Lance Sergeant Johnson Gideon Beharry, VC, COG (born 26 July 1979) is a British Army soldier who, on 18 March 2005, was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valour in the British and Commonwealth armed forces, for saving members of his unit, the 1st Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, from ambushes on 1 May and again on 11 June 2004 at Al-Amarah, Iraq. He sustained serious head injuries in the latter engagement. Beharry was formally invested with the Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth II on 27 April 2005.
Beharry was born in Grenada, and has four brothers and three sisters. He moved to the United Kingdom in 1999. He is divorced from his first wife Lynthia Beharry, who is also from Grenada. Beharry said, in an official statement released through the Ministry of Defence, that the trauma of his war experiences had caused difficulties in his marriage.
He subsequently remarried in London on 18 March 2013 to Venice Mallisa and they now have two children, a boy and a girl.
Beharry joined the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in August 2001. After training at Catterick, he became a driver of Warrior armoured vehicles in C Company, 1st Battalion. Prior to Iraq, he served for six months in Kosovo and three months in Northern Ireland.
Awards and campaign medals
Although Beharry served three months in Northern Ireland, Beharry’s service was during the firefighters’ strike, when he manned a fire tender. As such he was not engaged in the operational nature of service in Northern Ireland and did not qualify for the General Service Medal (GSM) with Northern Ireland clasp.
Actions in Iraq
On 1 May 2004, Beharry was driving a Warrior tracked armoured vehicle that had been called to the assistance of a foot patrol caught in a series of ambushes. The Warrior was hit by multiple rocket propelled grenades, causing damage and resulting in the loss of radio communications. The platoon commander, the vehicle’s gunner and a number of other soldiers in the vehicle were injured. Due to damage to his periscope optics, Pte. Beharry was forced to open his hatch to steer his vehicle, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire. Beharry drove the crippled Warrior through the ambush, taking his own crew and leading five other Warriors to safety. He then extracted his wounded comrades from the vehicle, all the time exposed to further enemy fire. He was cited on this occasion for “valour of the highest order”.
While back on duty on 11 June 2004, Beharry was again driving the lead Warrior of his platoon through Al Amarah when his vehicle was ambushed. A rocket propelled grenade hit the vehicle six inches from Beharry’s head, and he received serious shrapnel injuries to his face and brain. Other rockets then hit the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew. Despite his life-threatening injuries, Beharry retained control of his vehicle and drove it out of the ambush area before losing consciousness. He required brain surgery for his head injuries, and he was still recovering in March 2005 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Citation and first living recipient in over 30 years
The full citation was published in a supplement to the London Gazette of 18 March 2005 and commented, “Private Beharry carried out two individual acts of great heroism by which he saved the lives of his comrades. Both were in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, at great personal risk to himself (one leading to him sustaining very serious injuries)… Beharry displayed repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action.”
The full citation reads;
Private Beharry carried out two individual acts of great heroism by which he saved the lives of his comrades. Both were in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, at great personal risk to himself (one leading to him sustaining very serious injuries). His valour is worthy of the highest recognition.
In the early hours of May 1, 2004 Beharry’s company was ordered to replenish an isolated coalition forces outpost located in the centre of the troubled city of Al Amarah. He was the driver of a platoon commander’s warrior armoured fighting vehicle. His platoon was the company’s reserve force and was placed on immediate notice to move.
As the main elements of his company were moving into the city to carry out the replenishment, they were re-tasked to fight through a series of enemy ambushes in order to extract a foot patrol that had become pinned down under sustained small arms and heavy machine gun fire and improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenade attack. Beharry’s platoon was tasked over the radio to come to the assistance of the remainder of the company, who were attempting to extract the isolated foot patrol.
As his platoon passed a roundabout, en route to the pinned-down patrol, they became aware that the road to the front was empty of all civilians and traffic – an indicator of a potential ambush ahead. The platoon commander ordered the vehicle to halt, so that he could assess the situation. The vehicle was then immediately hit by multiple rocket-propelled grenades.
Eyewitnesses report that the vehicle was engulfed in a number of violent explosions, which physically rocked the 30-tonne warrior. As a result of this ferocious initial volley of fire, both the platoon commander and the vehicle’s gunner were incapacitated by concussion and other wounds, and a number of the soldiers in the rear of the vehicle were also wounded.
Due to damage sustained in the blast to the vehicle’s radio systems, Beharry had no means of communication with either his turret crew or any of the other warrior vehicles deployed around him. He did not know if his commander or crewmen were still alive, or how serious their injuries may be.
