A star-studded line up of royalty, politicians and entertainers paid tribute to the courage, sacrifice, achievements and excellence of the UK's Armed Forces at the Sun Military Awards last night.
The fourth annual Sun Military Awards, known as the Millies, organised by the Sun newspaper in close association with the Ministry of Defence, took place at the Imperial War Museum in London yesterday, 19 December 2011.
The awards ceremony was hosted by Phillip Schofield and Amanda Holden. Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry were guests of honour at the event, billed as ‘A Night of Heroes’.
Other guests included Prime Minister David Cameron and wife, Samantha, actor and TV presenter Ross Kemp, stars of Strictly Come Dancing Harry Judd and Alesha Dixon, comedians Jimmy Carr and David Walliams, television presenters Myleene Klass and Christine Bleakley, footballer Frank Lampard, rugby legend Lawrence Dallaglio, chef Gordon Ramsay, supermodel Jerry Hall, and the 2011 X Factor winners, Little Mix.
There were nine categories of awards this year, recognising the bravery and professionalism of the men and women working in our Armed Forces around the world, as well as members of the public, who, in various ways, work tirelessly to support our Service personnel.
Alongside the main categories, the judging panel made two further awards for special recognition: These were for HMS Liverpool and her crew for her outstanding support of NATO-led operations over Libya this year, and the RAF Search and Rescue Force, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
Presenting HMS Liverpool’s crew with the Judge’s Special Recognition award, Prime Minister David Cameron said:
The crew of HMS Liverpool are a shining example of the courage and professionalism that the Royal Navy are rightly famed for all over the world.
Lieutenant Ebony Dalton from HMS Liverpool said:
It feels absolutely fantastic and humbling at the same time. We just wish we could have the rest of the ship’s company here with us.
Fellow shipmate, Lieutenant Commander Stephen Gott, added:
Samantha Cameron told us it was great that the Royal Navy had done what it was trained to do and hopefully, we will have made a difference to the world and the people of Libya. We were away for seven-and-a-half months and kept getting extended because the job needed to be finished.
Judge Frank Lampard described the task of choosing the winners for the nine awards as ‘very difficult’, adding:
The stories are just amazing with so many acts of bravery it was very hard to choose and certainly everyone is a winner. But the story of Most Outstanding Airman was so outstanding that we were just taken back, it is very inspiring.
The Chelsea and England footballer and his partner, TV presenter Christine Bleakley, presented the award for Most Outstanding Airman to Chinook pilot Flight Lieutenant Michael Anderson for enduring a gun and mortar attack to rescue six Afghan children.
I knew Mike [winner, Flight Lieutenant Michael Anderson] would say - because these guys are built like this - that it’s not just about them but about their team. But watching the video, it was obvious listening to his colleagues, just how special he really is.
The Millies are of great importance. I came last year and was bowled over by the bravery of all the people in the room. At Christmas we take for granted being at home with our families and presents while these boys are working for our benefit and laying their lives on the line so these nights have to happen to acknowledge that.
Prince Harry presented a ‘Support to the Armed Forces’ award to Walking With The Wounded, who made an unsupported trek to the North Pole to rehabilitate injured soldiers navigating the tricky path back into civilian life.
In a moving speech, charity patron of Walking With The Wounded, His Royal Highness, who modestly described himself as ‘564673 Captain Wales’, spoke of the universal admiration for the extraordinary men and women that were honoured:
It’s often said of our Armed Forces that they are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Well, I don’t entirely buy that.
Ordinary people don’t run out under withering enemy rocket and heavy machine-gun fire to rescue a wounded comrade. Ordinary people - a private soldier in this case - aren’t described by their platoon as ‘the rock’ who held them together.
Ordinary people don’t brave monsoon conditions dangling on a winch line to rescue 13 people each in turn.
For that matter, ordinary people don’t put their lives on the line for distant folk such as the Afghans who need our help and are now turning their country around because of it.
Private Jaco Van Gass, from Walking With The Wounded, said:
It was a fantastic achievement, we had our ups and downs. But we knew we had great support from back home and it carried us through.
He described how well-meaning people warned that their injuries would prevent them from making it to the North Pole yet pulled it off against the odds. Fellow expedition member, Captain Guy Disney described Prince Harry as a ‘great team member who got stuck in on the ice’, adding:
We really missed him when he left.
The award for Most Outstanding Soldier went to Sergeant Ryan McCready, from 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, who wiped out an enemy stronghold, killing eight Talilban. The award was presented by Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who paid tribute to his courage.
Comic David Walliams presented soldier Private Lee Stephens, who captured a chief Taliban bomb maker, with the True Grit award. Pte Stephens saved many lives by leaping off an armoured tank, unarmed, to tackle a bomber on a speeding motorbike.
