Widow of Gary O’Donnell to sell bravery medals

Warrant Officer Gary O'Donnell, the Army bomb disposal expert who was killed in an explosion in Afghanistan in September 2008.
Warrant Officer Gary O'Donnell, the Army bomb disposal expert who was killed in an explosion in Afghanistan in September 2008.
Have your say

The widow of a legendary army bomb disposal expert who was killed in Afghanistan is selling his unique bravery medals to help provide for her four children.

Warrant Officer Gary O’Donnell, from Edinburgh, became the first servicemen in 30 years to win the George Medal twice for saving countless lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The second award, an incredibly rare feat, came after he spent 24 hours defusing 11 Taliban bombs, one of which was triggered as he approached it but it failed to go off.

Weeks later the 40-year-old was blown up when another booby-trapped device exploded as he tried to clear a safe path for his comrades.

He left behind his wife, Toni, and four children - Cayleigh, Dylan, Aidan and Ben. The youngest, Ben, was just nine weeks old when his father was killed in September 2008.

Now Mrs O’Donnell has made the difficult decision to sell the hero soldier’s unique and outstanding medal group that includes the George Medal and Bar.

They are expected to sell for £60,000.

Pierce Noonan, of London-based auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb, said: “Her reasons for selling the medals are simply that she has a young family to provide for.

“It has been an extremely difficult decision for her to make but because the value of them is between £50,000 to £60,000 pounds the money is more useful to her and her family now.

“The medals are unique as they are the only George Medal and Bar to be awarded to a servicemen in the modern era.

“Gary O’Donnell was extremely brave but what you have to bear in mind with bomb disposal experts is that it is pre-meditated bravey, not on the spur of the moment.

“It must be a long and lonely walk for these people to make knowing that it could be the last thing they do.”

WO O’Donnell, from Edinburgh, was part of the Royal Logistics Corps’ elite bomb disposal unit and served in Sierra Leone before going to Iraq in 2006.

He won his first George Medal - the second highest award for gallantry not in the face of the enemy - for his persistent courage in defusing numerous bombs.

One of the heroic acts was disabling a live rocket that was set to a timing device and aimed at the British base at Basra which housed 4,000 personnel.

He chose to place himself directly in the firing line of the rocket in order to defuse it in the shortest time possible.

WO O’Donnell had defused about 50 Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) during two tours of Afghanistan before he was killed in September 2008.

While making safe one of the bombs, he came within milliseconds of being killed when he jammed his fingers into a crude clothes peg trigger just as it slammed shut.

The citation for his second George Medal, that was awarded posthumously, stated that WO O’Donnell was flown into to a convoy after its bomb disposal operator collapsed due to exhaustion.

It read: “The convoy was stationary and vulnerable. Without hesitation O’Donnell deployed to the scene of an IED and rendered it safe.

“Over the next 24 hours, under increasing pressure and immense fatigue, he rendered safe a total of 11 IEDs.

“His calm and pragmatic approach to the task had belied the immense personal danger he repeatedly placed himself in.”

He was killed just days away from the end of his second tour in Afghanistan.

Mrs O’Connell said at the time of the award of the second George Medal: “I am so proud of him. He loved his job. He did what had to be done.”

Mr Noonan said: “His medals will appeal to both collectors and museums alike. It is an opportunity to aquire a modern group of medals that are of national importance.”

The medal set includes the George Medal and Bar, General Service Medal Northern Ireland, Operational Service Medal Sierra Leone, Iraq Medal 2003, Operational Service Medal Afghanistan, NATO Medal, ISAF Medal , Jubilee 2002 Medal , Accumulated Campaign Service Medal and the Regular Army Medal.

They are being sold along with three letters on Buckingham Palace headed paper from Princess Anne, the colonel in chief of the Royal Logistic Corps.

The auction takes place on September 20 in London.