VC for hero who died storming Taliban compound

Doug Baird, barely able to speak through a sudden welling of emotion, described his son Cameron as a shy and humble man who never explained much about what he did in the military.

But what Corporal Cameron Baird had done was to sacrifice his life in a moment of such determined bravery in a village far away that his nation is about to grant him, posthumously, its highest honour, the Victoria Cross.

Corporal Baird was a Melbourne schoolboy football and athletics champion - he completed his schooling at Gladstone Park Secondary College in Tullamarine before joining the army at 18 - who took delight in roaring around in his hot-rod blasting the music of AC/DC through the streets.

He is to be the 100th Australian to be honoured with the VC for valour on the field of battle.

''We often asked 'What do you actually do'?'' said Mr Baird, struggling to express his family's pride as he stood in the prime minister's courtyard in Parliament House, Canberra, flanked by Australia's senior military and accompanied by his wife Kaye and son Brendan.

''The answer we got back was probably one of almost like the person that puts the sticker on an apple. It was a pretty simple little answer. He was very shy in the fact he was more for putting any praise on the actual unit itself, his team. He was an extremely humble sort of person that probably would prefer to see this thing be deflected.''

Corporal Baird was 32, already a veteran of East Timo and Iraq when he led his team of commandos against a fortified compound of the Taliban in a village in Oruzgan province, Afghanistan, on June 22 last year.

His comrades knew he was a courageous man - he had been awarded the Medal for Gallantry in 2007 for ignoring his own safety and leading his team to retrieve the body of a mortally wounded soldier under heavy machinegun fire.

But June 22, 2013, would be the last time he would offer his life in the service of his mates. His death would bring to 40 the number of Australians killed in the long conflict in Afghanistan. ''And please God, the last,'' Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament on Thursday.

The citation detailing the full circumstances of the Corporal Baird'sfinal hours is yet to be read by Governor-General Quentin Bryce at the official award ceremony next Tuesday.

For now, what is known is contained in the words of Mr Abbott, who broke with tradition to announce the Victoria Cross himself to a stilled Parliament.

''As the citation reads, his Victoria Cross is for most conspicuous acts of valour, extreme devotion to duty and ultimate self-sacrifice at a village in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan as a commando team leader,'' Mr Abbott said.

''Corporal Baird and his team came under heavy fire on three separate occasions from well-prepared enemy positions.

''In the initial encounter, six enemy combatants were killed and weapons caches were captured.

''In subsequent encounters, Corporal Baird charged enemy positions and neutralised them with grenade and rifle fire. By drawing fire on himself repeatedly, he enabled other members of his team to regain the initiative.

''In the second phase of the engagement, Corporal Baird then led an assault on an enemy-held compound. On three separate occasions, under heavy fire, he forced the door of a building. Twice he was forced to withdraw to re-load and then to clear his rifle. For the third time he entered the building, again drawing fire away from his comrades who were able to secure the objective. Tragically, he was killed in this final assault.

''Words can hardly do justice to the chaos, confusion and courage that were evident that day.''

Mr Baird reached for the words of the Soldier's Code to explain his son.

''I have the honour to be a soldier in the Australian Army. I am a custodian of traditions forged in battle by the Anzacs. I treat others with dignity, respect, and expect others to do the same … I do not compromise my integrity. I do not compromise my moral courage. At all times I act in ways that will bring honour to Australia, credit upon the army, my unit and my fellow soldiers.''

The story VC for hero who died storming Taliban compound first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide