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Wounded UK bomb expert wins George Cross in Iraq

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LONDON, Mar 24 (Reuters) A British bomb expert who continued to protect his men after his body was ripped apart by a mine in Iraq was awarded one of Britain's highest honours today, the George Cross.

Captain Peter Norton, 41, lost an arm and a leg when he took over command at the scene of a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad in July last year.

Despite wounds that nearly killed him, Norton made sure other soldiers avoided other mines nearby, his citation for the medal said.

Along with the Victoria Cross, the George Cross is the highest medal for bravery Britain can award. The Victoria Cross is awarded for action in the presence of the enemy, the George Cross for bravery in all other circumstances.

The attack on a US convoy killed four American troops before Norton's bomb disposal team arrived. He made sure other soldiers remained in safe positions and searched for other bombs when he stepped on a mine and was thrown 6 metres (yards) into the air.

He said he was ''only doing his job'' by remaining in command and ensuring that colleagues who rushed to give aid would avoid other bombs. Another device was later discovered 10 metres away.

''After I hit the ground, I think, to be honest it was a life or death stage. I could easily have relaxed and probably would have died. But as it was, my wife and kids came to mind,'' he said, welling up with tears.

Defence Secretary John Reid announced the award, one of 70 medals given to service members on Friday for action in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

''Their heroic actions fill me with a great sense of humility and pride,'' he said.

Colour Sergeant Matthew Tomlinson, a British Royal Marine who led a group of 15 US Marines as part of an exchange programme, was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for steering a boat into enemy fire on the Euphrates River.

While US forces were capturing the city of Fallujah from insurgents in November 2004, Tomlinson led his team of US Marines to attack an enemy position. He jumped off his boat onto the bank first, and was last off when they pulled back after nearly running out of ammunition, his citation said.

He described his American colleagues as ''a fantastic bunch of young lads''.

Lieutenant Colonel James Woodham was given the Military Cross for leading a group of negotiators who were themselves briefly held at gunpoint while trying to secure the release of two British soldiers jailed by renegade police in Basra last September.

The two were eventually freed in a raid, followed by violent demonstrations, an incident seen as a major deterioration in Britain's relations with local authorities in the Basra area.

Reuters DH VP0625

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