The Victoria Cross & George CrossPortraitProject has been an exceptionally challenging, yet rewarding portraiture project. Individuals who have been awarded the Victoria Cross have been selected because they are worthy of Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand’s highest military award for their bravery and conduct in the field. Similarly, those awarded the George Cross are civilians or military personnel who have displayed conspicuous bravery in and away from the field. These awards are not issued lightly. They are the very greatest honour for individual valour and merit. These individuals are the modern day heroes.
Apiata (then a lance corporal) was part of a New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) Troop in Afghanistan in 2004 that was attacked by about 20 enemy fighters while holed-up for the night in a rocky rural area. Enemy rocket propelled grenades destroyed one of the troop’s vehicles and immobilised another. This was followed by sustained machine gun and automatic rifle fire from close range.
A grenade explosion blew Apiata off the bonnet of his vehicle, where he had been sleeping. Two other soldiers in or near the vehicle were wounded by shrapnel, one of them seriously (Corporal D). After finding cover, it was seen that Corporal D had life-threatening arterial bleeding and was deteriorating rapidly.
Apiata assumed command of the situation, deciding all three would need to rejoin the troop which was about 70 metres to the rear. Apiata decided his only option was to carry Corporal D to safety, and none of the three were hit during the retreat. After getting Corporal D to shelter, Apiata rejoined the firefight.
He became one of the very few living holders of the Victoria Cross. In part the citation reads:
“In total disregard of his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata stood up and lifted his comrade bodily. He then carried him across the seventy metres of broken, rocky and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy enemy fire and into the face of returning fire from the main Troop position. That neither he nor his colleague were hit is scarcely possible. Having delivered his wounded companion to relative shelter with the remainder of the patrol, Lance Corporal Apiata re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack.”
Recently I was honored to be commissioned by the Victoria & George Cross Associationto capture portraits of those who have been decorated with Britain and the Commonwealths Highest Orders for Bravery for both Military and Civilian actions. The commission has been exceptionally challenging; the recipients who live all over the globe from Nepal and Canada to New Zealand & Australia. The project is underway and has clocked up the air miles taking me across the globe to capture the men and women who have been posthumously decorated for exceptional bravery.
The stories of valor; selfless courage and fearlessness I have read are incredible and to meet living heroes is indescribable. These men and women have saved lives at the risk of their own; held their ground under immense pressure and injury to themselves. I wanted to post just a few of the tales of valor, if you would like to view the full collection please see my project page.
Lance SergeantJohnson Gideon Beharry VC (born 26 July 1979) is a British Army soldier who, on 18 March 2005, was awarded the Victoria Cross. On 1 May 2004, Beharry was driving a Warrior tracked armoured vehicle that had been called to the assistance of a foot patrol caught in a series of ambushes. The Warrior was hit by multiple rocket propelled grenades, causing damage and resulting in the loss of radio communications. The platoon commander, the vehicle’s gunner and a number of other soldiers in the vehicle were injured. Due to damage to his periscope optics, Pte. Beharry was forced to open his hatch to steer his vehicle, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire. Beharry drove the crippled Warrior through the ambush, taking his own crew and leading five other Warriors to safety. He then extracted his wounded comrades from the vehicle, all the time exposed to further enemy fire. He was cited on this occasion for “valour of the highest order”.
While back on duty on 11 June 2004, Beharry was again driving the lead Warrior of his platoon through Al Amarah when his vehicle was ambushed. A rocket propelled grenade hit the vehicle six inches from Beharry’s head, and he received serious shrapnel injuries to his face and brain. Other rockets then hit the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew. Despite his life-threatening injuries, Beharry retained control of his vehicle and drove it out of the ambush area before losing consciousness. He required brain surgery for his head injuries, and he was still recovering in March 2005 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Peter Norton (GC) London Portrait Photographer Rory Lewis
Norton was second-in-command of the American Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC) based in the outskirts of Baghdad. Going to the aid of a United States Army patrol that had been attacked by an improvised explosive device (IED) on 24 July 2005, he was checking for the presence of further devices when a secondary victim-operated IED exploded. He lost his left leg and part of his left arm, and he sustained serious injuries to his other leg and lower back. Despite his injuries, he continued to give instructions to his team, suspecting that further devices might be in the vicinity. He refused to be evacuated until he was certain that all personnel on the ground were aware of the danger. A third device was subsequently located and dealt with the following day. He was promoted to major on 31 July 2008. On 1 August 2013, Norton retired from the army on medical grounds.
Margaret Vaughan GC London Portrait Photographer Rory Lewis
May 28th, 1949, a party of Scouts, aged between 11 and 15 years, visiting Sully Island were cut off by the rising tide from a causeway which led to the mainland. Most of the boys got safely across, but two of them were forced off the causeway by the strong tide. The leader of the party returned to help the elder boy but in the struggle he too became exhausted. Margaret Vaughan (aged 14 years) saw from the beach the difficulties they were in. She undressed and swam towards them over a distance of some 30 yards in cold, rough water and against strong currents due to the rising tide. On reaching them she towed the boy to the shore while he supported himself by grasping the straps of her costume and his leader’s coat. At about ten feet from the shore a life belt was thrown in which the boy was placed by the other two and the three reached the shore safely. Margaret Vaughan’s action probably saved the life of the Scout leader as well as that of the elder boy.
In March 1973, Beaton was transferred to the Royalty Protection Squad, A Division, and from 14 November served as a Personal Protection Officer to Princess Anne. He was given the number 11 in the small team responsible for protecting members of the Royal Family. On 20 March 1974 the princess and her husband Captain Mark Phillips were returning to Buckingham Palace from a royal engagement. Their car was stopped in the Mall by another vehicle driven into its path.The car was driven by Ian Ball, who was later declared to be mentally ill; Ball jumped out of his vehicle and tried to force the Princess from her car. He shot the royal chauffeur, Alex Callender, and a passing journalist, Brian McConnell, who tried to assist. Inspector Beaton was shot three times, including serious wounds in the chest and abdomen, and a gunshot wound to his hand, sustained when he tried to block Ball’s weapon with his own body, after his own gun had jammed. Beaton also sustained injuries to his pelvis while trying to disarm Ball. For his bravery Beaton was awarded the George Cross; Callender and McConnell were each awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. Beaton remained with the Princess until February 1979.
Captain Rambahadur Limbu VC London Portrait Photographer Rory Lewis
Limbu was 26 years old, and was a lance corporal in the 2nd Battalion, 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles, British Army during the Indonesian Confrontation when, on 21 November 1965 in Sarawak, Borneo, Lance Corporal Rambahadur Limbu was in an advance party of 16 Gurkhas when they encountered about 30 Indonesians holding a position on the top of a jungle-covered hill. The lance-corporal went forward with two men, but when they were only 10 yards from the enemy machine-gun position, the sentry opened fire on them, whereupon Limbu rushed forward and killed him with a grenade. The remaining enemy combatants then opened fire on the small party, wounding the two men with the lance-corporal who, under heavy fire, made three journeys into the open, two to drag his comrades to safety and one to retrieve their Bren gun, with which he charged down and killed many of the enemy.
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