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Bravery medal for soldier who told his mum he sat at a desk

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Whilehis mother thought he was safe working in an office, soldier Gary Prout was risking his life on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

Yesterday the Lisburn Lance Bombardier received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, second only to the Victoria Cross, for risking his life trying to save a wounded comrade in Helmand Province last year.

Prout (27), who serves with the Tidworth-based 19th Regiment Royal Artillery, had been on patrol through a Taliban hotspot south of Musa Qal’eh when he was caught up in an explosion. His patrol was pinned down under attack.

A soldier wounded in the explosion, Lance Corporal Chris Harkett, was stranded in the open ‘killing zone’ but L/Bdr Prout broke cover, ran through enemy fire to administer first aid and drag his friend to safety.

He then returned into the line of fire a second time to help extract the rest of his team.

Military sources said L/Bdr Prout surpassed the actions of any other soldier on that day.

A citation read: “Prout consciously risked his life, on three separate occasions, and it was a miracle that he himself was not killed. He displayed the most incredible courage.”

His proud mother Heather said: “He kept it from me that he was actually on the front line ... he had already done one tour. I thought he worked in an office.”

Despite his heroic efforts L/Cpl Harkett (22) later died. L/Bdr Prout added: “It wasn’t really a case of me thinking he needs help or anything. It was probably pure anger, the fact they’d got one of our lads.

“That’s what spurred me to go out and get him. There was no talk, no decision of anyone going out. I just wanted to go out and get him in somewhere safe.

“If I’d done it in training I would have been told off because it was right in the centre of an ambush and that’s known as the killing zone. We are told that if we go into that killing zone we will never get out. But we got lucky that day.

“We carried on battling for quite some time after he was airlifted out. I didn’t really have time to dwell on anything that had happened straightaway, I had to carry on with the engagement and make sure we got all the lads back safe.

“It wasn’t until we actually stopped later on that night that the realisation of the whole incident actually hit us.

“When my Commanding Officer told me of the award it was overwhelming. I’m from a large military family, fourth generation, and I knew the significance of the award.

“Hopefully it means a lot to Chris Harkett’s family as well, that they see such a high award has been awarded in an engagement where they lost their son.

“I told my mum that I worked in an office answering the telephone to keep her anxiety away. I have another brother who just went out to Afghanistan and he is actually working in an office but my mum won’t believe him after she found out about some of the things I was up to.

“When she found out about the medal she found it hard to cope with in the beginning.”

He will receive the medal at Buckingham Palace in summer.

Belfast Telegraph

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