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Bosnia troops' tally of medals sets a record

The bravery of the last British garrison in the besieged Bosnian Muslim town of Gorazde is today recognised by an unprecedented number of peacetime gallantry awards to one of Britain's most historic regiments.

The men of the Royal Welch Fusiliers described for the first time yesterday how they fled Gorazde with hours to spare before being trapped in a confrontation which would have led to heavy casualties.

"It would have been very bloody," said Major Richard Westley, who is one of five British soldiers who are today awarded the Military Cross for gallantry during peace-keeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. Yesterday Major Westley and other soldiers of the Royal Welch Fusiliers attended a champagne celebration to mark the awards to the 300-year-old regiment, which recruits from the Welsh-speaking areas of North Wales.

One Distinguished Service Order, a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, three Military Crosses, seven Mentions in Despatches and two Queen's Commendations for Valuable Service are awarded to the final British garrison in Gorazde.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Riley, 40, the commanding officer, from Chepstow, Gwent, receives the DSO for his leadership from March to August last year "during the most difficult and dangerous tour experienced so far by a British unit in Bosnia-Herzegovina".

He said yesterday that it became necessary to evacuate the last of the garrison after it became clear that a Serbian attack which killed 30 people in Sarajevo market made Nato air- strikes on Bosnian Serb positions a certainty.

Major Westley, 33, from Worcester, said that the garrison had to drive flat out for six hours to get to Serbia before the warring parties in Bosnia realised what they were up to. The Muslims did not want them to leave because they regarded them as a safeguard and the Bosnian Serbs were taking United Nations peace-keepers hostages. He added: "We were expecting a lot of resistance, but we beat their passage of information. The timing was critical and I think that we achieved what we did because surprise was on our side."

The citation for Major Westley's MC says: "It was his company which formed the rear- guard on the last day. His personal example and leadership over a prolonged period and in the face of unprecedented difficulties, as well as his disregard for danger, were key factors throughout the operation."

Colour Sergeant Peter Humphries, 34, from near Caernarvon, receives only the second Conspicuous Gallantry Cross to be awarded since it was instituted in the recent reform of the awards system.

He showed "tremendous presence of mind, aggressive spirit and coolness under fire" to win the medal, which is second only to the Victoria Cross.

Some of the awards go to the 33 Royal Welch Fusiliers who were held hostage by the Bosnian Serbs after being captured around Gorazde.

Lieutenant Hugh Nightingale, 22, from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, who was held for a week and said that he thought he would be executed, receives the Military Cross.

Lieutenant-General Sir Rupert Smith, who was the United Nations commander in Bosnia last year, becomes the first officer to win a Bar to his DSO for more than 30 years.