The day I learned my soldier son was a hero
When letters of praise started arriving on the doorstep and high ranking officers wanted to meet her, Heather Prout knew something wasn’t quite ringing true.
The Co Antrim woman was told her soldier son had been working in an office in Afghanistan, but last week learned of his real heroics.
Instead of pen pushing, Lance Bombardier Gary Prout (27) spent six months risking life and limb on the frontline in Helmand Province and was awarded the UK’s second highest medal for bravery.
“He told me, ‘mum you know me, I’ll be alright, sure I’m working in an office. I’ll be sitting in a room and not out doing things’,” Mrs Prout said. “It seems silly now but I believed him.”
L/Bdr Prout, who serves with the Tidworth-based 19th Regiment Royal Artillery has been awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross — second only to the Victoria Cross — after rescuing a wounded comrade during a gun battle in a Taliban hot spot.
He was on patrol through an area south of Musa Qal’eh when he was caught up in an explosion. His patrol was pinned down under attack and a gravely injured L/Cpl Chris Harkett was lying in the open ‘killing zone’. Prout broke cover and ran through enemy fire to administer first aid and drag him to safety.
The Lisburn soldier, who comes from four generations of military men, dodged bombs and bullets a second time to help extract other soldiers before running back into the line of fire to retrieve abandoned ammunition and weapons.
A medal citation written by his Commanding Officer said he displayed the “most incredible courage”.
While immensely proud, Mrs Prout, who didn’t realise just how prestigious the CGC medal was until it was explained by another son, also in the Army, can’t quite come to terms with how close her “baby boy” came to death.
“I just can’t seem to take it in. I can’t wait until Gary gets home and we can talk about it properly. Every time I hear about it I just can’t believe it. But it’s typical of Gary, he’s always been a boy that would do a lot.
“I thought something was up or that he had done something because Gary, who serves with the Artillery, had been in Afghanistan before. Last year he was attached to the Royal Welsh and when the tour was over we were sent a letter from the Royal Regiment of Wales and in it they were really praising Gary.
“Half way through the letter I was welling up because of the way they were talking about him. And although he had done a previous tour we didn’t get anything like that. I just said to my husband, ‘what has he been doing?’
“We were then invited to the medals parade in Cardiff and when we went over there Gary said that there was someone who was high up that wanted to meet us. So we went to speak to him and he told us we should be very proud of our son. He didn’t tell us what he had done but just said we should be so proud.
“Then another soldier who had worked with Gary told us that we should be proud too.
“We didn’t have much of a chance to talk with Gary because he had to get back so when I got home I phoned him and told him what people had been saying. He just laughed and said next time he was home he would tell me all about it, maybe over a drink.
“The first I heard about what he really had done was when he was telling reporters in London. I was just sitting there with knuckles white, listening to him. I couldn’t believe what he risked his life for.”
L/Bdr Prout has had two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He has also served in Iraq. With a husband retired from the military and another son also in the Royal Artillery she knows only too well the stress of having family at war.
“It’s a job they love and there’s nothing mum can say that will make any difference,” she said.
Gary’s elder brother Stephen is also deployed in Afghanistan. Ironically, he is really is office-based but Mrs Prout isn’t so sure.
She said: “Gary has told me he’s working in an office, Stephen has told me he’s working in an office and their daddy has told me he’s working in an office, so I almost believe them.”