The “supremely courageous and inspiring” actions of a Northamptonshire soldier who died as he put himself in the line of fire to protect his comrades in Afghanistan have been disclosed in the citation for his posthumous Victoria Cross.
Lance Corporal James Ashworth, aged 23, will receive the medal in recognition of his “extraordinary courage” while serving with the 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards in Helmand province last year.
The Victoria Cross, the country’s highest award for gallantry, has been awarded just 10 times to UK soldiers since the Second World War.
The posthumous award to L/Cpl Ashworth, from Corby, is just the second from the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan.
L/Cpl Ashworth was killed as he stormed an insurgent position in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand in June 2012.
L/Cpl Ashworth’s mother Kerry, father Duane, a former Grenadier, and brother Coran, 22, a serving soldier, were present at Buller Barracks, Aldershot Army base, Hampshire, where the citation for the Victoria Cross was read aloud.
It states: “Despite the ferocity of the insurgent’s resistance, Ashworth refused to be beaten.
“His total disregard for his own safety in ensuring that the last grenade was posted accurately was the gallant last action of a soldier who had willingly placed himself in the line of fire on numerous occasions earlier in the attack.
“This supremely courageous and inspiring action deserves the highest recognition.”
The Ministry of Defence has described how L/Cpl Ashworth and his platoon were ordered into Nahr-e-Saraj on June 13 to engage an insurgent sniper team.
A spokesman explained how they came under fire as soon as they landed, prompting L/Cpl Ashworth to lead his team in a 300-metre charge to the enemy position in a local village.
Two insurgents were killed in this initial attack but a follow-up assault by Afghan police stalled when a patrolman was shot and killed as the enemy fled.
The spokesman said: “With no regard for his own safety, L/Cpl Ashworth again led from the front of his team, advancing on an insurgent compound and using grenades to drive the final remaining enemy to an outbuilding.
“The insurgent was now being supported by fire from several positions, with the enemy desperate to protect their sharpshooter team.
“The immediate priority for L/Cpl Ashworth’s team was now to neutralise the final sharpshooter and extract as soon as possible.
“Seeking to break the stalemate using his final grenade, L/Cpl Ashworth dropped to the floor and crawled behind a knee-high wall that ran parallel to the front of the outbuilding.
“With just enough cover to conceal his prostrate form, he inched forward on his belly.
“Bullets flew over his head as he edged forward and the enemy continued to engage the rest of his team.
“When he was within five metres of the insurgent’s position L/Cpl Ashworth was desperate to make his last grenade count.
“He deliberately crawled out from behind the wall, exposing himself to fire to get a better angle for his throw.
“L/Cpl Ashworth was now in full view of the enemy just metres away, with rounds hitting the floor just centimetres around him.
“He was preparing to throw the grenade when he was tragically hit by enemy fire.”
The inscription For Valour was personally chosen by Queen Victoria. To date, only 1,360 VCs have been awarded and L/Cpl Ashworth’s will be the 1,361st.