Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Tributes paid to courage

Ben Pryor, with sons Hamish, 4, (left) and Craig, 2, flew amid a hail of bullets. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Ben Pryor, with sons Hamish, 4, (left) and Craig, 2, flew amid a hail of bullets. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The mother of an SAS soldier honoured for his bravery in Afghanistan says nothing will compensate for his death but he "wouldn't have had it any other way".

Lance Corporal Leon Smith, 33, risked his life trying to rescue fellow soldier Lance Corporal Doug Grant during a heated firefight with Taliban insurgents in Kabul early on August 19, 2011. He was killed six weeks later during an operation southwest of Kabul.

Corporal Smith's mother, Mary Smith, accepted a posthumous New Zealand Gallantry Decoration on her son's behalf at an investiture ceremony at Government House in Wellington yesterday.

Mrs Smith told Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae she had always been proud of her son.

"He was a courageous person ... he was a brave man," she said. "Nothing will compensate for his loss but he wouldn't have had it any other way."

Corporal Smith had been part of an NZSAS squad that was supporting an Afghan crisis response unit when the British Council office in Kabul came under attack.

Corporal Grant was shot and wounded in the chest as he rushed up a stairwell. Without hesitation, Corporal Smith requested permission to rescue him.

Under covering fire, and with insurgent bullets flying around him, Corporal Smith leapt a wall and ran across open ground to give Corporal Grant first aid. His injured colleague was removed to a waiting helicopter but died en route to hospital.

Corporal Smith then returned to help blow a hole in the wall of the compound and provide covering fire for the British hostages.

Leon Smith.
Leon Smith.

Sir Jerry paid tribute to Corporal Smith's sacrifice for his country.

"There is no honour that can substitute for a human life, for a grandson, a son, a brother, an uncle and a mate.

"And yet in this award, I hope that Lance Corporal Smith's family can take some solace in remembrance of the courageous man who was taken before his time."

Also honoured was an air force pilot who managed to land a helicopter under intense gunfire in Afghanistan, despite a hail of bullets pinging off the cockpit.

Squadron Leader Benjamin Pryor, 38, received the New Zealand Gallantry Medal for his actions while on loan to the Royal Air Force.

He was also honoured for a casualty evacuation under heavy gunfire in Afghanistan's Southern Helmand province on May 21 last year.

Sir Jerry said Squadron Leader Pryor's brave actions had brought great credit to himself and the New Zealand Defence Force. APNZ

- APNZ

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