Speaking backstage, David Walliams said:
These guys are incredibly humble and constantly deferring to their comrades because they are all part of a team. There is not a single person here who has displayed any ego. They are really inspirational people. It’s a really tough job, and it’s not like they are paid a lot of money to do it, so you really have to do it for the love of your country.
Football legend David Beckham presented the award for Best Reservist to paramedic Air Engineering Technician (AET) Michelle Ping, who coolly braved incoming Taliban fire to give first aid to a severely injured soldier shot in the head. AET Seaman said:
Craig was classed as ‘time critical,’ which means that he needs to be in hospital now. He needed me, I was a medic and he was my responsibility.
Backstage, Gordon Ramsay congratulated the reservist, who he described as an ‘amazing paramedic’.
In another category, Hollywood actor Simon Pegg, told the story via a video of the RAF Search and Rescue who are celebrating their 70th anniversary. Comedian Jimmy Carr and EastEnders star Patsy Palmer handed over their award. Mr Carr said:
Some of the awards are heartbreakers with young men and women in their prime who were badly injured and there is not a dry eye in the house. But this award just feels like a massive success story. It’s brilliant.
Civilian engineer David Brant was delighted to be part of the winning team for the Judges second Special Award for RAF Search and Rescue:
It’s quite humbling when you see everybody else going up although it recognises not just the guys that fly but the engineers, support staff, all the civilians - and that’s why I’m here,” he said.
Winchman Sergeant Chris Bradshaw, from RAF Lossiemouth, said:
It’s a real honour to have won. Quite often, the stuff we do goes unnoticed by most people so it’s nice to be recognised publically.
Private Scott Meenagh, from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, won the award for Overcoming Adversity after he lost both legs to a Taliban mine and went on to win medals at the Endurance Games in America for waterskiing.
The Para, who was presented with his award from Strictly Come Dancing stars Alesha Dixon and Harry Judd, said:
I was totally blown off my feet when I heard that I’d been nominated for a Millie, and don’t even feel like I deserve it. But my mum and girlfriend are going to kill me because I didn’t thank them in my speech!
Strictly’s newly crowned champion, musician Harry Judd, described Private Meenagh’s story as truly inspirational. He admitted that, when he and Alesha watched the Para’s video backstage, the pair were ‘completely overwhelmed’:
I am truly honoured to be here,” said Alesha. “This is an amazing ceremony. It’s so important that we stop to acknowledge the work that these men and women are doing for us.
Scott is so brave but so mature and despite what he’s been through, he’s got up, carried and got on with his life.” Turning to Scott, she said, “You make all of us appreciate life. Life is precious and it’s people like you that remind all of us of that.
The award for Best Unit went to 42 Commando Royal Marines. Captain Tom Phillips RM said:
I think it’s for a combination of things from HERRICK 14 and everything the unit has done.
He conceded that the ceremony was ‘very surreal’ in contrast to their six-month tour of Afghanistan.
TV presenter Myleene Klass handed over the award for Most Outstanding Sailor to Petty Officer Mike Henson. Myleene, a retired submariner’s daughter, is no stranger to entertaining troops in-theatre. She said:
I’d love to have thought that my dad would have had someone like Mike Henson, had he needed him.
Fellow presenter, Lawrence Dallaglio said:
Sports stars are often put on a pedestal of being heroes of our country but actually, the true heroes are our troops. When you cross the white line as a sportsman you put your reputation on the line. But when you cross the white line as a service person, you put your life on the line and that is inherently different.
Bravery to me meant facing the All Blacks on a Saturday. Bravery to this man, is not 80 minutes but five-and-a-half hours on a Saturday afternoon to save people’s lives.
The full list of winners is:
Most Outstanding Airman - Flight Lieutenant Michael Anderson, RAF Odiham, Hook, Hampshire.
Judges Special Award - HMS Liverpool
Support to the Armed Forces - Walking with the Wounded.
Best Reservist - Air Engineering Technician Michelle Ping, Royal Naval Reserve Air Branch, Sheffield.
Overcoming Adversity - Private Scott Meenagh, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, Cumbernauld, Glasgow
Judges Special Award - RAF Search and Rescue
Best Unit - 42 Commando Royal Marines
Most Outstanding Sailor or Marine - Petty Officer Aircrewman Mike Henson, HMS St Albans, Whitehaven, Cumbria
True Grit - Private Lee Stephens, 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, Solihull, West Midlands.
Life Saver Award - RAF Tactical Medical Wing, Chippenham, Wiltshire.
Most Outstanding Soldier - Sergeant Ryan McReady, 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, Northern Ireland.