Tribute paid to ‘astonishing professionalism’ of British soldiers in Afghanistan
After spending six hours scanning the perimeter of his patrol base for any hint of trouble, Corporal Josh Griffiths was looking forward to his dinner; it was beef stir-fry that night.
But no sooner had the soldier put his food down on the scoff tent table than a massive blast tore through the camp and threw him off his feet. It was six o’clock in the evening of 25 March this year.
Neither he nor his colleagues from 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) knew it yet, but a flat-bed truck carrying half a tonne of explosives, driven by a suicide bomber, had smashed into their base in the Nad Ali district of Helmand, Afghanistan, tearing a 40-metre gap in its perimeter wall.
“The next thing I remember it was dark and I was on my belly and realised my back was a bit sore,” said the 24-year-old, from Eastham, Merseyside. “I heard one of the lads scream out, so I approached him and helped and then I climbed out of the tent to see if there were more casualties. When I did that, there were rounds snapping past and I thought, ‘That’s a bit close’. I turned left and there were the insurgents standing there.”
What Griffiths did next earned him the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, one of 117 military awards announced in Friday’s operational honours list.
Ignoring the pain in his back, he grabbed a light machine gun and turned towards the insurgents, who were throwing grenades and spraying the base with gunfire. Shrugging off “a bit of frag in the eye” from one of the explosives, he continued protecting his colleagues, killing one of the intruders, until help arrived and he could stand down.
Medics later told him he had suffered a broken back in the blast and had grenade fragments had lodged millimetres from his left retina.
Asked how he had managed to fight on despite his injuries, Griffiths shrugged: “The job took over and I pushed forward. The adrenaline kicked in and I think I ran faster.”
His is not the only such story. Rifleman Tuljung Gurung of the Royal Gurkha Rifles was coming to the end of his watch in a sangar – a fortified sentry post – a little before 4am on 22 March this year when he noticed two men running towards him. When they responded to his challenge with a volley of shots, he returned fire. A moment later, a bullet hit the left side of his helmet, knocking him over.
“It felt like someone had hit me on the helmet with a big hammer,” said Gurung, who is now an acting lance corporal. “I managed to stand up and then I realised that a grenade was bouncing off the ceiling of my sangar and had landed an arm’s length in front of me.”
He swiped the grenade away just before it exploded, covering him in dust and stones. When the dust cleared, he saw that one of the insurgents had …read more