b. 26/07/1979 Grenada.
Johnson Gideon Beharry (1979-) was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada on 26th July 1979. He was one of five brothers and three sisters, and as a child would play on the beach dreaming of becoming a soldier. These experiences would lead to the title of his future biography “The Barefoot Soldier”.
In 1999, aged 19 Johnson decided to leave Grenada and move to the UK and study in West London. He was hoping to make a better life for himself. He settled in Heathrow, West London, where he lived with his aunt while working as a painter and decorator. He also worked on building sites in order to make ends meet, but soon the money he was making saw him make bad choices, and he became involved in a gang, that was involved in the dealing of drugs. He eventually left the gang after his grandmother asked him for money, and he felt ashamed to give her “dirty” money. Knowing that his life was in need of a new direction, in August 2001, he enrolled in the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, though was initially rejected.
After his initial training at Catterick, Yorkshire, he became a driver of Warrior armoured vehicles in C Company, 1st Battalion. Beharry completed his first tour of duty in Kosovo, before completing a three month tour in Northern Ireland. Although Beharry served three months in Northern Ireland, Beharry’s service was during the firefighters’ strike, when he manned a fire tender. As such he was not engaged in the operational nature of service in Northern Ireland and did not qualify for the General Service Medal (GSM) with Northern Ireland clasp. His next operational tour was during the Gulf War in Iraq.
On 1st May 2004, Beharry was driving a Warrior Tracked Armoured Vehicle that had been called to the assistance of a foot patrol caught in a series of ambushes. The Warrior was hit by multiple rocket propelled grenades, causing damage and resulting in the loss of radio communications. The platoon commander, the vehicle’s gunner and a number of other soldiers in the vehicle were injured. Due to damage to his periscope optics, Pte. Beharry was forced to open his hatch to steer his vehicle, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire. Beharry drove the crippled Warrior through the ambush, taking his own crew and leading five other Warriors to safety. He then extracted his wounded comrades from the vehicle, all the time exposed to further enemy fire. He was cited on this occasion for “valour of the highest order”.
While back on duty on 11th June 2004, Beharry was again driving the lead Warrior of his platoon through Al Amarah when his vehicle was ambushed. A rocket propelled grenade hit the vehicle six inches from Beharry’s head, and he received serious shrapnel injuries to his face and brain. Other rockets then hit the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew. Despite his life-threatening injuries, Beharry retained control of his vehicle and drove it out of the ambush area before losing consciousness. He required brain surgery for his head injuries, and he was still recovering in March 2005 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross. On describing his injury which cost him 40% of his brain, Johnson stated “some days you are the bug, some days you’re the windshield.”
He was the first living recipient for over 30 years and was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross since the posthumous awards to Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones and Sergeant Ian John McKay for service in the Falklands War. When he attended Buckingham Palace for his investiture he was told by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II that “you’re very special … It’s been rather a long time since I’ve awarded one of these.” As a result of his injuries, he was declared unfit for active service in combat. In September 2006, he was promoted to Lance Corporal. The following month, in connection with his ghost writer, Nick Cook, Johnson published his autobiography “The Barefoot Soldier”. In May 2007, he was given the honour of bringing the FA Cup trophy onto the field prior to the Wembley Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester Utd.
On 11th November 2008 Beharry acted as an escort to 110-year-old Harry Patch, then one of only three remaining British survivors of the First World War, at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended that conflict. On 11th November 2009, Beharry, and Mark Donaldson—the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia (though not the first Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross)—handed a wreath to the Queen during a service in Westminster Abbey which marked the deaths in 2009 of the last three veterans of the First World War resident in the United Kingdom, Bill Stone, Henry Allingham and Harry Patch. The wreath was then laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
Johnson is a regular attender at the Remembrance Day events in Whitehall and in recent years has been seen escorting fellow VC (and sadly now passed away) Bill Speakman. In 2011, he appeared on “Dancing on Ice”partnered with Canadian skater Jodeyne Higgins, and reached the semi-finals. He was also awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Sussex. He was promoted to Corporal in June 2012 and moved into a public relations role with the Household Division. He now holds a similar position with the rank of Lance Sergeant. On 30th June 2012, he carried the Olympic Torch through the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire on its route to London. On 18th March 2013, he married Venice Mallissa (his second wife), and they now have two children.
In 2014, Johnson set up the JBVC Foundation, with the aim of keeping young people aged between 15 and 25 off the streets after they are released from detention. Johnson said of its launch: “We see young gang members in prisons three months before they are released. We try to give them direction, sort their CVs out, some form of ID, get them job placements, give them support. Hopefully, I can help save others from gangs. I’m proof you can turn your life around.” Johnson is currently active in the Foundation, and is also heavily involved in his public relations role in the Prince of Wales’s Royal Regiment. He has been a regular attender at the unveiling of VC commemorative stones in conjunction with the centenary of the First World War. In 2017, he was invested as a Commander of the Order of Grenada.
Johnson is the custodian of his medal group, though a replica group is on display in the Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum, alongside the helmet he wore in his VC action in Iraq. They are displayed next to a large holographic image of Johnson’s VC tattoo which is on his back.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON. (REPLICA)
Johnson Beharry VC – for editing his own page and providing several images.
Thomas Stewart – The Beharry Centre, Catterick.
Alastair Kennedy-Rose – the main picture of Johnson Beharry VC holding his medal group.