Victoria Cross awarded to Northamptonshire soldier

Lance Corporal James Ashworth, 23, of Corby who was killed in Afghanistan
Lance Corporal James Ashworth, 23, of Corby who was killed in Afghanistan

A soldier from Northamptonshire who died as he protected the lives of his comrades in Afghanistan is to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Lance Corporal James Ashworth, 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, it was reported.

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, a former Lodge Park Technology College pupil, is just the second from the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan.

A Victoria Cross was awarded to Corporal Bryan Budd of 3 Para, who died fighting the Taliban in 2006.

L/Cpl Ashworth was killed in the Nahr-e-Siraj district on June 13 when his reconnaissance platoon became involved in a battle with the Taliban inside enemy-held compounds.

He is understood to have fought against huge odds, deliberately exposing himself to enemy fire, and died from a grenade blast as he tried to protect his men, The Times said.

Officials said he took care to ensure there were no civilians in the line of fire.

L/Cpl Ashworth’s comrades spoke of their pride in his bravery, and told how the death of such an “outstanding soldier” would leave a gaping hole in the battalion.

His company commander, Captain Mike Dobbin, said at the time of his death: “Lance Corporal Ashworth was killed while fighting his way through compounds; leading his fire team from the front, whilst trying to protect his men; and he showed extraordinary courage to close on a determined enemy.

“My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his girlfriend, who should be extremely proud of the courage he displayed and the life that he led.

“I am humbled by what I saw of Lance Corporal Ashworth’s actions and will never forget him.”

Guardsman Jordan Loftus said: “Selfless, brave, courageous - words like these don’t come close to what Ash demonstrated that day.”

L/Cpl Ashworth was a soldier for five years and came from a family with strong military links, The Times said.

His father Duane was also a Grenadier Guard, while his younger brother Coran is also a soldier.

He also left behind his mother Kerryann, sisters Lauren and Paige, brother Karl and four-year-old niece Darcy, as well as his girlfriend, Emily.

His family paid tribute to him after his death, saying: “We are devastated by the loss of our son, brother, uncle and boyfriend.

“He meant the world to everyone and has left an irreplaceable hole in our hearts.”

Sergeant Vandell McLean, his platoon sergeant, wrote at the time: “My sorrow is with his family at this time of loss. Please take comfort in knowing that Lance Corporal Ashworth died protecting me, his mates and the rest of the platoon.”

Lieutenant-Commander James Bowder, MBE, commander of the 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards, called him “an outstanding soldier”.

“Lance Corporal Ashworth’s death leaves a hole in the battalion - we have lost one of our very best soldiers. The battalion, and indeed the broader regiment, will never forget this quite exceptional man.”

The award will be officially confirmed by the Ministry of Defence next week.

The Victoria Cross ranks as the nation’s highest award for gallantry, along with the George Cross.

Instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856, the Victoria Cross is awarded for “most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”.

The bronze cross, which has a crimson ribbon bears the inscription “For Valour”, is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured at the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, the campaign in which the first medals were awarded.

The Victoria Cross may be awarded to all ranks of the services - and also to civilians - to recognise gallantry in the presence of the enemy.

The medal has been awarded 1,356 times, the most recent of which was a posthumous award to Corporal Bryan Budd, of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, for acts of “inspirational leadership and the greatest valour” in southern Afghanistan in 2006.

Only 13 Victoria Cross medals have been awarded since the Second World War, nine to members of the British Army and four to the Australian Army.

L/Cpl Ashworth’s is just the fifth to have been awarded since the Falklands conflict, and all but one have been posthumous.

Private Johnson Beharry, from 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, was awarded the honour for two separate acts of outstanding gallantry to rescue his comrades in Iraq in 2004, during which suffered serious head injuries.

The Victoria Cross has been awarded to the same person twice on three occasions - to doctors Captain Arthur Martin-Leake (1902 and 1914) and Captain Noel Chavasse (1916 and posthumously 1917), and New Zealander Captain Charles Upham (1941 and 1942).

The George Cross, which stands equal to the Victoria Cross as an award, recognises acts of gallantry by members of the Armed Forces or civilians in situations for which the Victoria Cross is not appropriate.

These can be incidents that are not in the presence of the enemy, such as bomb or mine disposal.

Read how town honoured L/Cpl Ashworth