Victoria Cross hero Johnson Beharry who was shot twice in the head and horrifically injured by a grenade while saving ambushed soldiers in Iraq holds talks with Netflix over a film of his life
- Johnson Beharry saved 30 troops from ambushes while serving in the Iraq war
- Former drug dealer was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in 2005
- The Grenadan-born veteran carried out ‘two individual acts of great heroism’
Iraq war hero Johnson Beharry, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving 30 of his comrades while also surviving being shot in the head twice, is in talks with Netflix and Fox Film over a film telling his incredible story.
The father-of-two faced a troubled start to life, growing up in poverty in Grenada before joining a gang and dealing drugs when he moved to London at the age of 19.
But he managed to turn his life around after joining the British Army in 2001 and in 2005 he became the first soldier in 18 years to receive Britain’s highest honour from the Queen for bravery – the Victoria Cross.
Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry saved the lives of 30 men while serving in the Iraq war
Johnson Beharry received the Victoria Cross from Queen Elizabeth in April 2005 for his heroic efforts, he is one of only five living recipients
Lance Sergeant Beharry, 40, of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, told The Sun: ‘It’s so humbling. I don’t mind who plays me. I’d like it to be true to my life.
‘For those who didn’t come back, and for my colleagues there with me, I’m going to be working with the scriptwriters. My life is a fairytale and proof that if you work hard you will achieve amazing things and you can turn things around.’
The biopic would be an adaptation of his book, Barefoot Soldier, which told of how the married father grew up in poverty in the Caribbean, turns to gangs in the UK and then turned his life around in the British Army.
Johnson Beharry’s helmet was struck by a 7.62mm bullet, on another occasion the war hero suffered serious head injuries that left him in a coma for some time
Netflix and Fox Film are thought to be interested in a film about L/Cpl Beharry’s incredible life
Then-Private Johnson Beharry in 2005, when a new wing opened at Sandhurst was named in his honour
Beharry was awarded the Victoria Cross having carried out two individual acts of heroism while serving in Iraq in 2004, saving the lives of his platoon.
Johnson Beharry, pictured in 2004, has gone on to set up a charity to support young people coming out of prison
On May 1 2004 he was driving a Warrior Tracked Armoured Vehicle which was hit by multiple rocket propelled grenades.
His platoon suffered multiple casualties and while his head was exposed to fire, Beharry drove the Warrior through the ambush to safety and still under fire, extracted his wounded comrades.
He required brain surgery for his injuries and underwent intense treatment to recover, learning how to talk, walk and eat again.
He was still recovering in April 2005 when he was presented the Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.
Receiving the award, Beharry said: ‘Maybe I was brave, I don’t know. I think anyone else could do the same thing’.
A citation giving reasons for his award at the time reads: ‘Beharry displayed repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action.’
Despite being one of just five living recipients, Lance Corporal Beharry has only worn the Victoria Cross three times; for the Queen, at his wedding, and when he met Harry Patch, the last British First World War veteran, who died in 2009.
The Iraq war veteran says the honour reminds him of his fallen brothers who never came home from the war, so he has loaned to the Imperial War Museum as a result.
Beharry claims he feels guilty for his fallen comrades when wearing the Victoria Cross, so he has loaned it to the Imperial War Museum and instead has a tattoo of the medal on his back
He has, however, had an image of the medal tattooed on his back.
Beharry’s past with drugs saw him rejected from the army on two occasions.
In 2018 he revealed how he became the leader of a gang of ten which dealt drugs as far as Southampton, but none of his family knew of his involvement.
He said: ‘I carried an Uzi in the boot of my black Peugeot 205 for protection, although I never had to use it.
‘In 2000, I was driving through Peckham, in South London, and got pulled over by a policeman.
‘He said: ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’ My heart was pounding because my Uzi was in the boot but he said my tax disc was out of date. I managed to talk my way out of it.’
Beharry said the moment he decided to change the path he was on came when his grandmother called to ask for money.
Although he had a lot to spare he worried what his grandmother would think of his dirty money and made the decision to stop.
At an all time low Beharry felt like he had to get out and told his gang he was leaving to join the army – which the gang insisted was racist.
Given how his own run-ins nearly kept him joining the forces, the 40-year-old set up the JBVC Foundation in 2014 to help keep young people off the streets after they are released from prison.
In 2010 the heroic soldier revealed that the horror of what he experienced has caused him to suffer from waking nightmares and mood swings so severe that he tried to end his life.
He said at the time: ‘ Everyone thinks I’m a hero because I was awarded the VC, but I’m just a normal soldier who can’t get away from his demons.
‘Sometimes you can’t get away from the things you have seen. The minute I close my eyes, I start sweating and seeing the faces of my dead friends.’
L/Cpl Beharry’s ‘two individual acts of great heroism’ which saved lives
The full citation explaining why then-Private Beharry received the Victoria Cross in 2005 reads:
‘Private Beharry carried out two individual acts of great heroism by which he saved the lives of his comrades. Both were in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, at great personal risk to himself (one leading to him sustaining very serious injuries). His valour is worthy of the highest recognition.
‘In the early hours of May 1, 2004 Beharry’s company was ordered to replenish an isolated coalition forces outpost located in the centre of the troubled city of Al Amarah. He was the driver of a platoon commander’s warrior armoured fighting vehicle. His platoon was the company’s reserve force and was placed on immediate notice to move.
‘As the main elements of his company were moving into the city to carry out the replenishment, they were re-tasked to fight through a series of enemy ambushes in order to extract a foot patrol that had become pinned down under sustained small arms and heavy machine gun fire and improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenade attack. Beharry’s platoon was tasked over the radio to come to the assistance of the remainder of the company, who were attempting to extract the isolated foot patrol.
