The bullets were thumping into the helicopter from all sides through the swirling dust. Every moment more on the ground meant added danger, but Jonathan Singh knew he could not fly away as the troops on board were rushing out to attack a Taliban bomb making centre.
The RAF Flight Lieutenant knew there was real trouble when a bullet flew past his feet followed by a shattering noise. As he tried to get airbourne, with all the troops disembarked, he realized the full extent of the damage, most of the system had seized up. Using full force with both his arms he managed to raise the Chinook and flew it to the relative safety of a patrol base while still receiving incoming rounds.
Flt Lt Singh, 31, from Bristol, was on his fourth tour of Afghanistan at the time of the operation at Popalzai near Lashkar Gar. Yesterday, after being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his bravery and leadership under fire, he said “I was carrying guys from the Brigade Reconnaissance Force and only half of them had disembarked when we began to take heavy hits. I had to wait and let the others join them, otherwise they would have been too vulnerable.”
Flt Lt Singh, whose grandfather, David Bhore, also won the DFC flying Hurricanes in the Second World War for the Royal Indian Air Force in Burma, said “ We succeeded thanks to the entire crew, we fly together and fight together. It was good to know the troops, who were fantastic, stopped a bomb factory in the process of making 20 IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”
In another mission in the same area, Corporal Carl Taylor ran through insurgent fire to rescue three young boys stranded and in grave danger of getting shot during a skirmish.
He had been part of a patrol which had discovered the mothers in a compound almost hysterical for the boys, aged between seven and ten, cowering and crying behind a wall.
Corporal Taylor, 25, of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, ran a hundred feet with Kalashnikovs blazing away at him to carry back one of the boys. Then, accompanied by another soldier, he brought back the other two.
Corporal Taylor’s girlfriend, Becky Gallimore, was five months pregnant with their baby at the time.
Yesterday, after being awarded the Military Cross, he said “It was the right thing to do, wasn’t it? These were just young kids, they had nothing to do with what was going on and I just felt they must not get harmed. Their mothers were very grateful. They made us tea, but we just had to move on because the fight was still going on.”