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War hero awarded Military Medal for courage under fire in Aden dies at 74

By Rebecca Black

Published 11/02/2016

Ken Lewis of the Irish Guards with his wife Kate and two eldest sons after he received the Military Medal
Ken Lewis of the Irish Guards with his wife Kate and two eldest sons after he received the Military Medal
Ken in Aden in 1967
Ken's funeral

A Co Antrim war hero who won the Military Medal for courage under fire has died aged 74.

Ken Lewis was decorated for his part in a daring defensive operation during the Aden Emergency in 1967.

His commendation paid tribute to his "outstanding leadership" and "exceptional courage".

The Irish Guards were deployed to the area in 1966 to fight an insurgency in the then British-controlled territories of South Arabia, which now form part of Yemen.

Duties included establishing a cordon, carrying out search operations on board the HMS Fearless, keeping roads open, patrolling and setting up checkpoints.

Mr Lewis was a lance corporal when his patrol went into action in the Radfan Mountains in April 1967.

A band of guerrillas approached from an unexpected direction, out of the patrol's line of fire.

It fell to Lance Corporal Lewis as second in command to spring the ambush. Showing extraordinary bravery, he stood up in view of the enemy and opened fire at point-blank range.

His medal citation records that he continued to jump up and down from his position to bring maximum fire to the enemy and secure his flank - despite exposing himself to intense danger each time he rose.

Upon receiving the order to abandon the post, Lance Corporal Lewis ensured the withdrawal was carried out in an orderly fashion, despite continuing heavy fire from the enemy.

The citation commended his great calmness and firmness and described how the soldier held the position together at a critical point and prevented it from being overrun.

"His fearless exposure to enemy fire inspired his group to fight through to the bitter end," the citation said.

"In the withdrawal, by his calm and firm action, he rallied and steadied the patrol when it became apparent that severe casualties had been suffered.

"Throughout the engagement, Lance Corporal Lewis displayed outstanding leadership and exceptional leadership and exceptional courage.

"The success of the ambush, in which four dissidents were reported killed and seven wounded, owes much to the gallant and selfless actions of this non-commissioned officer."

The Lisburn man joined the Irish Guards at the age of 20 in 1961.

Aside from Aden, he saw service in Northern Ireland, Belize and Germany.

He left the Irish Guards in 1977 and after working for a time as an Army recruiter, he joined the Prison Service, where he ended up under fire again when he was on duty at the Maze on September 25, 1983.

Some 38 IRA prisoners - including Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly - escaped after smuggling six guns into the jail before taking several warders hostage to prevent the alarm being raised.

A prison officer colleague who was a friend of Mr Lewis' survived being shot in the head by Kelly during the breakout.

Mr Lewis died last week, and was laid to rest with military honours following a service in Newtownards on Saturday.

His son Kevin spoke of his pride at his father's extraordinary service, and revealed that he had never spoken about his incredible life until just two weeks before his death.

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