“I NEVER left his side.” That was the testimony of Guardsman Lee Collins, whose brave efforts to repel Taliban insurgents were heralded by hero soldier Christopher Davies’ family yesterday.
An inquest held at St Helens Town Hall heard how Guardsman Davies was on patrol with fellow Irish Guards in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when tragedy struck on November 17 last year.
Captain Ashley Hough, the commander of Patrol Base Hazrat, and Guardsman Davies’ platoon commander, Captain Charlie Gair, told how two groups had set out that day to build relationships with the locals and assess the Taliban threat.
But, halfway through the patrol, the commanders received intelligence that Taliban fighters had spotted the British troops on the ground and were preparing to attack.
Corporal Gary Harding also reported seeing two men on a motorbike carrying what appeared to be a long-barrelled weapon, before spotting two men on a roof planting a flag.
Moments later, as the troops got their kit together and prepared to move on, Guardsman Davies’ 12-strong group was targeted by a volley of gunshots from “four or five” insurgents.
As the troops gathered their bearings and started to return fire it quickly became apparent that there were five casualties - and that Guardsman Davies had been fatally wounded.
As Guardsman Collins raced to his pal’s aid, Guardsman Davies calmly told him that he had been shot before slowly passing away in his arms.
Refusing to leave Guardsman Davies’ side during the ensuing fire-fight, Guardsman Collins even whispered goodbye to his pal when medics arrived in a Chinook helicopter a short time later to tend to the casualties.
Home Office pathologist Nicholas Hunt subsequently confirmed the cause of death as a gunshot wound to the chest.
Recording a verdict that Guardsman Davies was “unlawfully killed whilst on active service”, coroner Christopher Sumner said: “Guardsman Davies was killed by a bullet which entered his right armpit and exited through his left armpit. Analysis of his body armour shows little underarm protection, but a compromise had to be made between protection and allowing the wearer to be mobile. Regrettably, the round which killed Guardsman Davies entered through an unprotected area.”
Speaking afterwards, Guardsman Davies’ dad, Gary, said: “On behalf of all the family I just want to say thanks to the coroner and those soldiers who attended the inquest to relive what was a very difficult experience.
“We took particular comfort from hearing about the care and support that was given to Christopher after he was shot and we recognise that everything that could be done by the brave soldiers who were on patrol with him that day was done.”