Corby soldier’s family speak of their pride

Lance Corporal James Ashworth's family,  his father Duane, mother Kerry and brother Coran
Lance Corporal James Ashworth's family, his father Duane, mother Kerry and brother Coran

The mother of hero soldier Lance Corporal James Ashworth, who is to be awarded the Victoria Cross, said the honour does not ease her pain but makes her feel her son’s death was not for nothing.

L/Cpl Ashworth, 23, of Corby, was killed as he stormed an insurgent position in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand in June 2012.

His conduct in putting himself in the line of fire to protect his colleagues has been rewarded with the Victoria Cross (VC), the first award of the honour since 2006.

Today (Monday, March 18) his mum Kerry, 44, a customer service manager, said: “It doesn’t make it easier but it just makes you feel it was not for nothing - we just miss him so much.

“I talk to him on Facebook and I have children and grandchildren and that does help, but some days it’s really hard and I go and visit him at his grave - you cope as best you can.

“I miss his smile. He’s got the best smile anyone could ever have. He always smiles .. and his hugs. I just love him so much.”

Mrs Ashworth called her 6ft 8ins son a “lovable rogue”.

She said: “If anyone was in trouble he would go and help them, it doesn’t matter who it was. He was like that from a young age. James was making a difference out there and he believed in his job.

“We just miss him so much, but this award is not just for James it’s for everybody who fights and who has been injured and the whole town is so proud of him.”

L/Cpl Ashworth and his platoon from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards were inserted into Nahr-e-Saraj on June 13, last year to engage an insurgent sharpshooter team. They came under fire as soon as they landed, prompting L/Cpl Ashworth to lead his fire team in a 300-metre charge to the heart of the enemy position in a local village.

Two insurgents were killed in this initial attack, but a follow-up assault by Afghan Police stalled when a patrolman was shot and killed as the enemy fled.

With no regard for his own safety, L/Cpl Ashworth again led from the front of his team, advancing on an insurgent compound and using grenades to drive the final remaining enemy to an outbuilding.

The insurgent was now being supported by fire from several positions, with the enemy desperate to protect their sharpshooter team. The immediate priority for L/Cpl Ashworth’s team was now to neutralise the final sharpshooter and extract as soon as possible. Seeking to break the stalemate using his final grenade, L/Cpl Ashworth dropped to the floor and crawled behind a knee-high wall that ran parallel to the front of the outbuilding.

With just enough cover, he inched forward on his belly as bullets flew over his head.

When he was within five metres of the insurgent’s position, L/Cpl Ashworth was desperate to make his last grenade count. He deliberately crawled out from behind the wall, exposing himself to fire to get a better angle for his throw.

He was preparing to throw the grenade when he was tragically hit by enemy fire.

Mrs Ashworth, who said she only found out about the honour last Thursday, said: “I’m stopped in the street, just everyone knows about it and this has brought it all back.

“We never in our wildest dreams expected this. I didn’t know the full extent (of what he had done), I knew a bit about what happened and I know when we came to meet the soldiers they were saying how wonderful he was, but I never in my life expected this.”

L/Cpl Ashworth’s dad Duane, 44, a former Grenadier Guard who now works as a holiday complex manager, added: “We knew what he had done was exceptional. That is the sort of thing you know he would do.

“Every day is difficult but each day gets easier - it was very worthwhile what he achieved.”

His brother Coran, a corporal in the army, said the award meant just as much to the Grenadier Guards and that his brother James was a credit to his Army training.

He said it was a privilege to be related to someone who had won a Victoria Cross.

He said: “He was my older brother and I looked up to him. Obviously this is for the regiment as well and his name will be part of regimental history.”

Commander Land Forces, Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, said L/Cpl Ashworth had shown “immense courage, which represents the very best of his generation.

“James’ loss is deeply felt by all in his regiment and all in the British Army. No award can possibly fill the hole left by the loss of a son, brother and comrade.

“The whole of the Grenadier Guards are justified in feeling enormous pride that this award has been announced.”

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for valour.

The citation for L/Cpl Ashworth’s VC underlines the exceptional bravery he showed and states: “Despite the ferocity of the insurgent’s resistance, Ashworth refused to be beaten. 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.”

The Victoria Cross is only awarded in exceptional circumstances for bravery carried out under direct enemy fire. It was created in 29 January, 1856, and is hand-made from bronze cannon captured from the Russians at the siege of Sevastopol in 1854-55 during the Crimean War. The inscription ‘For Valour’ was personally chosen by Queen Victoria.

To date, only 1,360 VC’s have been awarded.

L/Cpl Ashworth’s is the 1,361st and is the first VC to be awarded to a British soldier since Corporal Bryan Budd was posthumously honoured in 2006.