A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Victoria Cross

Amazing story (via Andrew Stuttaford at The Corner) of a British soldier, Private Johnson Beharry (now Lance Corporal). The London Telegraph has a large excerpt from LCPL Beharry's book, Barefoot Soldier:


After we've settled down, Colonel Maer explains why he has brought us here. He stares at his feet for a moment, then looks at us.

"Around a week ago, I was told, under strict instructions not to tell a living soul, that the battalion would receive a number of awards for our contribution to Operation Telic Four. You, gentlemen, are all among those who are going to be honoured."

Mr Deane and CSM Falconer look stunned when he tells them they have both been awarded Military Crosses. He then turns to Broomstick.

"The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for you, Sergeant Broome. Second only to the Victoria Cross for bravery in the face of the enemy."

Broomstick almost falls off his chair. "Bloody hell," he says. "Me? Why me, sir?"

There's a long pause, then the CO looks at me. "Beharry," he says, "this one's rather special. They haven't handed one of these out for quite a while. It gives me the very deepest pleasure to tell you that you are going to receive the Victoria Cross."

I hear what he says, but it doesn't really register.

I look up and see Broomstick beaming from ear to ear. And I swear I can see tears in his eyes again.

"WHAT was going through your head during that second engagement?" a journalist asks me at a press conference the next day.

"A rocket-propelled grenade," I say.
LCPL Beharry also met the Queen,

We're led through the Palace corridors to the ballroom. As soon as my family are settled one row from the front, I'm directed into a side room to be briefed on the ceremony. I'm the first to go up; around 150 others will follow.

The band strikes up the National Anthem on the dot of 11. Everybody rises as the Queen walks into the ballroom. Before I have time to get nervous, they sit again and my name is called out.

I keep walking until I'm a few short paces from Her Majesty. I look her in the eyes and the corner of her mouth twitches. Is it a smile? Do I smile back?

The Lord Chamberlain, standing to her right, begins to read my citation. It takes almost 15 minutes, by which time my shoulder and back are killing me. I step up to receive my medal.

I bow and find myself half a pace away from the Queen. So much blood is pounding in my ears that I miss the first thing she says to me.

"I'm sorry, Majesty?"

She leans forward and her face breaks into a big smile.

"You're a very special person," she says, as she pins the medal on to my chest. "It's been rather a long time since I've awarded one of these."

"Thank you, Majesty."

"How are you managing?" she asks. "You look remarkably well, and yet we have read about the terrible things you have been through."

"I'm doin' a" right, you know, Majesty, but it's the injuries the doctors can't see that are givin' me the most trouble."

"They are the ones that take the longest to heal," she says with such feeling that it's as if she's been with me every step of the way.
The Victoria Cross is Britain's highest award for gallantry.

LCPL Beharry explained in his book,

I know that the bronze used for each VC comes from a Russian cannon captured at the end of the Crimean War. The block of metal is held by the 15th Regiment Royal Logistic Corps at Donnington and is so precious that it is only removed from its vault on special occasions. There are 358 ounces of the block left, enough to make only another 12 VCs. Somebody tells me I need to insure mine for a million pounds. I just can't get my head around that.
The Victoria Cross was first awarded on 26 June 1857, by Queen Victoria.

More on the Victoria Cross here.

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