21st century Victoria Cross recipients

We exist to support the amazing men and women of the Armed Forces who can face life-long challenges as a result of their outstanding service protecting the nation at home and abroad.

Since 2000 four men have been awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery in the face of the enemy. Here are the stories behind their heroic actions.

Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC

The most recent Victoria Cross was awarded to Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey for action in Afghanistan in 2015.

Leakey joined the British Army in 2007 after he dropped out of University, where he was studying military history, during his first term. After joining he was subsequently posted to the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment and saw three tours of Afghanistan in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

On the 22 August 2013, Leakey deployed on a joint UK/US assault led by the United States Marines Corps into a Taliban stronghold. Having flown into the area by helicopter, the main patrol came under machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire soon after landing, pinning them down on an exposed slope of a hill.

Landing nearby Leakey quickly realised the danger, “and with complete disregard for his own safety”, ran across a large area of the hillside to assess the severity of the situation.

He soon realised that two friendly machine gun teams and a mortar section were surrounded by about 20 enemy fighter, so he decided urgent action was needed.

"Leakey’s actions singlehandedly...prevented considerable loss of life.”

Lance Corporal James Leakey Credit: Ministry of Defence

“Under fire yet undeterred by the very clear and present danger, Lance Corporal Leakey ran across the exposed slope of the hill three times to initiate casualty evacuation, re-site machine guns and return fire,” The Ministry of Defence’s summary of his actions says.

“His actions proved the turning point, inspiring his comrades to fight back with renewed ferocity. Displaying gritty leadership well above that expected of his rank. Lance Corporal Leakey’s actions singlehandedly regained the initiative and prevented considerable loss of life.”

For his actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross at the age of 27 on 25th February 2015 by the Queen.

At the time Leakey said: “It’s massively humbling to put me alongside other people who have received this award. I’m conscious that there were other men on the ground that day who were doing their job just like everyone does.

“I see this as a massive honour for the Parachute Regiment as a whole. It is overwhelming. And I think it probably always will be.”

Lance Corporal James Ashworth VC

Lance Corporal James Ashworth of the Grenadier Guards was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after he was killed in action in Afghanistan at the age of 23.

Ashworth, from Corby in Northamptonshire, joined the Army in 2006, aged 17, following in the footsteps of his father who had also served in the Grenadier Guards. He completed his infantry training in Catterick before being identified as capable of becoming a paratrooper and was assigned to the Guards Parachute platoon.

He was deployed overseas on several occasions before joining the Grenadier Guards Reconnaissance Platoon for Operation Herrick 16 in Afghanistan.

"Ashworth refused to be beaten.” VC Citation

On 13 June 2012, Ashworth and his platoon came under heavy fire as soon as they landed in the Nahr-e-Saraj District of Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Leading the charge, he provided cover for his team who followed behind him.

Ashworth knew he had to neutralise the enemy pinning down his platoon. Under heavy fire and "with no regard for his own safety" he slowly crawled up to an enemy position. In full view of the enemy he tried to get a better view to accurately throw his final grenade to protect his platoon but was killed as he tried to do so.  

Lance Corporal James Ashworth Credit: Ministry of Defence

He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 22 March 2013.

“Despite the ferocity of the insurgent’s resistance, Ashworth refused to be beaten.” His citation says.

“His total disregard for his own safety in ensuring that the last grenade was posted accurately was the gallant last action of a soldier who had willingly placed himself in the line of fire on numerous occasions earlier in the attack. This supremely courageous and inspiring action deserves the highest recognition.”

Corporal Bryan Budd VC

Corporal Bryan Budd of the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after he died of injuries sustained in action in 2006.

Budd, from Ripon in North Yorkshire, joined the Army in 1995 and enjoyed a distinguished career. He enlisted in the Parachute Regiment and passed the rigorous selection process for 16 Air Assault Brigade’s Pathfinder Platoon, an elite unit trained for long range reconnaissance missions. As part of the platoon he served in Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Whilst on a routine patrol in July 2006, his platoon became involved in a fire-fight in which two of his section were injured, one was seriously injured and had collapsed in open ground. Budd realised he needed to force the enemy back so that the casualties could be evacuated. Under fire he led the attack on the enemy forcing them to flee, which allowed his colleagues to be evacuated and receive life-saving treatment.

"He saved the lives of many of his colleagues"

Just under a month later on 20 August 2006 Corporal Budd was leading his section on a routine patrol in Sangin, Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, when he identified a number of enemy fighters ahead and initiated a flanking manoeuvre with a nearby Land Rover. Unfortunately, the enemy spotted the Land Rover and the element of surprise was lost and a fire-fight ensued. As they approached they came under heavy fire which injured three of his men and caused the whole section to take cover.

Bryan Budd's VC on display as part of the Lord Ashworth Collection at the Imperial War Museum

Budd, however continued the advance on his own, "knowing full well the likely consequences". Despite being injured he carried on moving forward and as a result the rest of the platoon reorganised and pushed forward forcing the enemy to withdraw.

As a result of the injuries he sustained in the attack that saved his colleagues Corporal Budd later died. 

On 14 December 2006, it was announced by the Ministry of Defence that Budd would be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

Corporal Budd's conspicuous gallantry during these two engagements saved the lives of many of his colleagues,” his citation says.

“He acted in the full knowledge that the rest of his men had either been struck down or had been forced to go to ground. His determination to press home a single-handed assault against a superior enemy force despite his wounds stands out as a premeditated act of inspirational leadership and supreme valour.”

Johnson Beharry VC

Johnson Beharry received the Victoria Cross in 2005 for acts of bravery in Iraq and was the first person to receive one in over 30 years.

Born in Grenada, Beharry moved to the UK in 1999 and joined the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, The Tigers, in 2001 aged 21. After his initial training at Catterick, he became a driver of Warrior armoured vehicles in C Company, 1st Battalion. Prior to his deployment in Iraq, he served for six months in Kosovo and three months in Northern Ireland.

On 1 May 2004 Private Beharry was called to assist a foot patrol that had been caught in a series of ambushes. As he drove through the streets of Al Amarah in Iraq, with four other Warriors behind him, his vehicle was hit by multiple rocket-propelled grenades causing major damage and leaving him without radio communications. During the assault the platoon commander, the vehicle’s gunner and a number of other soldiers in the vehicle were also injured.

"Beharry displayed repeated extreme gallantry"

Due to damage to his periscope optics, Beharry was forced to open his hatch to steer his vehicle to safety, exposing his head to enemy fire. Despite the dangers he drove his own crew and led five other Warriors to safety. Still under fire he then extracted his wounded colleagues from the damaged vehicle before he collapsed with exhaustion.

Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry

Back on duty just 6 weeks later on 11 June 2004, Beharry was again driving a Warrior through the streets of Al Amarah when his vehicle was ambushed. A rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle exploding just six inches from his head, leaving him with serious shrapnel injuries to his face and brain.

Other rockets then hit the vehicle, injuring his commander and several of the crew. Despite his life-threatening injuries, Beharry managed to continue to control his vehicle, driving it out of immediate danger before he lost consciousness.

As a result of his head injuries he required brain surgery, from which he was still recovering in March 2005 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

“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 citation says.

“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.”