The important, extremely rare and well documented Sierra Leone Operation Barras 10th September 2000 Hostage Release operations, Northern Ireland and Invasion of Iraq 2003 group awarded to Lance Corporal J.K. Sheard, Parachute Regiment, who as a 19 year old PARA with ‘A’ Company, within a few weeks of passing his training, found himself deployed to Sierra Leone as part of the joint operations with the S.A.S to secure the release of the Royal Irish Regiment soldiers who had been taken hostage by the Sierra Leone rebel militia known as the West Side Boys. The raid and hostage release occurred on 10th September 2000 and became a classic of special forces operations, codenamed Operation Barras, it was otherwise nicknamed Operation Certain Death or Operation Sudden Death. It became clear that, given the number of West Side Boys and their separation between two locations, Gberi Bana as well as the village of Magbeni, which lined Rokel Creek, the operation could not be conducted by special forces alone. A Company had recently taken on a batch of new receipts including Sheard, and the Company Commander insisted on maintaining these men to keep cohesion. To further strengthen the company, several specialist units from elsewhere in 1 PARA were attached including a signals group, snipers, heavy machine gun sections, and a mortar section. Transported to the target in Chinook helicopters, one of which came under fire from a heavy machine gun in Magbeni, the village was promptly strafed by a 657 Squadron Lynx helicopters. As the company group moved forward, an explosion from a mortar injured seven men, including company commander Major Matthew Lowe, one of the platoon commanders, a signaller, and two of Lowe's headquarters staff. Sheard was witness to this. The operation continued under the leadership of Captain Matthews, the company 2IC, who had taken command almost immediately after the company commander was wounded. Under his command, each of the platoons assaulted a different cluster of buildings to which they had been assigned during training on the replica village at Hastings. The West Side Boys' ammunition store was found and secured and, once the rest of the buildings had been cleared, the paras took up defensive positions to block any potential counter-attack and patrols went into the immediate jungle in search of any West Side Boys hiding in the bushes. The village was completely secure by 08:00 and the paras secured the approaches with Claymore mines and mortars positioned to prevent a counter-attack, while a detachment destroyed the remaining vehicles and heavy weapons. The paras also recovered the Royal Irish patrol's Land Rovers, which were slung under the Chinooks and removed. The last British soldiers left the area at approximately 14:00. Sheard’s experiences as a young soldier are well documented, making the front page of his local newspaper in Milton Keynes on his return, he features in two books on the subject, and was interviewed aboard the Operation on the Nine O’Clock News. Sheard’s clarity of responses was then utilised by the Chief of the General Staff in an address, in which the C.G.S. referred to Sheard by name, having also used a video clip of Private Sheard’s interview with the Nine O’Clock News to illustrate the quality of new recruits to the Field Army and the challenges they face early in their careers. Sheard who later qualified as a sniper, saw service in Northern Ireland between December 2000 and June 2001, and later took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when 16 Air Assault Brigade secured the route into Basra and took control of Al Amarah in the northern part of the Iraqi Maysan Province.
Group of 3: Campaign Service Medal 1962, 1 Clasp: Northern Ireland; (25105235 PTE J K SHEARD PARA); Operational Service Medal 2000 for Sierra Leone, with Operation Barras Rosette on ribbon; (25105235 PTE J K SHEARD PARA); Iraq Medal 2003-2011, Clasp: 19 Mar To 28 Apr 2003; (LCPL J K SHEARD PARA 25105235), mounted swing style as worn. The second with its even rare card box of issue specific for the medal with the large rosette for those who participated in Op Barras - less than 150, the label reading: ‘Operational Service Medal Sierra Leone + 2 Silver Rose Emblems (L) 25105235 Pte J K Sheard Para’.
Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.
Together with the following:
British Army Certificate of Service (2 pages), issued to Sheard, dated 7th June 2004.
British Army Certificate of Transfer to the Army Reserve, issued to Sheard, dated 12th November 2004.
British Army Job Description Certificate for a Combat Infantryman, issued to Sheard, dated 12th November 2004.
Original Copy of the Daily Mail from 11th September 2000, with the front cover article title: ‘Rescued - Firefight at Rokel Creek as SAS spearhead daring mission to free British soldiers held hostage’.
Original Copy of the Daily Express from 11th September 2000, with the front cover article title: ‘PARA killed in Jungle Battle - Hostages freed as elite troops shoot dead 25 captors.’
Original Copy of the Milton Keynes Citizen with the front cover title: ‘’Para’ Julian set for hero’s return’. This details Julian Sheard’s return from Sierra Leone.
British Army headed letter from Major T.P. Robinson, 9/12L Military Assistant 2 in the Office of the Chief of the General Staff, as sent to Lieutenant Colonel N.R. Davies, MBE, MC, Commanding 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, dated 26th October 2000, and passing on the Chief of the General Staff’s comments in an address to the Serving and Retired Officers Conference at Lancaster House, in which the C.G.S referred to Private Julian Sheard by name, having also used a video clip of Private Sheard’s interview with the Nine O’Clock News to illustrate the quality of new recruits to the Field Army and the challenges they face early in their careers. This together with the 1PARA Memorandum slip from the R.S.M. of 1 PARA to the Colour Sergeant of ‘A’ Company, instructing him to pass over the letter originally sent to the Colonel. The RSM notes ‘Please pass onto Pte Sheard he clearly made an impression’ Signed ‘RSM’ and then additionally inscribed ‘For his scrapbook’.
