I wonder how many of you know many of you could name the
four core values we aim to instil in boys at this school and which are stated
as part of our strategic mission on our website. They were conceived in 2012 by my predecessor
and other senior figures in the school and in that sense I inherit them, but in
fact they are incontrovertible age long attributes: they are Responsibility,
Integrity, Curiosity and Endeavour.
The news story we have just heard relates to a young man,
only ten years older than some of you, who displayed extreme courage in the
space of a few minutes in Helmand Province in August of 2013. It was a remarkable story. Joshua Leakey found himself with six others
close to heavy fire on the lee of a hill.
Hearing that a US officer had been wounded, he ran across a large area
of barren hillside, being peppered by machine guns, to give first aid to the
American. Then realising that he could
only make a difference against such gunfire if he re-manned a machine gun
point, he ran back across the hill to take up a position to return fire. He himself was under such fire that bullets
were raining upon the machine gun itself.
Needing further firepower, he then decided to set up a second machine
gun post on the crest of the hill.
Running with a 60lb pack on his back, up a steep slope, more than 200
metres, under fire, he achieved this objective too – by which time his own
companions had regrouped and turned around what was an almost certainly lost
This is all extraordinary enough, but for me one of the
most amazing things was his personal reaction to his VC. He simply said this:
It was a memorable patrol in that a lot happened, but
that is what it was, another patrol.
Everything in this citation says me, me, me. But I definitely think it
was a team thing. There were blokes with
me there up on that hill and if I had my way, they would be here with me now.” He said he had not been scared: “You do not
really think what might happen to yourself, you think ‘how is what I am doing
now going to improve the situation’? It
is part of the very nature of being in the Army that we have to adapt to
situations we don’t expect to happen.
The only thing I was really scared of was letting down the parachute
On Friday night, as I mentioned last week, we hosted 30
Old Bedfordians who had served their country in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past
dozen years or so. It was a memorable
occasion: here were a group of young men, all from the same background, some of
whom had left school only 7 years ago, who had the unique bond of having put
their lives on the line for each other and, perhaps ultimately, for us and our
freedoms, in the years of combat in these far off lands. It brought back memories of this year’s
Remembrance Sunday; it brought into rather immediate context the story of Lance
Corporal Joshua Leakey and his VC; it brought into memory for them some of the
friends they had lost. But it also, in a
very real sense brought to mind the core values that we try to instil in all
boys who pass through this school, as they themselves had proudly done. At least three of those were on display in
that selfless dash across the hill: the responsibility that Joshua Leakey felt
towards his men, and also towards his regiment; the personal integrity required
to stay true to oneself in times of extreme pressure; and the endeavour that he
had displayed in years of training to become fit enough, and mentally strong
enough, to become a great paratrooper.
The fourth of our values springs to mind now: we at least owe him and
those OBs who we entertained on Friday evening the curiosity required to show
that we are interested in and in awe of their exploits.
Remember those values: we will come back to them. Responsibility, Integrity, Curiosity and