Military Cross for soldier who continued to fight after being just 'a hair's breadth from death'

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A soldier who had a lucky escape after being shot in the head as he ran to protect a wounded comrade in northern Helmand has been awarded a Military Cross.

Rifleman Matthew Wilson, aged 21, from 2nd Battalion The Rifles, who was attached to the Queen’s Dragoon Guards during Operation HERRICK 15, was withdrawing from an operation in Nahr-e Saraj in October last year when an insurgent sharpshooter shot at his patrol - hitting one of the soldiers in the leg.

As the casualty lay in the open being treated, Rifleman Wilson ran forward with another soldier to provide cover to stop the insurgent shooting again. But, as Rifleman Wilson tried to identify the enemy sharpshooter’s position to return fire, a bullet glanced off the top of his helmet knocking him unconscious:

There was a massive crack sound and then my head was whipped sideways,” recalled the Aberystwyth soldier, who was knocked unconscious for 30 seconds before being shaken awake.

One of the other soldiers saw it and said he just saw dust come off the top of my helmet and me fall to the floor, but I don’t remember it happening. I just remember waking up with a massive headache but I didn’t realise what had happened right away.

It’s weird. I didn’t just get up and think that I have just been shot in the head. But when I put my finger on my helmet it was really hot where the bullet had hit.

As a soldier I know the preparations the insurgent would have taken prior to taking that shot, and it would have been just a minor mistake - a slip of the shoulder - that meant he hit the top of my helmet and not my face.

The threat however still remained as the insurgent started to target the incoming casualty evacuation helicopter as Rifleman Wilson started to come to.

With no option, Rifleman Wilson began to crawl forward to identify the enemy position but the insurgent sharpshooter was just too well hidden. His only choice was to run across an open field under a hail of bullets:

When I got up, the insurgent who shot me knew I was still alive, so he kept on firing at me. Staying there wasn’t a good place to be, but also we couldn’t risk the helicopter going down or the shooter hitting the casualty again or one of the helicopter crew.

We needed to do something about it and nobody else could get eyes on the shooter’s position. So I started pegging it,” recalled the Rifleman.

You could hear him going for me… I was zigzagging, doing everything to avoid the bullets that at first were landing by my feet, and then whizzing past my head. He was getting closer and closer.

Rifleman Wilson just made it to the protective cover of a ditch when an Apache attack helicopter arrived to give them all cover as they extracted further to a nearby compound.

His head still pounding from the impact of the bullet, Rifleman Wilson then climbed onto the compound wall to help identify the enemy firing point.

From his new position, Rifleman Wilson was able to return fire and, with the combined effort of the rest of the patrol, was able to neutralise the enemy threat and launch a counter-attack.

Amazingly, Rifleman Wilson then continued with the rest of his four- hour patrol back to his base where he was fully checked for injury - and then put the incident to the back of his mind till he was called to his commanding officer’s office:

I hadn’t forgotten about it, but I’d just moved on, so I was a bit confused when I was told to go and see the commanding officer as that’s not normally a good thing! I never thought I would have something like this medal - it’s a pretty big deal and hasn’t really sunk in.

But I can’t wait to go to the Palace and meet the Queen to receive the medal, although I’m really nervous about it,” admited Rifleman Wilson who has suffered no side effects from the shot to the head.

You have got to respect your enemy,” he concluded. “I have no special hate. I would have done exactly the same, except I wouldn’t have missed. It was a bloody good shot though.

His citation says:

Wilson’s gallantry, coolness under fire and exemplary determination, having been literally a hair’s breadth from death, was nothing short of extraordinary.

Where many would have crumbled under pressure, shock or fear, Wilson immediately rose to the challenge and took the fight forward to the enemy. This young man is a fine example of conspicuous courage that few display in the face of mortal danger.

The Military Cross is awarded to all ranks of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and RAF in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land.

The announcement was made on Friday with the release of the latest Operational Honours and Awards List which includes some 106 personnel. The awards are for actions taken during the period of Operation HERRICK 15 from 1 October 2011 to 31 March 2012. See Related News.

Rifleman Wilson is one of seven Military Cross recipients on the list.