Asia-Pacific

Australia soldier gets Victoria Cross for Afghan battle

Benjamin Roberts-Smith with daughters Elizabeth and Eve. Photo: 23 January 2011
Cpl Roberts-Smith has been described as "a great soldier"

An Australian soldier has been awarded the country's highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, for bravery while serving in Afghanistan.

Cpl Benjamin Roberts-Smith, 32, was given the medal for single-handedly overpowering Taliban machine-gunners attacking his platoon last June.

"You went to Afghanistan a soldier, you came back a hero," Australian PM Julia Gillard said at the awards ceremony.

Cpl Roberts-Smith said the real heroes were those who died for the country.

Australia has a 1,550-strong contingent in Afghanistan.

'Mateship and duty'

On 11 June 2010, Cpl Roberts-Smith was leading a mission in the volatile Kandahar province when his men came under machine-gun fire from fortified Taliban positions.

He decided to draw their fire away from his men, who were unable to move under the hail of bullets.

The corporal deliberately revealed his position to the insurgents, shooting dead one insurgent and then overpowering two others.

"He will always know, as we know now, that in the heat of the battle he did not fail when mateship and duty called," Ms Gillard said.

Cpl Roberts-Smith is the second person to have received the Victoria Cross for Australia, which was created in 1991 and is a separate award from the British VC.

Overall, 98 Australians have been awarded the VC - the highest military honour in the Commonwealth and equivalent to the US Medal of Honor.

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