A soldier who was killed defending his comrades in Afghanistan has been awarded Britain's highest medal for bravery - the Victoria Cross.

Lance Corporal James Ashworth, 23, who served with the 1<sup>st Battalion Grenadier Guards, died last June while on a reconnaissance patrol to disrupt Taliban activity in Helmand's Nahr-e Saraj district.

He is only the second soldier in the Afghanistan war to be awarded the VC, and the tenth since the Second World War.

The honour is expected to be confirmed by the Ministry of Defence next week.

His company commander, Captain Mike Dobbin, said: "Lance Corporal Ashworth 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.

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

At the time of L/Cpl Ashworth's death, his family said: "We are devastated by the loss of our son, brother, uncle and boyfriend. He meant the world to everyone and has left an irreplaceable hole in our hearts."

L/Cpl Ashworth, of Kettering in Northamptonshire, was from a military family.

His father, Duane, was also a Grenadier Guard while his brother Coran serves elsewhere in the armed forces.

Guardsman Jordan Loftus paid tribute to his friend's bravery.

He said: "Selfless, brave, courageous ... words like these don't come close to what Ash demonstrated that day. He will be missed by all as a commander, but most of all a good mate."

His Commanding Officer in the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, Lieutenant Colonel James Bowder said: "Lance Corporal Ashworth was an outstanding soldier whose loss has moved us all. A real self-starter, he excelled in everything that he undertook.

"Fit, strong and brilliant at his job, he set the bar very high. Indeed, such was his calmness under pressure, his charisma, and his selflessness that he made an exemplary junior leader."

L/Cpl Ashworth left behind his mother Kerryann, sisters Lauren and Paige, brother Karl and four-year-old niece Darcy, as well as his girlfriend, Emily.

The only other soldier to be awarded the VC in Afghanistan was Corporal Bryan Budd, of 3<sup>rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who was killed while single-handedly storming a Taliban position in Sangin in 2006.

In 2004 Lieutenant Johnson Beharry, of 1<sup>st battalion Prince of Wales Royal Regt, was the last living soldier to be awarded the medal after he twice saved the lives of colleagues under enemy fire in Iraq.

The VC was first given to soldiers who showed exceptional courage in the Crimean War of 1854-55, and is forged from cannons captured from the Russians during the siege of Sevastopol.