Wellington College – Just the Right Thing to Do

17 Jan 2019

It was standing room only in Great School on Monday 12 November, as Wellington welcomed Johnson Beharry VC for the Wellington College Peace and Conflict Institute’s Remembrance lecture.

Johnson Beharry started by saying, ‘I’m going to tell you my life story’, and for the next 45 minutes, that’s what he did, holding his audience in rapt attention by sharing his experiences of soldiering with the Princess of Wales’s Regiment in places whose names most of us have only heard on the news: Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Iraq. Iraq is where he won the Victoria Cross, in 2004; his Citation states that he ‘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’. Although he prefaced the account of his time in Iraq by saying that he couldn’t remember much about it because of head injuries sustained during his action, which left him in a coma and ended his tour of duty, he brought the story alive with details such as opening the armoured hatch cover of his Warrior tank – ‘about the size of a lap-top lid’ – to see where he was going after his periscope turret was destroyed, and having it snatched out of his hand by an incoming rocket-propelled grenade. Johnson also spoke frankly and movingly about the high physical and emotional cost of his service. As well as the physical difficulties of a serious head injury, he also suffered from PTSD, but it was clear he considered that to be all part of the job. When one of his awestruck audience asked what he thought had made him act so bravely under such terrifying conditions, he said it was ‘just the right thing to do’. Johnson Beharry is one of only 15 men who have been awarded the Victoria Cross since the end of World War Two; it was a tremendous privilege to hear him speak and nobody who heard his story was left in any doubt as to why the VC is so rare, and so prized.