After receiving the Military Cross from the Queen earlier in the week, a soldier from the North-East was yesterday given a hero's welcome on his return home from Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Karl Jackson risked his life to save a wounded comrade while under a hail of gunfire from the Taliban. Gavin Havery reports.

A SOLDIER who was awarded the Military Cross after risking his life to save his wounded sergeant in a fierce gun battle with the Taliban has been given a hero's homecoming.

Paratrooper Karl Jackson braved a hail of bullets from enemy machine guns to rescue his fallen officer and drag him to safety before giving him life-saving first aid.

His outstanding heroism in saving his sergeant's life as they fended off a Taliban attack on the under-siege garrison at Sangin, in Afghanistan, earned the 24-year-old his medal, which is the third highest bravery award in the military.

He was presented with the medal by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday and yesterday he returned home to his native County Durham to show off his honour to his family and friends.

The modest hero revealed that, while he had not been afraid as he faced the Taliban, he had been nervous meeting the Queen, saying: "I was a bit nervous before I met her and got a few butterflies in my stomach.

"I am absolutely ecstatic about this honour. I was not expecting to receive anything for what I did.

"Anybody else would have done the same thing. I just happened to be there when it happened."

His medal citation, however, saw it differently, referring to his remarkable "presence of mind and gallantry" and added: "His actions undoubtedly helped save his platoon sergeant's life".

L Cpl Jackson, who is serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, won his medal after coming under intense Taliban attack as his unit fought its way through the streets of Sangin to re-supply the beleaguered garrison in the district centre on August 29.

Nine days after the death of Bryan Budd, the Ripon-based corporal from A Company, who was awarded a Victoria Cross for his heroism in the face of the enemy, B Company was given orders to clear the northern sector of the town, but walked into a Taliban ambush, with the insurgents pouring small arms fire into the streets.

L Cpl Jackson's section was pinned down for 30 minutes, but the veteran of the Iraq War, who joined up at the age of 18, led the young soldiers of his patrol in fighting back and continued to engage the enemy, even when air strikes were dropping 500lb bombs only 150 metres from his position.

He then led the platoon through the maze of streets and alleys to continue the attack, even though communications were extremely difficult with, according to his citation "great responsibility heaped upon his inexperienced shoulders".

As the platoon was regrouping to set up a defensive position among some low buildings on the edge of town, it came under renewed attack from a large group of Taliban dug in outside the town.

L Cpl Jackson took up position on the roof of a building, along with his platoon sergeant, 32-year-old Paddy Caldwell, with enemy bullets thudding into the walls around them.

Suddenly, Sgt Caldwell was hit in the neck and shoulder as bullets fired from close range by a group of Taliban snipers who had crawled up to within 40 yards of the British lines under cover of a ditch.

Ignoring the danger and with bullets whizzing over his head, L Cpl Jackson raced across the open roof top and manhandled his sergeant across the building to the edge of the parapet, where he dropped him over the edge and then tended to his wounds.

Yesterday, he recounted the moment when he put his life on the line for his colleague.

He said: "Just as we opened fire, he was shot in the neck and the shoulder. I heard the bang and the crack went past me - it was pretty close.

"I flinched and saw Sgt Caldwell slumping back. Straight away I knew he had been hit.

"All the lads started firing faster and I ran over and picked him up and dropped him off the roof. He was pretty heavy, but when the adrenaline is pumping, you can do some pretty amazing things.

"He was our platoon sergeant and he hadn't been in charge very long. He is a really good bloke and we got on, but we have become a lot closer now.

"You don't even think about it when you see one of your mates fall. I just went over and dragged him back."

The rescue of Sgt Caldwell was not the only act of bravery for which the soldier, nicknamed Jacko, was recognised.

The former pupil of Blackfyne School, in Consett, County Durham, was one of the 3,500 British troops who in May last year were sent into Helmand province, the lawless heart of Afghanistan's opium industry and stronghold of the Taliban.

In June, the Parachute Regiment was thrown into action in the town of Sangin - the most dangerous town in the world's most dangerous place.

Quickly nicknamed the Alamo by the 150-strong British garrison dug into the collection of squat buildings protected by sandbags which made up the Afghan police compound, Sangin was a battleground 35 miles from the comparative safety of Camp Bastion, the British headquarters.

Surrounding the town were miles of Afghan desert, which shielded heavily-armed Taliban fighters who attacked British positions night after night.

Under cover of darkness, the insurgents would move silently across the rooftops of the town left deserted by terrified civilians, or through the glades of trees opposite the British outpost, and open fire with rocket launchers and AK47s.

The waves of attacks took their toll, with three British soldiers killed during June.

L Cpl Jackson and his comrades from B Company were sent into Sangin to bolster the garrison on July 2 - the day after two soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were killed when a rocket-propelled grenade scored a direct hit on the compound.

As the Government considered urgent requests to send more troops to Afghanistan, British casualties continued to mount.

Three days after L Cpl Jackson was deployed to Sangin, his namesake Private Damien Jackson, from South Shields, a member of A Company of 3Para, became the sixth British soldier to die.

He was only four days short of his 20th birthday when he was shot dead in a firefight with the Taliban as he tried to secure a helicopter landing site for more reinforcements from B Company.

L Cpl Jackson's citation refers to his unit, which was operating in temperatures reaching 50C, coming under Taliban attack four times every day.

On one occasion, when the garrison's first parachute drop of food supplies for three days had drifted out into Taliban lines, L Cpl Jackson led his section out to retrieve them under constant threat of ambush.

The following day, when the enemy managed to infiltrate to within 15 metres of the British position, he crawled forward with his commander, under enemy fire, to repel the attack with hand grenades, inflicting severe casualties on the enemy.

Yesterday, safely back at his home in Chaytor Road, in Bridgehill, near Consett, he was reunited with mother Yvonne, identical twin brother David, his brothers Jamie, 22, and Lee, 20, and 21-year-old girlfriend Lucy.

Last night, he was given a civic reception by Derwentside District Council.

Deputy council leader Councillor Michael Malone said: "The purpose of the evening is for the council, on behalf of the people of Derwentside, to congratulate Karl on the award of the Military Cross and to express our thanks to Karl and his colleagues for their dedication and professionalism during what must have been a very demanding and difficult tour in Afghanistan."

L Cpl Jackson, who said he had always wanted to be a soldier, said: "You don't think about the danger, you just think about looking after your mates and the lads next to you.

"You do so much training, that when you need to do something for real, it just comes automatically. It is second nature."