'It is for acts of really extreme bravery'

We are here in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes, which houses the world's largest collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses. 

Victoria Cross is the UK's highest award for gallantry, and it's awarded for acts of extreme bravery in the face of the enemy.

Johnson Beharry's Victoria Cross is one of the objects that we've chosen to help us mark the centenary of the IWM this year. 

During 2004 Johnson Beharry was the driver of a Warrior armoured vehicle and in May and in June his vehicle was caught in an ambush. 

On the first occasion he came under fire, the vehicle was badly damaged, he lost his radio, and he lost the optics of the vehicle. He drove it on through a barricade and managed to drive the rest of the crew to safety.

On the second occasion, again his vehicle was caught in an ambush, the vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and Johnson Beharry suffered really severe head injuries, but he still managed to reverse the vehicle out of the ambushed area which enabled other people to bring help and try and rescue him and the rest of the crew and bring them to safety.

When Johnson Beharry was awarded his VC, which he received in 2005, at that stage he was the only living recipient since 1969, he is still only one of 10 living recipients to hold the Victoria Cross. It is awarded very rarely, and it is for acts of really extreme bravery.

It's very important for us to be able to include Johnson Beharry and his story in this gallery because the museum does cover conflicts right up to the present day.

It's really important for us to be able to represent those modern conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan in all of the museum's displays and in this display in particular.

Johnson Gideon Beharry carried out two separate acts of great courage while serving in Iraq with the 1st Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment  – leading to him becoming the first living soldier in nearly half a century to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

On 1 May 2004, Beharry drove his Warrior armoured vehicle onto the streets of Al Amarah in Iraq, with four other Warriors behind him. A rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle, setting it on fire and knocking out his commanding officer.

Beharry took over, forcing his vehicle through a barrier blocking the road and driving over a mine that failed to explode before accelerating away. Beharry was shot in the head – the helmet he was wearing at the time can be found with his Victoria Cross in the Ashcroft Gallery at IWM London – but he still managed to lead his own Warrior and the four behind him to safety.

Under continuous fire, Beharry then climbed out of his burning vehicle to rescue his commanding officer and their badly burned gunner before leading two other soldiers to safety.

Still under fire, Beharry drove his Warrior where it would do no damage if it exploded, disabled the vehicle and its weapons and ran for cover. Once safe, he collapsed from exhaustion. He was sent to hospital but soon discharged himself and was back on duty within six weeks.

During the early hours of 11 June 2004, Beharry was again driving a Warrior through the streets of Al Amarah when his company were ambushed and a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle, exploding inches from Beharry’s head.

Terribly wounded and barely conscious, he drove backwards at high speed and to safety. Despite Beharry’s injuries, which included a fractured skull that would leave him in a coma for weeks, he saved the lives of all his fellow soldiers in the Warrior.

Johnson Beharry became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross in the twenty-first century on 18 March 2005. He’s also the first living soldier since 1969 to be awarded this medal, and the first serving Victoria Cross in the British Army since 1985.

Beharry’s Victoria Cross is extremely valuable and he only ever wears copies. In October 2009, Beharry placed the first copy he had made into IWM’s keeping.

IWM’s continuing commitment to sharing stories of conflict means that objects like this are constantly being acquired and added to the collections. 

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Ashcroft Gallery view
Permanent Display

Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes

IWM London