Para’s VC: Keeping it in the family


Published: Thursday 26th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A Para has won the Victoria Cross almost 70 years after another member of his family was awarded the same honour.

Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey, 27, has been given the British armed forces’ highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy for heroic exploits in Afghanistan.

His second cousin twice removed, Sergeant Nigel Gray Leakey, was a posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross in November 1945 for his gallantry while fighting in Africa during the Second World War.

L/Cpl Leakey, from Hampshire, is only the 15th serviceman to receive the VC since the Second World War.

He is also the third serviceman to receive the VC for service in Afghanistan and the only one not to receive it posthumously.

He will receive his medal for the role he played during a combined UK/US assault on a Taliban stronghold in Bar Now Zad, Helmand province, on August 22 2013.

The 1 Para man showed “complete disregard” for his own safety as the group came under attack from around 20 insurgents armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.

First he ran to the top of a barren hill and, with the “snap and crack” of enemy fire all around him, realised that two friendly machine gun teams had been surrounded.

Despite being the most junior member of the group he took control of the situation, giving first aid to a wounded US Marine Corps captain and beginning casualty evacuation.

He then went back up the hill and took control of one of the machine guns, with bullets ricocheting off its frame, before running down again, drawing enemy fire and helping regain the initiative.

During the battle, 11 insurgents were killed and four wounded.

L/Cpl Leakey, who joined 1 Para in 2007 and served during three tours in Afghanistan , said that he was “deeply honoured” but insisted that the award was for everyone in his regiment and battalion.

He said his family was “over the moon” when they found out he would receive the VC.

Asked about his relative who also won the VC, he said: “It’s from my dad’s side of the family – they are all very military-orientated, there’s been someone in the military from every generation that I know of.

“I’ve got a bit of a mad family you could say, there’s a lot of eccentric people.

“I knew that there was someone from the family who had been awarded the VC.

“You think ‘fair one’ but it was the Second World War, people were expected to do things that they didn’t think they were going to do that morning.

“I’m lucky – I’m here, I’ve got all my limbs, my health, I’ve got my friends and my family.

“This award is brilliant, but it’s also something I’m accepting on behalf of my regiment and my battalion, of which I’m so proud.”

Sgt Leakey was born in Kenya and served during the Second World War with the King’s African Rifles.

He was awarded the VC for “magnificent fighting spirit facing almost certain death” during a battle against Italian opposition at Kolito in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) on May 19 1941.

After two companies of the King’s African Rifles established a bridgehead across the Billate River, they were surprised by a counter-attack with tanks.

In the face of “withering fire”, Sgt Leakey leaped onto one of the tanks, wrenched open the turret and shot all the crew except the driver, who he forced to drive the tank to cover.

Along with three others he tried to repeat the trick with another tank but was killed just as he opened the turret, aged 28.

The confusion and loss of armour that Sgt Leakey caused was described as “critical” to the Italian defeat in the battle.

Although the soldier has no known grave, he is commemorated on the East Africa Memorial, near Nairobi.

The VC was first introduced in January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War.

It has now been awarded 1,363 times, according to the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association.

L/Cpl Leakey will receive his medal at a later date during an investiture ceremony.

He is the first British serviceman to receive the honour while still alive since Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry, of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, was decorated in 2005 for saving the lives of comrades during two ambushes in Iraq.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “It is absolutely right that Lance Corporal Leakey has been awarded a Victoria Cross.

“He epitomised valour with his actions on that hillside in Helmand.

“When you hear how events unfolded and the intensity of enemy fire, it is difficult to imagine how one wouldn’t be frozen to the spot and yet Lance Corporal Leakey risked his life to run across that barren hillside not just once, but multiple times, to turn the battle and save the lives of comrades.

“And that is why he deserves the highest honour for bravery the nation can give.”

L/Cpl Leakey and other medal-winners were honoured at a 10 Downing Street reception last night, hosted by Mr Cameron.

The VC winner and the other servicemen and women from all branches of the Armed Forces chatted with the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

Published: Thursday 26th February 2015 by The News Editor

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