A British paratrooper has become the first living soldier to receive the most prestigious military award in Britain and the Commonwealth for the Afghanistan war, and the second in his family, after he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to help a fallen comrade, and bring machine gun fire down on his enemy.
While many in the UK yesterday enjoyed the ‘Brit’ music awards, Lance Corporal (L/Cpl) Joshua Leakey was received an award of an entirely different kind today as he had a Victoria Cross pinned on his chest by the Chief of the General Staff. At the ceremony, a senior officer read from his citation: “Drawing the majority of the enemy fire, with rounds splashing around him, L/Cpl Leakey overcame his fatigue to re-site the gun and return fire. This proved to be the turning point.
“Inspired by his actions, and with a heavy weight of fire now at their disposal, the force began to fight back with renewed ferocity. Displaying gritty leadership well above that expected of his rank L/Cpl Leakey’s actions single-handedly regained the initiative and prevented considerable loss of life.”
L/Cpl Leakey, a member of the elite Paratrooper regiment first broke cover to give first aid to a fallen United States Marine, and continued to expose himself to fire as he recovered and fired from two machine guns, running up and down a hill in the high heat of the Afghan summer. Although he ran through machine gun fire and exploding grenades three times, he survived and was able to engage 20 Taliban fighters and save the life of the American officer.
Despite his selfless heroism and exceptional rarity of the award, Leakey modestly brushed off the ceremony, remarking that it was “just another day in the office”. Speaking to journalists after the ceremony, he said: “I am here, I have got all my limbs, my heath, friends and family. This awards is brilliant but it’s something I am accepting on behalf of my regiment and battalion, of which I am so proud.
“My big hope is that I can go back on Monday morning and say, ‘sorry I was away, what’s next?’ I am not going to let this define me. It was just another day at the office. It was a memorable patrol but that’s what happened.
“The job of the Parachute regiment is to take the fight to the enemy and that’s what we had to do on that day.”
Leakey is not the first member of his family to have enjoyed military glory. His cousin, Nigel Leakey was a white British Kenyan who received a posthumous Victoria Cross in the Second World war. Serving with the King’s African Rifles, Leakey stormed enemy tanks with his machine gun, jimmying open crew hatches and killing those inside. Disabling the tanks turned the tide of the battle in favour of the British, but he was cut down by Italian fire.
Other military relatives include his father, who serves with the Royal Air Force, and relative Lieutenant-General David Leakey who is now the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod in Britain’s House of Commons.
Leakey’s matter-of-fact acceptance and modesty is highly redolent of many other British and Commonwealth recipients of the cross, which was instituted by Queen Victoria for “most conspicuous bravery”. Anglo-Belgian soldier Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart famously failed to mention his First World War Victoria Cross once in his famous memoirs of the Boer, First, and Second World Wars.
Another famed recipient of the Victoria Cross, New Zealander Charles Upham VC & Bar is one of only three men to have received the award twice. After the Second World War he bought a farm and avoided publicity, despite being constantly urged to join New Zealand politics. His single foray into the field was in 1962, when he called for Britain to not join the Common Market, which would later become the European Union.
Desperately warning the British people to avert disaster, he said: “Britain will gradually be pulled down and down and the whole English way of life will be in danger.” He later said: “Your politicians have made money their god, but what they are buying is disaster… They’ll cheat you yet, those Germans.”