News story

Oldest gallantry award for stand-out soldier

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A soldier who went to live in Spain and joined the British Army's Royal Gibraltar Regiment has been awarded a Mention in Despatches.

Private Liam Downs of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment [Picture: Corporal Andy Reddy RLC, Crown copyright]
Private Liam Downs of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment

Private Liam Downs, aged 24, was on his first operational tour of Afghanistan and attached to 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment when he consistently put himself in harm’s way to support his comrades under enemy fire.

On 21 June last year, Private Downs’ company deployed from Patrol Base Pimon in Nad ‘Ali on a mission to disrupt a notorious enemy safe haven. The insurgents in this area were a particularly aggressive group, well-armed and veterans of years of fighting.

As Private Downs and his patrol pressed forward they came under heavy fire from an isolated compound. Though sheltered, they only had minutes before the insurgents would outflank them and the only escape was to cross open ground for better cover.

Private Downs volunteered to climb the roof of the compound and provide covering fire and so soon became the focus for the enemy. Undeterred, he pressed on to the top and, from the folds of the roof, he raked the insurgent positions some 300 metres away with returning fire.

This allowed his platoon to cross 200 metres of open ground to safety so they could provide cover for his withdrawal. He said:

I got onto the roof for a better viewing position and, with a machine gun, I was able to overwhelm the insurgents’ 4 positions. When I look back now it seems a stupid thing to do, but that’s the job, and the other gunners were doing the same job as me throughout the tour as far as I’m concerned.

The junior soldier again demonstrated his selfless courage on 29 July 2012 while on patrol north of Checkpoint Qudrat. Within half-an-hour of deploying, the patrol was engaged from at least 3 firing points in a well co-ordinated attack.

Disregarding his own safety, Private Downs positioned himself in the enemy’s sights to draw their fire and began suppressing the insurgent positions; his actions let his patrol gain the upper hand.

His citation reads:

Private Downs has been the stand-out soldier in the Nad ‘Ali Operations Company.

Downs’ performance, especially when in the most difficult situations, was as outstanding as it was consistent and exceeded all expectations. He inspired confidence in those around him, invariably placing himself in the most danger to protect his comrades.

Private Downs, originally from Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, but now living in Gibraltar, joined the Army after losing his job as a furniture fitter in Spain. He explained:

I was talking to my dad about coming back to the UK to join the Army, and he told me there was an Army careers office in Gibraltar and that I should go and see what it’s all about. I did and I was recruited.

Private Downs’ Mention in Despatches, one of the oldest forms of recognition for gallantry within the UK Armed Forces, is one of 24 awarded in the latest Operational Honours and Awards List.

Private Downs, who is engaged to Sarah, said:

I am ecstatic about the honour, and it’s good for my regiment to be noticed.

Published 5 April 2013