In this confusing and dangerous situation, on his own initiative, he closed his driver’s hatch and moved forward through the ambush position to try to establish some form of communications, halting just short of a barricade placed across the road. The vehicle was hit again by sustained rocket-propelled grenade attack from insurgent fighters in the alleyways and on rooftops around his vehicle.
Further damage to the warrior from these explosions caused it to catch fire and fill rapidly with thick, noxious smoke. Beharry opened up his armoured hatch cover to clear his view and orientate himself to the situation. He still had no radio communications and was now acting on his own initiative, as the lead vehicle of a six warrior convoy in an enemy-controlled area of the city at night.
He assessed that his best course of action to save the lives of his crew was to push through, out of the ambush. He drove his warrior directly through the barricade, not knowing if there were mines or improvised explosive devices placed there to destroy his vehicle. By doing this he was able to lead the remaining five warriors behind him towards safety.
As the smoke in his driver’s tunnel cleared, he was just able to make out the shape of another rocket-propelled grenade in flight heading directly towards him. He pulled the heavy armoured hatch down with one hand, whilst still controlling his vehicle with the other. However, the overpressure from the explosion of the rocket wrenched the hatch out of his grip, and the flames and force of the blast passed directly over him, down the driver’s tunnel, further wounding the semi-conscious gunner in the turret.
The impact of this rocket destroyed Beharry’s armoured periscope, so he was forced to drive the vehicle through the remainder of the ambushed route, some 1500m long, with his hatch opened up and his head exposed to enemy fire, all the time with no communications with any other vehicle. During this long surge through the ambushes the vehicle was again struck by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.
While his head remained out of the hatch, to enable him to see the route ahead, he was directly exposed to much of this fire, and was himself hit by a 7.62mm bullet, which penetrated his helmet and remained lodged on its inner surface. Despite this harrowing weight of incoming fire Beharry continued to push through the extended ambush, still leading his platoon until he broke clean.
He then visually identified another warrior from his company and followed it through the streets of Al Amarah to the outside of the Cimic House outpost, which was receiving small arms fire from the surrounding area. Once he had brought his vehicle to a halt outside, without thought for his own personal safety, he climbed onto the turret of the still-burning vehicle and, seemingly oblivious to the incoming enemy small arms fire, manhandled his wounded platoon commander out of the turret, off the vehicle and to the safety of a nearby warrior.
He then returned once again to his vehicle and again mounted the exposed turret to lift out the vehicle’s gunner and move him to a position of safety. Exposing himself yet again to enemy fire he returned to the rear of the burning vehicle to lead the disorientated and shocked dismounts and casualties to safety.
Remounting his burning vehicle for the third time, he drove it through a complex chicane and into the security of the defended perimeter of the outpost, thus denying it to the enemy.
Only at this stage did Beharry pull the fire extinguisher handles, immobilising the engine of the vehicle, dismounted and then moved himself into the relative safety of the back of another warrior. Once inside Beharry collapsed from the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of his efforts and was subsequently himself evacuated.
Having returned to duty following medical treatment, on June 11, 2004 Beharry’s warrior was part of a quick reaction force tasked to attempt to cut off a mortar team that had attacked a coalition force base in Al Amarah. As the lead vehicle of the platoon he was moving rapidly through the dark city streets towards the suspected firing point, when his vehicle was ambushed by the enemy from a series of rooftop positions.
During this initial heavy weight of enemy fire, a rocket-propelled grenade detonated on the vehicle’s frontal armour, just six inches [15cm] from Beharry’s head, resulting in a serious head injury. Other rockets struck the turret and sides of the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew.
With the blood from his head injury obscuring his vision, Beharry managed to continue to control his vehicle, and forcefully reversed the warrior out of the ambush area. The vehicle continued to move until it struck the wall of a nearby building and came to rest. Beharry then lost consciousness as a result of his wounds.
By moving the vehicle out of the enemy’s chosen killing area he enabled other warrior crews to be able to extract his crew from his vehicle, with a greatly reduced risk from incoming fire.
Despite receiving a serious head injury, which later saw him being listed as very seriously injured and in a coma for some time, his level-headed actions in the face of heavy and accurate enemy fire at short range again almost certainly saved the lives of his crew and provided the conditions for their safe evacuation to medical treatment.
Beharry displayed repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action.
Beharry is the first recipient of the Victoria Cross since the posthumous awards to Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones and Sergeant Ian John McKay for service in the Falklands War in 1982. He is the first living recipient of the VC since Keith Payne and Rayene Stewart Simpson, both Australian, for actions in Vietnam in 1969, and the first living recipient of the VC in the British Army since Rambahadur Limbu, a Gurkha, in the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation in 1965. At the time of his award, he was one of only ten living recipients of the VC.