Victoria Cross for Afghan hero L/Cpl James Ashworth

Afghan hero L/Cpl James Ashworth is to be awarded the Victoria Cross

A British soldier who died in southern Afghanistan last year as he protected his colleagues from a grenade blast is to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

The UK's top gallantry medal will go to L/Cpl James Ashworth, 23, of Corby, Northamptonshire, who was serving with 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.

It is understood the announcement will not be made officially until next week.

The VC has been awarded 10 times to UK soldiers since World War II and only once before for bravery in Afghanistan.

L/Cpl James Ashworth was killed while on a reconnaissance patrol to disrupt insurgent activity in the Nahr-e-Saraj district in June 2012.

Speaking at the time the death was announced Capt Mike Dobbin, commander of Reconnaissance Platoon, Nijmegen Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, paid tribute to L/Cpl Ashworth's actions.

"He was killed while fighting his way through compounds; leading his fire team from the front, whilst trying to protect his men and he showed extraordinary courage to close on a determined enemy," he said.

"His professionalism under pressure and ability to remain calm in what was a chaotic situation is testament to his character."

The only other British soldier to be awarded the VC for bravery in Afghanistan was Corporal Bryan Budd, 29, of 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who was killed when he single-handedly stormed a Taliban position in Sangin in August 2006.

The last living person to receive the VC was L/Cpl Johnson Beharry, of the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, after he twice saved the lives of colleagues while under enemy fire in Iraq in 2004.

The VC is the British military's highest recognition for gallantry and was first bestowed on troops during the Crimean war of 1854 and 1855.

The medal is made by London jewellers Messrs Hancock from the bronze of cannons captured from Russian troops at the siege of Sevastopol during that war.

Along with the nine members of the British military to have received the Victoria Cross since World War II, there have been four Australian recipients, all for bravery during the Vietnam conflict.

In the 1990s Australia, New Zealand and Canada started issuing their own Victoria Cross medals in place of the UK award. And to date, three Australian and one New Zealand VCs have been awarded.

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