The Victoria Cross is the Commonwealth's highest decoration for valour on the battlefield. Yesterday it was awarded to the first living Briton for action in the Afghan war (if memory serves, three living Aussies have been so honoured). Lance-Corporal Joshua Leakey was with the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment on a joint UK/US operation in Helmand when it all went pear-shaped, and he found himself having to rescue a fallen American Marine captain while fending off 20 Taliban single-handed:
L/Cpl Leakey, a member of the elite Paratrooper regiment first broke cover to give first aid to a fallen United States Marine, and continued to expose himself to fire as he recovered and fired from two machine guns, running up and down a hill in the high heat of the Afghan summer. Although he ran through machine gun fire and exploding grenades three times, he survived and was able to engage 20 Taliban fighters and save the life of the American officer.
Despite his selfless heroism and exceptional rarity of the award, Leakey modestly brushed off the ceremony, remarking that it was "just another day in the office".
L/Cpl Leakey is the second member of his family to win the Victoria Cross. His second cousin twice removed, Sergeant Nigel Leakey of the King's African Rifles, won his in 1941 in a fierce battle in Abyssinia, leaping on an Italian tank that was firing on them, wrenching open the turret, and killing the crew. It cost him his life. Sgt Leakey has no grave, only a name on the East African War Memorial on the outskirts of Nairobi.
His kinsman was more fortunate but no less brave. As I wrote last year, when Australia honoured its 100th Victoria Cross recipient, Corporal Cameron Baird:
Reading tales of heroism in the unforgiving sod of the Hindu Kush, I am always amazed the western world is still capable of producing such men.
L/Cpl Leakey pooh-poohed that kind of talk at yesterday's ceremony:
I am just a normal bloke. I happen to be in the Parachute Regiment and on that particular day at that particular time I was in that place.
I would like to think he was "a normal bloke". But I worry these days that your "normal bloke" is fretting about micro-agressions in the safe space at Wesleyan University. The gulf between those who fight and those they fight for has never seemed wider.