Page last updated at 16:33 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

Medals show ferocity of Afghanistan fighting

By Dan Bell
BBC News

L/Cpl David James Timmins
L/Cpl Timmins lost his sight in one eye after being hit by a booby trap bomb

The ferocity of last summer's fighting in Afghanistan has been recognised by the greatest number of medals and awards since the war began.

Of the list of more than 150 honours announced on Friday, a number were honoured posthumously, while others received honours after catastrophic injuries.

After a simple awards ceremony at the Honourable Artillery Company in central London, the BBC spoke to some of those honoured.

WARRANT OFFICER CLASS 2 PETER BURNEY

WO2 Burney, 40, of the Rifles, was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his calm command when an explosion tore through his patrol after they were caught in area littered with homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

"We moved forward to clear an area, as we moved forward the section commander stepped on an IED. I went ahead to assess the situation and saw the section commander was on the ground dead, with the bottom half of his body gone.

"But you still continue to fight for life, you can't have the other guys see you give up. We gathered him up on a stretcher and as we moved forward, someone else stepped on another IED. I was blown off my feet. I could hear people screaming.

I'm getting the medal, there are a lot of other people there who probably deserved one
Warrant Officer class 2 Peter Burney

"I realised we were in a concentration of IEDs, so I froze everybody's movement. I told everybody to stay still, it was just about keeping the assurance of the guys. The main thing was the other fusiliers didn't go into panic and knew we were going to get out of there.

"We had to keep the casualties focused, because they're in a lot of pain, and you didn't want them to all start moving again in an area with lots of IEDs.

"The thing is there were a lot of other people on the day that helped us out of the situation. Even though I'm getting the medal, there are a lot of other people there who probably deserved one."

L/CPL KYLE PATRICK SMITH
L/Cpl Kyle Patrick Smith

L/Cpl Smith, 21, of the Mercian Regiment, was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for putting his own life at risk while dragging two injured comrades into cover.

"We were on a patrol and we came up to a tree line, and all of sudden we got hit by an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) and small-arms fire and had several casualties.

"As I looked to my right there were two lads on the ground so I ran out and grabbed the first one. There were rounds going down, but he just needed help. There were shrapnel wounds in both legs.

"Then another RPG hit where we were and we came under more small-arms fire, so I got my team to suppress where it was coming from. You don't see them - you just hear them, just metres above your head, but you don't think about it.

"I've only found out about picking up the award a week and a half ago. It's a good feeling, but there's nothing worse than seeing one of your mates down on the floor and they can't help themselves. We all would do the same for each other."

WARRANT OFFICER CLASS 2 MATTHEW TOMLINSON
WO Mattew Tomlinson

WO2 Tomlinson, 43, of the Royal Marines, was awarded the Military Cross for searching out casualties and saving the life of one of his comrades while under heavy fire, after his convoy was hit by an IED.

In Iraq, he was also awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

"We were on our way back to Lashkar Gar when the front vehicle was hit. There was a huge explosion. I basically dismounted from the vehicle and we were under a huge amount of fire.

"I made my way across to the front cab and couldn't see anyone in there and I thought they had been vaporised. Then I heard a marine groaning, just covered in black oil, a lot of blood, his jaw was completely shattered and he had a lot of internal injuries.

"Unfortunately a lot of these awards are awarded during times of loss. I'm extremely proud to have received the award, but it's always a team effort. Your actions are not possible if you don't have the passion and confidence of your marines.

"You know they would do the same for you. It's something driven by the people you are surrounded with."

L\CPL DAVID JAMES TIMMINS

L\Cpl Timmins, 29, of the Royal Logistic Corps, was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his cool and calm attitude while clearing IEDs in Afghanistan.

Shortly after helping to save the life of one of his comrades, he was hit by an explosion himself.

"We were on a route clearance [when we detected an IED]. The operation had to stop to wait for incoming support.

"It was in an enemy-held area, it was dark, I was between 14ft walls. We were hemmed in. We couldn't go forward or back because we knew there were devices. It was a case of staying still, because otherwise someone would be hit. It was pretty hairy."

I've never been scared in my life, of anything to be honest, but we were scared then
L/Cpl David James Timmins

After pulling back to wait for support, one of his comrades was hit by an IED, causing massive injuries.

"Everything goes slow, but it's also going 100 miles an hour. It's all a bit surreal. But the skills and drills work, they really do. Everybody knows how to put on a tourniquet, everyone knows how to put on a field dressing.

"I've never been scared in my life, of anything to be honest, but we were scared then because we didn't know at that point if he was dead."

Ten days later L/Cpl Timmins, while working on another route clearance, was hit by a booby trap as he entered a compound. The blast left him with massive injuries, and blinded him in one eye.

CPL CARL PETER THOMAS
Cpl Carl Peter Thomas

Cpl Thomas, 30, of the Rifles, was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal after repeatedly passing through the line of fire to evacuate casualties hit by explosions.

"If I didn't do my job, I'm classed as a medic, people would have been a lot more seriously injured. I was more concerned about dealing with those that were injured than what was going on around me.

"You're always going to remember the people who lost their lives. The experiences, you remember them, but you've got to move on and do your job.

"It was a great thing to hear, and for my family and friends, but at the same time, they just know me as Tommo, and they wouldn't expect anything else."



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