Saturday, March 7, 2009
More than 100 UK service personnel were recognised for their gallantry during 2008, the Ministry of Defence has said.
They included Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary O'Donnell, who was posthumously awarded a Bar to his George Medal - the first to be given in 26 years.
The bomb disposal expert was killed in Afghanistan in September 2008.
Last year also saw the first instance of three members of the same regiment - the Royal Irish - being honoured with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.
The MoD said Corporals Robert McClurg, Alwyn Stevens and Jone Toge "demonstrated great personal courage whilst mentoring colleagues from the Afghan National Army in Helmand".
'Saved untold lives'
The Bar to the George Medal makes WO2 O'Donnell one of the UK's most highly decorated soldiers.
He already held the George Medal for his work defusing bombs in Iraq, but was given the further honour for "repeated and sustained acts of immense bravery".
"During his tour in Afghanistan, O'Donnell disposed of over 50 improvised explosive devices," the MoD said. "He repeatedly placed himself in immense personal danger and saved an untold amount of lives with his skill and selfless determination."
The 40-year-old father-of-four from Edinburgh, who lived in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, was trying to clear a path for fellow soldiers when he was killed.
His widow Toni said: "You cannot describe the feelings I have. I am so proud of him.
"He was a larger-than-life character. He just got on with it. He loved his job. He did what had to be done.
"He would be chuffed about this."
Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, commander of the British Field Army, said: "Gary O'Donnell - George Medal and Bar. Bigger than life. Brave as a lion.
"Look no further for your 21st Century role models. These are our real heroes. They are truly the right stuff."
The George Medal was instituted in 1940 and is one of the military's highest awards for courage.
'Strength of character'
Members of all three Armed Forces were among those honoured, as were several civilians.
Members of the Army were honoured for acts of great courage
Four members of the Parachute Regiment - Pte Paul Coleman, Maj Adam Dawson, Maj Russell Lewis and Maj John McDonald - were awarded the Military Cross for their service in Afghanistan.
And three soldiers - Capt Liam Fitzgerald-Finch, of the Royal Logistics Corps; Staff Sgt James McCormick of the Royal Engineers and Cpl William Owen, of the Parachute Regiment - were awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal.
The Distinguished Flying Cross was given to Flt Lt Alexander Duncan for his "consummate professionalism and strength of character while recovering an aircraft and pressing ahead with an air assault in the face of intense fire".
Not all of the awards were for services in military theatres.
Lt Comm Martin Lanni, Lt Michael Paulet, and Flt Lt Lee Turner all received the Air Force Cross for their role in the helicopter rescue of a group of climbers from Ben Nevis in May 2007.
Elsewhere, Royal Navy Leading Aircrewman Kevin Regan was awarded a Queen's Gallantry Medal for his part in rescuing the crew of a vessel floundering in "mountainous seas".