AN EXTRACT FROM OPERATION SNAKEBITE
More than 150 British service personnel have died in Afghanistan. Like many of them, Sergeant Lee Johnson was just a name until Stephen Grey – who witnessed his death – uncovered his profoundly moving story
B Company of 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) was formed up and ready for action. The officer commanding approached and reviewed his men. “Permission to have a go, sir?” asked Corporal Carl Peterson.
“I don’t think so, lads,” said the OC. “Not tonight.”
They were, after all, in Blackpool.
Major Jason Alexis Little, 36, had a twinkle in his eyes. He had known some of these men for nearly 16 years. He had grown up with them. They all addressed him formally as “sir”, but for the seniors among them he was simply Jake and he was one of them.
He probably knew Sergeant Lee “Jonno” Johnson the best. Jonno was the reason they were all standing outside the Walkabout club in Queen Street, Blackpool, in early September 2007. The bouncers had just evicted him for being drunk, not to mention for wearing flip-flops. Jake had gone out to remonstrate. If Jonno was a little drunk, as most were that night, then he was a happy drunk and no cause for worry.
The rest of the company had followed Jake out and that was why they were lined up for action. Jonno was something of a legend in the regiment and not always for the best of reasons. As a boxer and army judo champion, his nicknames varied from “Judo Johnson” to “Mad Dog Johnson”. Every man with something to prove wanted to take on Jonno and it invariably ended up in big trouble.
When Jake had joined B Company as a green young subaltern, Jonno had seen himself as his protector. If they were in a club and someone started to pick a fight with Jake, he would come steaming to the rescue. Although they were poles apart in many ways, everyone remembered them as very close.
While Jake had been steadily promoted, Jonno had moved up the ranks and been busted down again more times than anyone could remember. It had taken him until he was 33 to realise he was a good soldier, a born leader. Everyone in the regiment was proud of what he had become. But even as he achieved self-belief he became convinced that he was about to die. (more…)