LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Thursday it had awarded a 27-year-old soldier the Victoria Cross, its highest military honour for bravery, for his actions during a battle in Afghanistan in 2013.
The rare award, last given to a living British soldier in 2005, was one of 139 honours presented to British armed forces personnel for service in active operations, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
Britain ended its combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of last year, 13 years after a US-led invasion overthrew the Islamist Taliban. More than 450 British troops were killed during the campaign.
The MoD said Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey, of the Parachute Regiment, had been part of a combined British-US assault on a Taliban stronghold that came under machinegun and rocket-propelled grenade fire on an exposed slope.
A colleague was shot and wounded, the group’s communications were out of action, and their machinegun support team were surrounded by around 20 enemy fighters when Leakey ran across the hill three times to begin casualty evacuation, move machineguns and return fire.
“Displaying gritty leadership well above that expected of his rank, Lance Corporal Leakey’s actions singlehandedly regained the initiative and prevented considerable loss of life,” the MoD said.
The Victoria Cross was introduced in 1856 by Queen Victoria to recognise acts of bravery during the Crimean War. It has been awarded more than 1,300 times, but Leakey’s is only the 15th to be awarded since World War Two.