News trickled out today about a New Zealander serving in the British Army who is being hailed as a hero after he saved two colleagues' lives when a hand grenade was thrown in front of them.
Rifleman James McKie (pictured above) was under fire from three directions when the hand grenade hit his platoon commander and landed at his feet.
He picked up the grenade and hurled it back at the enemy moments before it exploded.
"My first thought was I hope this doesn't hurt too much," he told British media.
The grenade exploded mid-air a split second later, sending fragments into Rifleman McKie's face and arm, and injuring his commander's leg. The third soldier escaped unharmed.
His actions helped to save the lives of his commander and one other soldier who were engaging the enemy in a fire fight, from a compound roof, in the Sangin area of Helmand Province.
"There was no way you could throw yourself off and not get injured, so I made a decision to pick up the grenade and throw it off the roof," Rifleman McKie said.
"My platoon has taken a lot of casualties. I really didn't want to see anyone else get hurt."
The 29-year-old has been serving in Afghanistan for five months.
He recently joined the British Army, having previously served in the New Zealand Army.
Commanding officer Captain Graeme Kerr said he owed his life to Rifleman McKie's brave actions.
"Bearing in mind you only have three seconds when it lands by your feet and half a second to make a decision and another three seconds to throw it, that's pretty heroic in my book," he said.
Standard procedure was to jump away from the grenade, Captain Kerr said.
"He's one of those very brave people that has a complete disregard for his own life and a high regard for other people's."
Captain Kerr, from Recce Platoon, 3rd Battalion The Rifles, was recovering in hospital in Britain.
Rifleman McKie continued to fight on the front line and is now in line for a bravery award.
When interviewed again McKie said he's "embarrassed" by being described as a hero after saving his commanding officer from a hand grenade attack in Afghanistan.
His father, Andrew McKie, said he was incredibly proud of his son's "brilliant and courageous act".
"He was probably seconds away from dying."
"I'm just glad he came out of it. My heart's with the people in his unit who have been killed over the last week who weren't so lucky."
Rifleman McKie had continued to fight on the front line after he was injured.
Rifleman McKie grew up around army camps, where his father had served as Warrant Officer Class 1 until he retired in 1991.
He was stationed in Waiouru and Palmerston North before "he'd done his dash in the New Zealand Army".
"He wanted a bit of adventure I think, and he'd read all about the British Army, what they were doing," Mr McKie said.
"It took him a year to get into the British Army, he sort of slept on a couch in London doing all the paperwork and everything."
James McKie carries on the proud tradition of New Zealand 'H ard Men' or war heroes which they don't like to be called.
Corporal Willie Apiata was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2007 for carrying an injured Kiwi soldier out of the firing line during an attack in Afghanistan three years earlier. New Zealand Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark paid tribute to Cpl Apiata's bravery.
"Cpl. Apiata carried a severely wounded comrade over 70 yards across broken, rocky and fire-swept ground, fully exposed to the glare of battle, heavy opposing fire and into the face of return fire from the main New Zealand troops' position," she said.
But the most highly decorated New Zealander was Charles Upham who earned the Victoria Cross twice during World War II.He was only the third person to receive the Victoria Cross twice and has been described as the most highly decorated Commonwealth soldier of that war.
Te Ara (New Zealand Encyclopedia) describes the New Zealand soldier of WWII as Hard Men. While there was much that was familiar in the image of the New Zealander at war – the egalitarian spirit of the officer who led from the front ‘as one of the boys’, the emphasis on the quiet unemotional nature of mateship – there were subtle changes. New Zealand men were no longer regarded as notably tall, but as strong and wiry. And there was a growing acceptance that they not only fought hard, but also played hard. New Zealand writer Dan Davin wrote, ‘you couldn’t have the wild dash of the Galatas counterattack or, after it, the grim steadiness of that ferocious withdrawal over Crete’s spine without this same discharge of vigour in the drunken backstreets of Cairo where pimps prospered and gutters stank of piss.’ The war also saw a full acceptance by both Māori and Pakeha of their joint identity as New Zealanders. This time Waikato Māori enlisted, and while the Māori Battalion was a separate unit, both peoples joined in a mutual pride in its reputation.
Thanks to Stuff website for information on James McKie.