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Gary O'Donnell (British Army soldier)

Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary John O'Donnell, GM & Bar (21 July 1968 – 10 September 2008) was a British Army bomb disposal expert who was awarded the George Medal twice. The George Medal is the second highest decoration for "acts of great bravery" not "in the face of the enemy". His second George Medal was the first such award in 26 years and the first ever posthumous bar. O'Donnell was killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Afghanistan.

Gary John O'Donnell
Gary O'Donnell (British Army soldier) fair use.jpg
Born(1968-07-21)21 July 1968
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died10 September 2008(2008-09-10) (aged 40)
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1992–2008
RankWarrant Officer Class 2
Unit11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps
Battles/warsNorthern Ireland
Iraq War
War in Afghanistan
AwardsGeorge Medal & Bar


Early lifeEdit

Born in Edinburgh, O'Donnell was educated at St Thomas of Aquin's High School.

Military careerEdit

O'Donnell enlisted in the British Army in 1992, trained as an Ammunition Technician and was posted to 3 Base Ammunition Depot in Germany. After three tours of ammunition depots, he moved to 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment Royal Logistic Corps as a Joint Service Improvised Explosive Device Disposal No. 1 Operator.[1]

As a staff sergeant in 2004 he passed the RLC No 1 IEDD Course as a high-threat operator at the first attempt, one of a small percentage of candidates to do so. He subsequently undertook tours in Sierra Leone and Iraq as well as two tours of both Northern Ireland and Afghanistan.[2]

Iraq WarEdit

By 2006 O'Donnell was employed as an IEDD operator in southern Iraq. He was awarded his first George Medal for "persistent courage" for his work in Basra.[3] On 23 May 2006, rockets on a timing device were being fired at Basra Air station. When a rocket was discovered with the timer set, O'Donnell decided to minimise the risk to the airbase by manually disabling it as quickly as possible, which meant placing himself in the line of fire of the rocket.[4]

War in AfghanistanEdit

O'Donnell served one tour in Afghanistan in 2007 and returned in 2008. He worked defusing roadside bombs in Helmand Province, defusing 50 of the devices. On 26 August 2008 he was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.[5] In September 2008 O'Donnell was attempting to disarm an IED near Musa Qala, Helmand Province, when he was killed as he approached a booby-trapped bomb.[6][7]

His body was returned to the UK and his funeral service was held on 29 September 2008. The service was accompanied by full military honours, and was followed by a cremation at Oakley Wood Crematorium, Bishop's Tachbrook.[8]


The UK Defence Secretary Des Browne summarised O'Donnell's career by noting that "[O'Donnell] was personally responsible for saving thousands of the family, friends and comrades of others from the anguish that is currently being felt by his own."[9]

On 6 March 2009, O'Donnell was posthumously awarded a Bar to his George Medal for "repeated and sustained acts of immense bravery" in Afghanistan.[10][11] His Bar was the first to the George Medal awarded in 26 years.[12]

The award was for two incidents:

  • May 2008 – where he had to deal with a booby-trapped bomb in the Upper Gereshk Valley. After he defused this device he continued to search for others eventually finding and defusing 7 more devices. The task took 9 hours and was carried out in 40 °C heat.
  • July 2008 – he was called to deal with a roadside bomb that was blocking the path of a convoy. He worked for 24 hours and found 11 devices. The Taliban attempted to detonate one as he approached, but it failed to go off.[13]

O'Donnell's medals are in order of precedence;-


In September 2013 O'Donnell's set of ten of his medals together with three letters on Buckingham Palace headed paper from Princess Anne, the colonel-in-chief of the Royal Logistic Corps, was sold at auction for £110,000.[14]


  1. ^ WO2 Gary O'Donnell—Bomb disposal officer whose technical expertise saved many lives in Iraq and won him the George Medal, The Daily Telegraph, 19 September 2008. Retrieved on 9 March 2008.
  2. ^ "Death of a hero". The Scotsman. 13 September 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  3. ^ "No. 58183". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 December 2006. p. 17359.
  4. ^ "Killed in Afghanistan: a man bigger than life and brave as a lion". The Independent. London. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
  5. ^ "No. 58804". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 August 2008. pp. 12966–12967.
  6. ^ "Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary O'Donnell GM, 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, killed in Afghanistan". Ministry of Defence. 12 September 2008. Retrieved 6 March 2009.
  7. ^ "He was a brave man… I'll tell our children". The Herald. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2009.[dead link]
  8. ^ "Scots bomb disposal hero Gary O'Donnell laid to rest". 30 September 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
  9. ^ Boyle, James (16 September 2008). "WO Gary O'Donnell: Soldier and decorated bomb disposal expert". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Retrieved 8 May 2009.
  10. ^ "No. 58999". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 March 2009. p. 4083.
  11. ^ "Posthumous award for bomb disposal expert Gary O'Donnell". Daily Mirror. 6 March 2006. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
  12. ^ "Heroes make history in latest operational honours list". Ministry of Defence. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 6 March 2009.
  13. ^ Hickley, Matthew (6 March 2009). "Bomb disposal expert blown up by Taliban awarded second George Medal as 178 heroes are honoured for Bravery". The Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
  14. ^ "Soldier Gary O'Donnell's medals sell for £110,000". BBC News. Retrieved 21 September 2013.

External linksEdit