hillside in Helmand”, Prime Minister David Cameron said.
“When you hear how events unfolded and the intensity of enemy fire, it is difficult to imagine how one wouldn’t be frozen to the spot and yet L/Cpl Leakey risked his life to run across that barren hillside not just once, but multiple times, to turn the battle and save the lives of comrades.”