The Queen is expected to hand out the first British Victoria Cross to a living recipient in a decade as it is announced today the rare (and single highest) award ‘for valour’ has been made to Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey of the Parachute Regiment for actions in Afghanistan. Corporal Leakey also becomes the first living British recipient of the Victoria Cross to receive it for actions in Afghanistan.
The Queen’s presentation of the honour – which will take place at an investiture in the coming months – will be just the sixth of the British VC she has made to a living recipient during her reign. Its awarding will precede all other honours and knighthoods at the investiture and include a reading of the citation just before.
Joshua Leakey will now join just six other living recipients of the British Victoria Cross who won the award through their gallantry from actions during the Second World War to, more recently, the war in Iraq.
The last time Her Majesty presented the medal was in 2005 at Buckingham Palace to Johnson Beharry VC for his actions in Iraq. She told now Lance Sergeant Beharry that he was “very special” and that it had been “rather a long time since I’ve awarded one of these”.
Remarking on his achievement, Joshua Leakey said, “the only thing I was really scared of was letting my cap badge down. That’s why I joined the Army – to be a Paratrooper. I wasn’t interested in doing anything else… My biggest fear is letting the side down… and not doing your cap badge proud.”
His medal-earning feat took place during deployment to Afghanistan during 2013. Officials say he showed in the course of his actions he showed “complete disregard” for his own safety during an incident where he and his fellow soldiers were under attacked from 20 heavily armed insurgents.
Corporal Leakey went to the top of a nearby hill, under intense enemy fire, and realised that two joint UK and US machine gun teams had been surrounded by insurgents. He then assumed responsibility, organising casualty evacuation for a wounded US officer before taking up one of the weapons and returning back down the hill.
His award will now be “Gazetted” (appearing in the London Gazette, which acts as the official public register for honours), becoming a bona fide record of the award.
The Victoria Cross was instituted in 1857 following the turmoil of the Crimean war and the many extraordinary acts of heroism it produced. At the time, no suitable award existed for awards for extreme acts of bravery save for those that could be awarded to officers (such as the Order of the Bath). On the orders of Queen Victoria, heavily influenced and guided by Prince Albert, the Victoria Cross was instituted to bridge this gap and create an award that could be awarded just as easily to a normal Private as it could any rank of officer – entirely based on the merit of a soldier’s gallantry.
Following its creation by royal warrant in 1856, its first award was made by Queen Victoria the following year as she handed out the first 62 medals at a ceremony ay Hyde Park. Since creation over 150 years ago, it has been awarded a total of 1,358 times including today’s.
During the Second World War, a total of 181 awards of the VC were made, while the First World War alone saw a the majority of the Victoria Cross’s awards to date at 627.
The Queen made her first award of the Victoria Cross just weeks after her accession to the throne on 27th February 1952 when she awarded Private Bill Speakman the VC for his actions during the Korean War, an award initiated by King George VI before his death.
While he awaits his actual medal, Corporal Leakey’s Victoria Cross was made ‘official’ earlier today at a ceremony at Lancaster House – a building neighbouring Prince Charles’s residence Clarence House – in London and was attended by Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nicholas Carter.
photo credit: Specimen Victoria Cross Medal Approved by Queen Victoria via photopin (license)