The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry for the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Is the equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Since the Second World War, the Victoria Cross has only been awarded 10 times to British soldiers. - S.L.
Lance-Corporal James Ashworth became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross since 2006 - awarded posthumously.
L/Cpl Ashworth, from Corby, Northamptonshire, was killed as he stormed an insurgent position in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand in June 2012.
L/Cpl Ashworth and his platoon were ordered into Nahr-e-Saraj on June 13 to engage an insurgent sniper team. They came under fire as soon as they landed, prompting L/Cpl Ashworth to lead his team in a 300-metre charge to the enemy position in a local village. Two insurgents were killed in this initial attack but a follow-up assault by Afghan police stalled when a patrolman was shot and killed as the enemy fled.
The citation for the Victoria Cross reveals "supremely courageous and inspiring" actions:
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.
With no regard for his own safety, L/Cpl Ashworth again led from the front of his team, advancing on an insurgent compound and using grenades to drive the final remaining enemy to an outbuilding. The insurgent was now being supported by fire from several positions, with the enemy desperate to protect their sharpshooter team. The immediate priority for L/Cpl Ashworth's team was now to neutralise the final sharpshooter and extract as soon as possible.
Seeking to break the stalemate using his final grenade, L/Cpl Ashworth dropped to the floor and crawled behind a knee-high wall that ran parallel to the front of the outbuilding. With just enough cover to conceal his prostrate form, he inched forward on his belly. Bullets flew over his head as he edged forward and the enemy continued to engage the rest of his team. When he was within five metres of the insurgent's position L/Cpl Ashworth was desperate to make his last grenade count. He deliberately crawled out from behind the wall, exposing himself to fire to get a better angle for his throw.
L/Cpl Ashworth was now in full view of the enemy just metres away, with rounds hitting the floor just centimetres around him. He was preparing to throw the grenade when he was tragically hit by enemy fire.
L/Cpl Ashworth's comrades spoke of their pride in his bravery and told how the death of such an "outstanding soldier" would affect the battalion.
His company commander, Captain Mike Dobbin said: "Lance Corporal Ashworth was killed while fighting his way through compounds; leading his fire team from the front, whilst trying to protect his men; and he showed extraordinary courage to close on a determined enemy. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his girlfriend, who should be extremely proud of the courage he displayed and the life that he led.
"I am humbled by what I saw of Lance Corporal Ashworth's actions and will never forget him."
Guardsman Jordan Loftus said: "Selfless, brave, courageous - words like these don't come close to what Ash demonstrated that day."
L/Cpl Ashworth was a soldier for five years and came from a family with strong military links. His mother Kerry, father Duane, a former Grenadier, and brother Coran, 22, a serving soldier, were present at Buller Barracks, Aldershot Army base, Hampshire, where the citation for the Victoria Cross was read aloud.
As well as his parents and brother Coran, L/Cpl Ashworth left behind sisters, Lauren and Paige, brother Karl and four-year-old niece Darcy, as well as his girlfriend, Emily.
This brave young man demonstrated Heroism of the highest degree. Honor him.