Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 & 20 September 2013)
Date of Auction: 19th & 20th September 2013
Sold for £110,000
Estimate: £40,000 - £60,000
(Extract from Bomb Hunters, by Sean Rayment)
The unique and outstanding ‘Iraq’ G.M. and ‘Afghanistan’ Bar group of nine awarded to Warrant Officer G. J. ‘Gaz’ O’Donnell, 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Royal Logistic Corps, a specialist at defusing home-made bombs who was described as ‘one of the country’s most experienced and talented bomb disposal specialists’ - On one occasion in July 2008 whilst making the ‘long lonely walk’ to defuse an I.E.D. in Afghanistan the Taliban attempted to trigger it with a command pull, but it failed to go off - undeterred, he went on to defuse the device anyway - Two months later, on 10 September 2008 he was killed in action in Afghanistan by the detonation of a booby-trapped bomb
George Medal, E.II.R., 2nd issue, with second award bar, dated ‘2009’ (25018197 S/Sgt, RLC); General Service 1962, 1 clasp, Northern Ireland (25018197 Cpl., RLC); Operational Service Medal, Sierra Leone (25018197 S Sgt, RLC); Iraq 2003, no clasp (25018197 S Sgt, RLC); Operational Service Medal, clasp, Afghanistan (25018197 WO2, RLC); NATO Medal, clasp, ISAF; Jubilee 2002; Accumulated Campaign Service Medal (25018197 S Sgt, RLC); Regular Army L.S. & G.C., E.II.R. (25018197 WO2, GM, RLC) extremely fine (9) £40000-60000
FootnoteG.M. London Gazette 15 December 2006.
‘Staff Sergeant O’Donnell was employed as an Improvised Explosive Device Disposal operator in Southern Iraq. He was tasked to thirty incidents, including ten explosions, which resulted in five deaths. He also personally rendered safe five devices and was involved in the high-risk recovery of the crashed Lynx helicopter in Basra City on 11 May 2006.
On 23 May 2006, he rendered safe in the shortest time possible a rocket and firing system, thereby reducing the danger to the four-thousand personnel accommodated in Basra Air Station.
On 9 June 2006, he was called to meet an Iraqi Army team who had rendered safe a device discovered on a main supply route to the west of Basra City. On 10 June 2006, he was re-tasked to a suspect device located on another main supply route. He deployed to the scene and elected to render safe the device with his remote vehicle which overheated and shut down. His second remote vehicle did likewise. He was then faced with the prospect of making a manual approach to a live radio-controlled improvised explosive device. In an act of calculated bravery, in the full knowledge that it could lead to instant death, he approached the device and placed a disruptive weapon next to it. Unfortunately the weapon failed to operate for reasons beyond his control and he was forced to make a second approach into the killing zone to place a second weapon. This time the weapon worked as planned and the device was subsequently rendered safe with the maximum recovery of forensic evidence.’
Bar to G.M. London Gazette 6 March 2009.
‘Warrant Officer Class 2 O’Donnell deployed in Afghanistan as part of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Group.
On 10 May 2008 he was deployed in support of the Danish Battlegroup in the Upper Gereshk Valley. Before Danish tanks could move into a key fire support position O’Donnell was tasked to clear the position of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s). Having found and cleared one, O’Donnell sensed that there may be more. Over the next nine hours he found seven IEDs all of which he neutralised.
On 23 July 2008 a large logistics convoy was on a deliberate move carrying critical stores to a Forward Operating Base. When the EOD operator supporting the convoy collapsed due to exhaustion, O’Donnell was immediately flown out to replace him. The convoy was stationary and vulnerable. Without hesitation O’Donnell deployed to the scene of an IED on the route and rendered it safe. Over the next 24 hours, under increasing pressure and immense fatigue, he rendered safe a total of eleven IEDs.
His calm and pragmatic approach to the task in hand has belied the immense personal danger he repeatedly placed himself in. During this period O’Donnell has disposed of over fifty IEDs. Tragically on Wed 10 Sep 08 he was killed while defusing an IED.’
The following is extracted from Warrant Officer Gary O’Donnell’s obituary published in The Independent on 6 March 2009:
‘Bigger than life. Brave as a lion,’ was the way Warrant Officer Gary O'Donnell was described yesterday. It was a truly fitting tribute to a man who often roared with laughter and sported an unkempt mane on operations in Afghanistan.
One of the country's most experienced and talented bomb disposal specialists, WO O'Donnell – Gaz to his friends – will be remembered by those who knew him as much for his unfailing sense of humour as his humbling courage and it was the latter that was honoured as he became the first soldier in living memory to be awarded the George Medal twice for military operations. This second time, however, the award was handed out posthumously.
