Female soldier, 19, set for bravery award after saving life of sergeant

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A teenage soldier looks likely to become the first woman to receive one of the highest honours for bravery during the Iraq conflict after she saved the life of a colleague under fire.

Pte Michelle Norris, 19, braved a sniper attack to rescue a critically injured soldier, and helped to drag him to safety as bullets missed her by inches.

Yesterday her commanding officer, Lt-Col David Labouchere, praised her "complete selflessness in the face of great danger". Her father, Peter Norris, 58, said: "I'm supposed to be a hard road-layer but I could have cried this morning. Michelle is only a little dot - five feet nothing - but she is very headstrong."

Pte Norris was part of a night-time Warrior armoured vehicle patrol in June which was trying to rescue another vehicle stuck in a ditch in the notoriously volatile town of Al Amarah when the patrol came under fire. She said yesterday: "I heard 'dings' off the Warrior, I thought it was stones. Then I heard the turret get hit... All of a sudden, the driver, Pte Nani Ratawake, shouted to me that my commander had been hit."

Not long out of training and never having dealt with a combat casualty before, Pte Norris climbed on top to the turret to find the sergeant had been shot in the mouth. "I then heard the crack and a thump of a round going past my head. I was under fire from a sniper, which luckily just missed me," she said.

"Ratawake pulled me down head first into the turret. A round went over and hit a battery at knee height, so if he hadn't pulled me down my knee or my leg would have been shot."

They dragged the injured sergeant inside, where she administered first aid as he was driven to be airlifted to hospital. Pte Norris, a Royal Army Medical Corps soldier nicknamed Chuck, is the only female attached to C Company, 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, which is half way through its tour. She has been recommended for a bravery award.

L/Cpl Lisa Newburn, 22, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and Flt Lt Jennifer Reardon, 27, of the Royal Air Force, have been mentioned in despatches but it is predicted Pte Norris will receive the higher award of Queen's Gallantry Medal, or even the Military Cross.

Back at her home in Stourbridge, West Midlands, her mother, Susan Norris, 55, said that she had received a thank-you from the sergeant's mother.

"Michelle played it down. When I realised the full enormity of it I broke down and cried. It was a mix of horror that she could have died and pride over what she had done," she said.

Maysan is one of the most dangerous areas in south-ern Iraq. Last week, five members of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards rushed a wounded colleague to the medical centre as mortar rounds fell within metres, one detonating a stockpile of aviation fuel.

The platoon commander, Capt James Shaw, described Guardsmen Daniel Probyn, Dave Greenhalgh and Damion Pointin as well as L/Cpl Greg Mann and Drummer Barry Orrell as exceptional. "The average age of those involved is only 21 and their only concern was for their wounded comrade," he said. "Words cannot describe how proud I am."