Ministry of Defence
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Royal Marine who dived on a grenade to receive the Nation's highest bravery award
A Royal Marine Reservist who dived on a live grenade to save his comrades in Afghanistan is to be honoured with the nation's highest gallantry award, it was announced today.
At a ceremony in London, Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup confirmed that Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher, aged 24, from Birmingham, is to receive the George Cross in recognition of his extraordinary bravery. Amazingly, he survived virtually unscathed when his body armour and a rucksack on his back absorbed most of the explosion.
The George Cross ranks with the Victoria Cross as the nation's highest award for gallantry. It is awarded "for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger."
Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said: "Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher showed extraordinary bravery, self-sacrifice and devotion to duty. He acted to save his comrades in the almost certain knowledge that he would not himself survive. His exemplary behaviour and supreme heroism are fully deserving of the nation's highest recognition." First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band said: "The Royal Marines continue to conduct themselves with exemplary professionalism and bravery in Afghanistan. The extra-ordinary action by Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher epitomises the ethos of selfless devotion to duty, courage and comradeship that prevails within the Royal Marines. This was an exceptional act of outstanding bravery that undoubtedly saved the lives of Lance Corporal Croucher's fellow marines."
L/Cpl Croucher, who is the first reservist to receive either a Victoria Cross or George Cross since current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan began, was deployed to Afghanistan attached to Taunton-based 40 Commando Royal Marines in the autumn 2007.
The unit's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Birrell, said: "The award of the George Cross is a fantastic achievement for L/Cpl Matthew Croucher who demonstrated quite exceptional courage and selflessness to protect his comrades. The 40 Commando deployment was a challenging and difficult operation which brought out the very best in all the men and women within the battlegroup; nowhere was this more apparent than in the actions of Matthew Croucher who accepted great personal risk to save his fellow marines. This was a magnificent act which absolutely typified the highest traditions of commando service."
On 9 February 2008, he was serving with the Commando Reconnaissance Force, based out of Forward Operating Base Robinson. The force was tasked to conduct reconnaissance of a compound in which it was suspected that Taliban fighters manufactured Improvised Explosive Devices.
Under constant threat of attack from Improved Explosive Devices or enemy ambush, they successfully negotiated the complex and varied terrain between the Forward Operating Base and the suspect compound.
After successfully entering the compound and discovering various pieces of equipment used in the production of IEDs, L/Cpl Croucher was at the head of the group as they commenced the extraction. As the team moved silently through the still darkened compound, L/Cpl Croucher felt a wire go tight against his legs. This was a trip-wire connected to a grenade booby-trap, positioned to kill or maim intruders in the compound. He heard the fly-off lever eject and the grenade, now armed, fell onto the ground immediately beside him.
Instantly realising what had occurred, L/Cpl Croucher made a crucial and incredibly rapid assessment of the situation. With extraordinary clarity of thought and remarkable composure, he shouted 'Grenade', then 'Tripwire' in an attempt to warn his comrades to find cover before the grenade exploded. It was clear to him that given the lack of cover in the immediate vicinity, he and the other team members were in extreme danger. Due to low light levels, he was unable to determine the type of grenade and therefore had no way of knowing how long the device's fuse would take to function. With his comrades totally exposed and time running out, L/Cpl Croucher made the decision not to seek cover or protection for himself, but to attempt to shield the other members of his team from the impending explosion.
In an act of great courage, and demonstrating a complete disregard for his own safety, he threw himself on top of the grenade, pinning it between his day sack, containing his essential team stores, and the ground. Quite prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow marines, L/Cpl Croucher lay on the grenade and braced himself for the explosion. Meanwhile, the Team Commander, upon hearing the initial shouted warning, dived to the ground. The rear man in the team was able to take cover by stepping back around the corner of a building; the other team member was unable to react quickly enough and was still upright, fully exposed within the lethal range of the grenade.
As it detonated, the blast effect of the grenade was absorbed by L/Cpl Croucher and the majority of the fragmentation was contained under his body. Miraculously, his equipment and protective clothing prevented any lethal shards hitting his body and he suffered only minor injury and disorientation from the effects of the blast. L/Cpl Croucher's day sack was ripped from his back and was completely destroyed; his body armour and helmet were pitted by grenade fragments. A large battery being carried in the side pouch of his day sack, for his team's Electronic Counter Measures equipment, also exploded and was burning like a flare as a result of the grenade fragments breaching the outer case. Incredibly, the only other injury was a slight fragmentation wound to the Team Commander's face. The others escaped unscathed. Without question, L/Cpl Croucher's courageous and utterly selfless action had prevented death or serious injury to at least two members of his team. Immediately following the explosion they manoeuvred tactically back to their rendezvous location. After confirming with the Troop Commander that no significant casualties had been sustained, the decision was made to interdict enemy forces attempting to conduct a follow-up to the incident. As anticipated, enemy activity was observed by Commando Reconnaissance Force and L/Cpl Croucher, having refused to be evacuated, along with other members of his team, engaged and neutralized one enemy fighter.
Notes to editors:
1. The George Cross ranks with the Victoria Cross as the nation's highest award for gallantry and was instituted in 1940 to recognise actions of supreme gallantry in circumstances for which the Victoria Cross was not appropriate. Thus, it may be awarded to civilians, as well as members of the Armed Forces for acts of gallantry not in the presence of the enemy, including, for example, military explosive ordnance disposal personnel. It was also famously awarded to the Island of Malta for its collective gallantry during the Second World War and more recently to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It is awarded "for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger."
2. L/Cpl Croucher is the first reservist to receive either a VC or GC since operations in Iraq and Afghanistan started. He served with the regular Royal Marines between November 2000 and September 2005. He has served as a reservist ever since. In addition to his tour in Helmand, he has also completed three operational tours of Iraq. Outside his role as a reservist he is a director of security company Pinnacle Risk Management.