Above & beyond: Tales of courage under fire

One VC already, five more in the pipeline; 132 honours in Afghanistan so far: more than the Falklands or the first Gulf War. These are some of their stories. By Jonathan Owen


George Cross

Awarded to Cpl Mark Wright

The George Cross ranks with the Victoria Cross as the nation's highest award for gallantry and is awarded "for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger". Since its inception in 1940, the George Cross has been awarded posthumously to 84 recipients and to 71 living people.

He had wanted to be a soldier for as long as anyone could remember, but 27-year-old Mark Wright's promising army career was to be tragically cut short. It happened on 6 September when a foot patrol of about half a dozen soldiers searching for a suspected Taliban position in Afghanistan's Helmand province walked into a minefield.

Without any thought for his own safety, Cpl Wright ran to the aid of two soldiers injured by exploding mines. After helping to treat their wounds and calling for a helicopter to winch them to safety, he himself fell victim to a landmine and died before he could be taken to hospital.

It is understood he is to be posthumously awarded the George Cross, with Britain's military commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Ed Butler, having hailed his "act of exceptional bravery".

Cpl Wright was born in 1979. He lived in Edinburgh with his fiancée Gillian, whom he was planning to marry this year. He joined the Army in January 1999, passing the selection tests to join the Parachute Regiment a few months later.

By the age of 23, he had completed three tours of Northern Ireland and in 2003 was sent, along with the 3rd Battalion, to Iraq, where he served with distinction. In May this year Cpl Wright was sent to Helmand, where he provided mortar support for his fellow soldiers. Senior officers said his "accurate and timely fire control" saved many lives and was "instrumental in fending off Taliban attacks".

His commanding officer, Lt-Col Stuart Tootal, said: "Cpl Wright died attempting to save the life of a fellow paratrooper... His actions were typical of the type of man Cpl Wright was. Quietly determined... he possessed exceptionally high moral and physical courage." The Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, has also paid tribute: "His selfless commitment and professionalism are an example to us all."

Cpl Wright's grieving family has said: "We are extremely proud of Mark and the profession that he chose. He leaves a large empty space in our lives."

Distinguished Service Order

Awarded to Wing Cdr Martin Sampson

This recognises outstanding leadership and is awarded "for distinguished services during active operations against the enemy". During the Second World War the Distinguished Service Order was awarded to 870 RAF officers.

The veteran of more than 100 missions during two tours of Afghanistan, RAF Wing Cdr Martin Sampson came to the rescue of soldiers who were pinned down under heavy fire earlier this year.

Described as a "fearless and courageous airborne warrior" by his commanding officer, Wing Cdr Sampson was last week awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his command of the Harrier Squadron - providing life-saving air support for ground troops - in southern Afghanistan between December 2004 and May 2006.

His citation described him as a "fearless and courageous airborne warrior", and commended his "inspirational command... in the face of a persistent and hostile enemy".

Conspicuous Gallantry Cross

Awarded to RSM Bob Jones

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross is awarded "in recognition of an act or acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy". It has been awarded 15 times since its introduction in 1993.

It was during fierce fighting in the caves of Tora Bora, a Taliban stronghold, as part of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2001 that SAS RSM Bob Jones (his name has been changed) took on the enemy armed only with his commando knife, despite having been seriously wounded. He was hit at least twice by enemy fire, yet he somehow managed to get back to his feet and continue fighting, before resorting to his knife as the conflict descended into savage hand-to-hand contact.

In a private ceremony with the Queen in 2002, the SAS veteran was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross. Officials described his "outstanding leadership in drawing his knife and charging the enemy, inspiring those around him at a time when ammunition was running low and the outcome of the battle was in doubt". He is one of many SAS soldiers who have been privately presented with awards for bravery in Afghanistan.

A married man in his forties with children, RSM Jones has served in some of the world's most notorious troublespots, including Bosnia and Northern Ireland. Still recovering from his injuries a year after the battle, he was given light duties at the SAS regimental headquarters near Hereford.

Military Cross

Awarded to Royal Marine Liam Armstrong

The Military Cross recognises acts of bravery during combat and is awarded "for gallantry during active operations". Around 11,000 were issued during the Second World War.

In 2003, Royal Marine Liam Armstrong, 23, became the most junior serviceman ever to be presented with the Military Cross as a result of his actions in seizing a 45-tonne cache of mortar rounds, rockets and bullets near the Pakistan border. The operation took place in al-Qa'ida heartland in 2002, against a compound thought to contain extremist militia and weapons.

His heroics in breaking into the compound, forcing nine Afghan fighters to surrender and taking them prisoner without having to fire a single shot, before dealing with an angry crowd that had gathered nearby, were described as showing "great bravery, initiative and leadership beyond that expected from such a junior rank".

Major Rich Stephens MBE, the commanding officer of 45 Royal Marine Commando's Zulu Company, said Marine Armstrong's actions were "truly exceptional".

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering