LCpl James Ashworth. The Grenadier Guards who was killed protecting his comrades in Afghanistan is to be awarded the Victoria Cross – the UK’s top bravery medal.

Lance Corporal James Ashworth’s courage was hailed as “beyond words” by friends who served with him until his death last June.

The 23-year-old died in a grenade attack during a fierce battle with the Taliban in Helmand’s Nahr-e Saraj district.

He was on foot patrol and battling his way through compounds against enemy fighters when he was fatally wounded.

It is expected that the rare VC award to the soldier from Kettering, Northamptonshire, will be officially announced later this month.

The VC has been awarded 10 times to British soldiers since World War Two and only once for bravery in Afghanistan.

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.”

His father Duane was also a Grenadier Guard, while his younger brother Coran is also a soldier.

He also left behind his mother Kerryann, sisters Lauren and Paige, brother Karl and four-year-old niece Darcy, as well as his girlfriend, Emily.

His company commander, Captain Mike Dobbin, praised the soldier’s actions.

He 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.

Guardsman Jordan Loftus also paid tribute to his friend’s bravery.

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.

L/Cpl Ashworth’s 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.