23 September 2006
The Bitter Price of Bravery
Today’s Telegraph carries an interview with Private Johnson Beharry who last year became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross in 23 years. It goes to show that even bravery comes with a bitter price.
The young soldier from Grenada was awarded Britain's highest award for valour for rescuing fellow soldiers from his burning armoured personnel carrier after it was hit by rocket-propelled grenades in two ambushes in 2004. espite serious injuries and being exposed to enemy fire he led his five-vehicle convoy to safety then clambered on to the red-hot metal to save colleagues, including his commanding officer.
When he went to Buckingham Palace to collect the VC, the Queen told him that the injuries inside would take the longest to heal. The Queen's words were prophetic: Pte Beharry said, he had yet to discover both the down side of fame and the full extent of his physical and mental injuries. Some members of his extended family, both in Britain and the Caribbean, had plagued him with requests for help, he said. "Everyone thinks that because I receive the Victoria Cross, I receive a wall of money," he said. "They expect me to give them whatever they ask for. But the Victoria Cross is just a medal.
Several members of the family have circulated stories that Pte Beharry, puffed up by his honour, deserted his home-loving wife for a striking Grenadian, Tamara Vincent. Pte Beharry says the reality is that the marriage was already over: his wife did not write to him when he was serving overseas and did not spend much time by his bedside when he was recovering from brain surgery. Pte Beharry's skull was shattered by the blasts and he still suffers blinding pain in his head, his back and his shoulder.
His brain injuries have altered his easy-going personality and left him short-tempered and quick to take offence. So he stays at home rather than risk "getting into trouble" in clubs or bars. Two years on, he is still having treatment. He said that doctors could not tell him when — or if — he would get better. Pte Beharry is now in an unusual position: superiors salute him but he has no job; he is on the Army payroll but without a role.
Pte Beharry was one of eight children brought up in a two-room hut in Grenada. He moved to Britain when he was 19 and worked on building sites. By joining the Army, he reversed a slide into drink and soft drugs and subsequently discovered an aptitude for driving the 25-ton Warrior vehicles. Asked whether there was ever a moment when he wished he were an unknown soldier again without his VC, Pte Beharry replied: "I am proud of it, but you don't get something like this for free. You get it and survive with the pain — or you get it and die."
Johinson Beharry is one of 1352 persons to receive the Victoria Cross since its inception in 1856. He is by far the youngest of the 12 living recipients. Eight of the living recipients were awarded the medal in WWII, one during the Korean War, one in the Malaysian-Indonesian Confrontation and one (an Australian) during the Vietnam War.
Beharry, like his predecessors were awarded this medal for extreme courage, (often in situations where given the choice I am sure they would rather have been elsewhere). One need not condone the presence of the British armed forces Iraq or any other war to acknowledge this.
A few other recipients
Lachiman Gurung Nepal
Charles Upham New Zealand one of only three persons to be awarded the medal twice
Edward Fogarty Fegen British of Irish descent
John Cornwell who is commemorated locally