Johnson Beharry Victoria Cross recipient
History

Absolute Legends: The Man Who Went From Drug Dealer To Being Awarded A Victoria Cross

Johnson Beharry is the best example of how anyone can turn their life around and achieve amazing things if they try hard enough...

Johnson Beharry Victoria Cross recipient

As part of Forces Network's Absolute Legends series, we've been looking at just a few of the military's innumerable, incredible people and stories.

Here, we reveal how the story of one incredible soldier proves that anyone can turn their life around and achieve amazing things...

Born in Grenada at the end of the 1970s, Johnson Beharry came from humble beginnings.

He grew up in poverty, living with his five brothers and three sisters in a small hut with only two rooms.

Just before the turn of the millennium, he moved to West London for a new start but his life took another turn for the worse.

Living in Heathrow, he started by working on building sites but quickly became involved in criminal gangs, first dealing marijuana and then later selling harder drugs. 

Within a year he was pushing cocaine and was nearly caught by the police carrying an Uzi.

Feeling his life was going in the wrong direction in August 2001 he enrolled in the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.

Speaking about his early life in the UK, he told the Sun on Sunday:

"The Army saved my life. I would have ended up dead or in prison."

Absolute Legends: The Man Who Went From Drug Dealer To Being Awarded A Victoria Cross

After completing his training in Catterick, Beharry soon learned how to drive Warrior vehicles.

From his first tour of duty in Kosovo to a three-month tour of Northern Ireland he made a good impact and embodied the values of the British Army.

However, it was in Iraq where his true valour emerged.

On May 1, 2004, while on duty in Al-Amarah, Iraq Beharry was driving a Warrior tracked armoured vehicle that was hit by multiple rocket-propelled grenades.

The platoon commander, the vehicle's gunner and a number of other soldiers in the vehicle were injured.

He was forced to open his hatch to steer his vehicle, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire.

Absolute Legends: The Man Who Went From Drug Dealer To Being Awarded A Victoria Cross

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.

Then, just the next month, in the early morning of June 11, 2004, Beharry was again driving a Warrior when his company were ambushed and a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle, exploding inches from his head.

He drove backwards at great speed, saving the lives of those in his vehicle.

In recognition of two selfless acts of bravery, Beharry became the first person to be awarded a Victoria Cross in the 21st century.

He also became the first living recipient of the VC in more than 30 years.

Absolute Legends: The Man Who Went From Drug Dealer To Being Awarded A Victoria Cross

Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry's immense physical courage in Iraq in 2004 led to his Victoria Cross but it is his mental courage since then that has made him so vital to helping other members of the British Armed Forces.

He was instrumental in aiding the charity Gardening Leave, which helped veterans overcome the invisible wounds of conflict through gardening therapy. 

It's estimated 20% of veterans in the UK have some kind of mental wound and the charity was set up with the idea that the quiet contemplation involved in gardening could help those struggling with life after military service. 

Absolute Legends: The Man Who Went From Drug Dealer To Being Awarded A Victoria Cross

Beharry has also gone on to become a motivational speaker and spread the values he learned from the military with others.

He also carried the torch for the London Olympics of 2012 and made it to the semi-finals of ITV's Dancing on Ice television programme.

Perhaps most significantly, though, is the JBVC Foundation which he founded to help young people leave street gangs in London.

Working with 15 – 25-year-olds, the charity provides role models and support for youths at high risk of perpetuating the cycle of gang violence.

The military saved Beharry's life and through his organisation, this absolute legend has dedicated his to saving others.