‘As his platoon passed a roundabout, en route to the pinned-down patrol, they became aware that the road to the front was empty of all civilians and traffic – an indicator of a potential ambush ahead. The platoon commander ordered the vehicle to halt, so that he could assess the situation. The vehicle was then immediately hit by multiple rocket-propelled grenades.
Members of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, including Johnson Beharry, at their base in Barker Barracks, Paderborn, Germany in 2005
‘Eyewitnesses report that the vehicle was engulfed in a number of violent explosions, which physically rocked the 30-tonne warrior. As a result of this ferocious initial volley of fire, both the platoon commander and the vehicle’s gunner were incapacitated by concussion and other wounds, and a number of the soldiers in the rear of the vehicle were also wounded.
‘Due to damage sustained in the blast to the vehicle’s radio systems, Beharry had no means of communication with either his turret crew or any of the other warrior vehicles deployed around him. He did not know if his commander or crewmen were still alive, or how serious their injuries may be.
‘In this confusing and dangerous situation, on his own initiative, he closed his driver’s hatch and moved forward through the ambush position to try to establish some form of communications, halting just short of a barricade placed across the road. The vehicle was hit again by sustained rocket-propelled grenade attack from insurgent fighters in the alleyways and on rooftops around his vehicle.
‘Further damage to the warrior from these explosions caused it to catch fire and fill rapidly with thick, noxious smoke. Beharry opened up his armoured hatch cover to clear his view and orientate himself to the situation. He still had no radio communications and was now acting on his own initiative, as the lead vehicle of a six warrior convoy in an enemy-controlled area of the city at night.
‘He assessed that his best course of action to save the lives of his crew was to push through, out of the ambush. He drove his warrior directly through the barricade, not knowing if there were mines or improvised explosive devices placed there to destroy his vehicle. By doing this he was able to lead the remaining five warriors behind him towards safety.
‘As the smoke in his driver’s tunnel cleared, he was just able to make out the shape of another rocket-propelled grenade in flight heading directly towards him. He pulled the heavy armoured hatch down with one hand, whilst still controlling his vehicle with the other. However, the overpressure from the explosion of the rocket wrenched the hatch out of his grip, and the flames and force of the blast passed directly over him, down the driver’s tunnel, further wounding the semi-conscious gunner in the turret.
‘The impact of this rocket destroyed Beharry’s armoured periscope, so he was forced to drive the vehicle through the remainder of the ambushed route, some 1500m long, with his hatch opened up and his head exposed to enemy fire, all the time with no communications with any other vehicle. During this long surge through the ambushes the vehicle was again struck by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.
‘While his head remained out of the hatch, to enable him to see the route ahead, he was directly exposed to much of this fire, and was himself hit by a 7.62mm bullet, which penetrated his helmet and remained lodged on its inner surface. Despite this harrowing weight of incoming fire Beharry continued to push through the extended ambush, still leading his platoon until he broke clean.
Prince Charles met L/Cpl Beharry in 2019 at the Grenada Houses of Parliament
‘He then visually identified another warrior from his company and followed it through the streets of Al Amarah to the outside of the Cimic House outpost, which was receiving small arms fire from the surrounding area. Once he had brought his vehicle to a halt outside, without thought for his own personal safety, he climbed onto the turret of the still-burning vehicle and, seemingly oblivious to the incoming enemy small arms fire, manhandled his wounded platoon commander out of the turret, off the vehicle and to the safety of a nearby warrior.
‘He then returned once again to his vehicle and again mounted the exposed turret to lift out the vehicle’s gunner and move him to a position of safety. Exposing himself yet again to enemy fire he returned to the rear of the burning vehicle to lead the disorientated and shocked dismounts and casualties to safety.
‘Remounting his burning vehicle for the third time, he drove it through a complex chicane and into the security of the defended perimeter of the outpost, thus denying it to the enemy.
‘Only at this stage did Beharry pull the fire extinguisher handles, immobilising the engine of the vehicle, dismounted and then moved himself into the relative safety of the back of another warrior. Once inside Beharry collapsed from the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of his efforts and was subsequently himself evacuated.
‘Having returned to duty following medical treatment, on June 11, 2004 Beharry’s warrior was part of a quick reaction force tasked to attempt to cut off a mortar team that had attacked a coalition force base in Al Amarah. As the lead vehicle of the platoon he was moving rapidly through the dark city streets towards the suspected firing point, when his vehicle was ambushed by the enemy from a series of rooftop positions.
‘During this initial heavy weight of enemy fire, a rocket-propelled grenade detonated on the vehicle’s frontal armour, just six inches [15cm] from Beharry’s head, resulting in a serious head injury. Other rockets struck the turret and sides of the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew.
‘With the blood from his head injury obscuring his vision, Beharry managed to continue to control his vehicle, and forcefully reversed the warrior out of the ambush area. The vehicle continued to move until it struck the wall of a nearby building and came to rest. Beharry then lost consciousness as a result of his wounds.
‘By moving the vehicle out of the enemy’s chosen killing area he enabled other warrior crews to be able to extract his crew from his vehicle, with a greatly reduced risk from incoming fire.
‘Despite receiving a serious head injury, which later saw him being listed as very seriously injured and in a coma for some time, his level-headed actions in the face of heavy and accurate enemy fire at short range again almost certainly saved the lives of his crew and provided the conditions for their safe evacuation to medical treatment.
‘Beharry displayed repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action.’
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