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Last Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Victoria Cross holders honoured
Rambahadur Limbu, John Alexander Cruickhank, Keith Payne and Private Johnson Beharry
Eight of the 12 surviving VC holders were at the service
The Prince of Wales has paid his respects to Victoria Cross holders to mark the 150th anniversary of the prestigious bravery medal.

More than 2,000 people gathered for the service at Westminster Abbey.

The service commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, of which the prince is president.

Also attending was Private Johnson Beharry, the first person to be awarded the VC in more than two decades.

'Courage and respect'

The Reverend Robert Wright, sub-dean of Westminster Abbey, paid tribute to the medal-holders, saying: "All courage deserves respect. Great courage deserves great respect.

"It is the especial distinction of the men and women who won either of these awards that they performed their deeds of valour not to serve their own ends but for the sake of their country and of those whom they served."

He added: "They risked and often sacrificed their lives so that others might live and continue to enjoy the privilege of living in a world where freedom and justice might prevail."

L/Cpl Chris Finney
L/Cpl Chris Finney is the youngest to be awarded the George Cross

Private Beharry, who is 26 and serves in the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, twice saved the lives of countless colleagues while under enemy fire in Iraq in May 2004.

He guided a column of troops through a mile of enemy ground to drop off wounded comrades - at great risk to his own safety.

Just weeks later, his vehicle was hit by an rocket-propelled grenade round. Despite a severe head wound, he managed to reverse his warrior to safety. He was awarded the VC last year.

Medals paraded

The first Victoria Cross was awarded to Lt Charles Lucas for his action in the Baltic in June 1854.

The first George Cross was awarded to Thomas Alderson for his action when an air raid warden in the Blitz in September 1940.

Both medals will be carried through the Abbey by the men's direct descendants.

The George Cross is the highest medal for bravery with the enemy not present.

L/Cpl Chris Finney, who was awarded the George Cross for his bravery in Iraq in 2003, said he was "in awe" at his fellow medal holders.

He told BBC News they were "just fantastic people".

L/Cpl Finney, thought to be the youngest military recipient of the medal, was awarded it aged just 19 after being wounded as he risked his life to drag a fellow soldier from a tank as it came under fire from US planes in a "friendly-fire" incident.

But he said: "Speak to anybody that holds it and I'm pretty sure they'll all tell you that they probably don't deserve it, but I specially don't think I do.

He added: "As far as I'm concerned, my friend was there and I helped him, that's not anything that you shouldn't do anyway."

The prince was joined by the Duchess of Cornwall and the couple will also attend a lunchtime reception to mark the occasion at St James's Square gardens.

He will lay a wreath at the VC and GC Memorial in the Abbey.

On Wednesday, the Queen is holding a reception at Windsor Castle to mark the 150th anniversary of the VC.


SEE ALSO
Victoria Cross subject of lecture
05 Jun 06 |  Guernsey
Iraq war soldiers awarded medals
09 Dec 04 |  Berkshire
In pictures: War hero awarded VC
27 Apr 05 |  In Pictures

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