Charles honours military heroes

Published: Monday 27th October 2014 by The News Editor

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A bomb disposal expert awarded Britain’s highest award for gallantry said the handover of Camp Bastion to Afghan security forces has been “smooth”, as the Prince of Wales celebrated the country’s bravest military and civilian heroes today.

Warrant Officer Kim Hughes said the withdrawal of UK troops from their last base in Afghanistan was a “reality check” but the country’s own military were in a “good place” to take over operations.

The 35-year-old was awarded the George Cross after dismantling by hand seven linked Taliban bombs to save the lives of eight comrades, which the Ministry of Defence described as “the single most outstanding act of explosive ordnance disposal ever recorded in Afghanistan”.

He was among 23 recipients of the George Cross, the country’s top award for gallantry by civilians or by military personnel not in the presence of the enemy, and the Victoria Cross, the military’s highest accolade, to be honoured by Charles at a reception at St James’s Palace in central London.

WO Hughes, from Telford in Shropshire, said he recently returned from Camp Bastion and British troops had done their “utmost” to prepare for the handover to Afghan forces.

“It quite hits home – because I’ve had a lot of time in Afghanistan, a lot of time in Camp Bastion – for it to all close,” he said.

“We knew it was going to happen, we knew it had to happen, it’s a reality check really. Only a few months back I was there and now it’s no more. It’s good everything’s been handed over and we’re moving forward.

“We have done our utmost to prepare the transition of handover and we’ve done the most we possibly can with regards to the training and mentoring of the Afghan nationals.

“They’re in such a good place at the moment to be able to crack on and get on with it themselves. They’re a fantastic bunch and they’ve worked really hard to get where they are at the moment.

“I think the transition is going to be smooth all the way through and I think they can move forward with it.”

The Prince, who is president of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, hosted an afternoon tea reception for members at St James’s Palace state apartments.

The Victoria Cross is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery or some daring pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”.

Introduced by Queen Victoria, it is awarded irrespective of rank to those serving in British and Commonwealth forces.

The George Cross was introduced by King George VI in September 1940, during the height of the Blitz.

It is granted in recognition of “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger” and can be awarded posthumously.

The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association last met in May 2012. The Prince has been president of the association since February 2003.

Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, who became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for more than two decades in 2005 after risking his life to save his colleagues in Iraq, said: “I think the Prince has a great deal of knowledge about the military himself, as well as having both sons in the military.

“It’s great to see the interest he shows. The respect I have for Prince Harry, as a serving soldier and an officer, is amazing.”

Published: Monday 27th October 2014 by The News Editor

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