SPENDING eight hours squashed in a narrow pitch-black tunnel in Afghanistan to defuse a deadly bomb has earned a Kineton soldier the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.
Captain James Fidell, 28, who at the time was in the 11 Explosives Ordnance Disposal Regiment of the Royal Logistic Corps, had to take off his bomb disposal suit, helmet and body armour to be able to crawl into the 14m-long tunnel, which had been dug by the Taliban in Gereshk in the Helmand Province.
The 50kg improvised explosive device - which had been found by a remote robot after reports of suspicious digging - could have killed him instantly.
And the fragile passageway, which itself could have been laced with further bombing devices planted to target him, was in danger collapsing around him while he worked.
On top of all that, as the 6ft 5ins tall soldier - widely known as Jim - entered the tunnel, the cordon providing him with security came under fire. Yet he carried on with his task and began a meticulous fingertip search in the claustrophobic conditions.
Jim, who described this mission as his most difficult, said: “Had we detonated the device, not only would it have hurt the local economy and our mission, it would also have made it easier for the insurgents to plant more IEDs.
“Because of this, I took the decision to crawl into the tunnel and deactivate the device. I was quite surprised by how hot and humid it was and it was so tight I had to go in without my protective gear.”
On finally reaching the bomb, he had to make it safe before removing it and edging his way back down the tunnel for it to be disposed of.
Now a member of Defence Explosives Ordnance Disposal Munitions and Search School in Kineton, Jim said of his role as a bomb disposal expert: “It is very rewarding. Every bomb you disable is potentially saving lives.”
The Queen’s Gallantry Medal is awarded to civilians and military personnel for acts of exemplary bravery.
His nomination for the honour states: “Fidell’s disregard of his own personal safety in order to save this critically important route demonstrated exceptional gallantry.
“For his exemplary bravery, supreme professionalism and unwavering composure in the most dangerous of circumstances, he is recommended for national recognition.”