On 10 September 2008, just nine weeks after the birth of his son Ben, the 40-year-old was attempting to tackle a roadside bomb near Musa Qala, Helmand, when it exploded, killing an extraordinary and remarkably charismatic man.
Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb commander of the field army, announced that WO O'Donnell had been awarded a bar to the George Medal he had won for his work in Iraq for "repeated and sustained acts of immense bravery" in Afghanistan.
His widow, Toni, 40, the mother of the two youngest of his four children, said: "You cannot describe the feelings I have. I am so proud of him. He was a larger-than-life character. He just got on with it. He loved his job. He did what had to be done... He would be chuffed about this."
The extraordinary honour of a second George Medal was recommended in recognition of his remarkable actions in two separate incidents in May and July 2008. WO O'Donnell, who had disposed of more than 50 roadside bombs during his tour, had placed himself in immense personal danger in order to protect his comrades, the citation read.
"No one who met him ever forgot him," said Major Russell Lewis, who won the Military Cross for the courage he showed commanding a company of the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, in Afghanistan. "I have seen many brave soldiers and he was one of the bravest I've ever seen. What he did was way beyond being above and beyond the call of duty."
It was WO O'Donnell's duty to make the long, lonely walk to defuse explosive devices. Having served twice in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, he had spent half of the past three years in war zones, tackling hundreds of deadly devices and saving an incalculable number of soldiers' and civilians' lives.
"It was his passion and he took immense pride in making places safer for other people, the danger to his own life rarely seemed to affect him. If it did, he kept it to himself. He was a real character and a natural leader of men, his big smile often giving reassurance to the less experienced or more anxious," explained Lieutenant Colonel Dave Wilson MBE, Commander Joint Force Engineer Group, upon his death.
Born in Edinburgh and educated at St Thomas of Aquin's High School, WO O'Donnell joined the Army in 1992, immediately displaying a talent for the work on operations in Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland.
In May 2006, rockets were raining down on the main British base in Basra, Iraq, when a firing point was detected with a rocket still in place and the timer ticking. When WO O'Donnell arrived he opted to neutralise the device manually and chose to place himself directly in the firing line of the rocket so that he could disable it in the shortest possible time, reducing the danger to the 4,000 service personnel at the base. It was just one of several selfless acts that would see him being awarded the George Medal for "persistent courage" in saving so many lives at the risk of his own.
Having already served one tour in Afghanistan in 2007, he returned the following year to help tackle the surge in roadside bombs that was proving such a deadly enemy to the troops on the ground. As No 1 operator and commander of an improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD) team of the 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Royal Logistic Corps, he and his fellow soldiers defused 120 roadside bombs and dealt with the aftermath of 80 in just a few months.
In May 2008, WO O'Donnell spent nine hours in 40C heat meticulously disposing of seven IEDs, which had been fitted with anti-tamper devices aimed at killing a bomb disposal expert, in the Upper Gereshk Valley.
Two months later he was called to another part of Helmand, where a convoy had been stopped by a roadside bomb, making it vulnerable to attack. The warrant officer stepped in to tackle 11 bombs, working solidly over a 24-hour period. One of the bombs had been set up with a command pull and the Taliban attempted to trigger it as he walked towards the IED but failed to set it off. Undeterred, he went on to defuse the device anyway.
While he was unfailingly professional and adamant that someone in his position could never be complacent, he talked with impish glee of the number of times luck had been on his side – such as the day he had jammed his finger into a clothes peg, a makeshift bomb trigger, just in time.
But in September last year, as he approached the end of his six-month tour, the luck which had kept him alive against the odds ran out. He was approaching a booby-trapped bomb to try to clear a path for fellow soldiers when it detonated and killed him.
For those who gathered in Leamington Spa three weeks later to watch his flagdraped coffin brought into St Peter Apostle RC Church to the sound of a piper, it was not just his bravery but his unquenchable zest for life which they recalled.
Across his back he had a tattoo of the soldier's unofficial motto "Living the Dream" – and appeared to be doing just that. He was famous for his guitar playing, singing and the fact that he always managed to fashion a paddling pool to cool off in the heat of remote operations. Along with his broad grin and rapidfire jokes, the sound of his laughter was an almost permanent fixture of his presence.
General Lamb said: "Gary O'Donnell – George Medal and Bar. Bigger than life. Brave as a lion. Look no further for your 21st century role models. These are our real heroes...’
Further reference to Warrant Officer Gary O’Donnell can be found in the books: Extreme Risk, by Chris Hunter; Desperate Glory, by Sam Kiley, and Bomb Hunters, by Sean Rayment.
Sold with three original letters from Princess Anne (Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Logistic Corps) written on Buckingham Palace headed paper.