5 x original photographs of Sheard on operations in Northern Ireland.
7 x original photographs of Sheard on operations in Sierra Leone, one specifically taken in a Chinook, appears to show the PARA’s either on the way to or else back from Operation Barras, others clearly showing a village which appears to have been Hastings where the troops trained in the various scenarios just prior to Operation Barras occurring.
3 x photograph of Sheard on operations in Iraq during Operation Telic 1 in 2003. Sheard is seen holding a Minimi light machine gun.
The Osprey book from the Raid series ‘Certain Death in Sierra Leone - The SAS and Operation Barras 2000’ by Wil Fowler. Paperback, 64 pages. Sheard is mentioned by name on page 33 and 47.
Julian K. Sheard came from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, and originally enlisted into the British Army in October 1999 as a Private (No.25105235) with the Parachute Regiment. After passing his basic training, and gaining his Parachutists wings, he joined the 1st Battalion shortly after its return from its first deployment to Sierra Leone in the summer of 2000.
On joining 1 PARA he was posted to a ‘A’ Company, the company which had not accompanied the battalion to Sierra Leone back in May 2000, it having then been on exercise in Jamaica. In May 2000 a 1 PARA Battle Group that conducted a rapid deployment to Freetown Sierra Leone to protect a Services Evacuation of UK and other civilian nationals threatened by rebel forces. Their firm action during Operation Palliser stabilised the situation. The fact that Sheard found himself a member of A Company, the company that had missed out on the initial deployment, would however lead this involvement in a far more significant event, the one which defined the conflict in many ways, and became a classic of special forces operations, namely Operation Barras which was otherwise nicknamed Operation Certain Death and/or Operation Sudden Death.
Sierra Leone is a former British Colony in West Africa. By 2000, the country had been consumed by a civil war which had begun in 1991. The West Side Boys were a militia group who had been involved in the civil war. They were initially loyal to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebel army opposing the government; they later fought for the government, against the RUF, and were involved in at least one operation directed by British officers in exchange for weapons and medical supplies. But the West Side Boys refused to integrate into the reconstituted Sierra Leone Army and began operating as bandits from the abandoned villages of Magbeni and Gberi Bana, on opposite sides of Rokel Creek.
British forces were deployed to Sierra Leone in May 2000, initially for a non-combatant evacuation operation under the codename Operation Palliser, in which they were tasked with evacuating foreign nationals—particularly those from the United Kingdom, other Commonwealth countries, and others for whom the British government had accepted consular responsibility. As part of the mission, British forces secured Sierra Leone's main airport, Lungi. Having secured Freetown and Lungi, and evacuated the foreign nationals who wished to leave, the initial forces left and were replaced by a "Short Term Training Team" (STTT), whose mission was to train and rebuild the Sierra Leone Army. The STTT was initially formed from a detachment from 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, who were replaced in July 2000 by 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment (1 R IRISH).
On 25 August 2000, a patrol led by Major Allan Marshall consisting of 11 men from the 1 R IRISH and an official from the Sierra Leone Army acting as interpreter, Lieutenant Musa Bangura, left their base in Waterloo to visit Jordanian peacekeepers attached to the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and based at Masiaka. Over lunch, they were informed that the West Side Boys had begun to disarm, despite their initial reluctance, and Marshall decided to take the patrol to investigate en route back to their base. The patrol turned off the main road onto a dirt track that led to the village of Magbeni, where the West Side Boys were based. As they approached the base, they were surrounded by a large group of West Side Boys, who used an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a Bedford truck to block the patrol's route. Marshall dismounted his vehicle, then resisted an attempt to grab his rifle and was beaten. He and the rest of the patrol were then forced into canoes at the bank of Rokel Creek and transported to Gberi Bana, a village on the other side of the river, just upstream from the point of the initial confrontation.
British forces in Sierra Leone were operating on the authority of the Sierra Leone government, but President Ahmad Kabbah allowed British forces to negotiate for the soldiers' release themselves, as his government lacked the requisite expertise. The negotiations were led by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Fordham, commanding officer of 1 R IRISH, who was assisted by a small team which included hostage negotiators from the Metropolitan Police. The West Side Boys would not allow negotiators any closer to the village of Magbeni than the end of the track from the main road, so Fordham met there with the self-styled "Brigadier” Foday Kallay, the gang's leader, to negotiate for the soldiers' release. On 29 August, Fordham demanded proof that the captive soldiers were still alive, and Kallay brought with him to that day's meeting the two officers from the group—Marshall, the company commander, and Captain Ed Flaherty, the regimental signals officer. During the meeting, Flaherty shook hands with Fordham and covertly passed him a sketch map of Gberi Bana which detailed the layout of the village and the building in which the soldiers were being held.
Two days later, on 31 August, five of the eleven hostages were released in exchange for a satellite telephone and medical supplies. The OC of the captured soldiers had originally decided to release the youngest first, but this was changed to the married men last minute. However, out of the married men the West Side Boys wanted two of them to remain due to their signals experience. The released soldiers included the Sergeant Major, two corporals and two rangers. The West Side Boys told the British negotiators that the remaining captured soldiers which included the OC, a Captain, a Sergeant, a Lance Corporal and two Rangers that they would not be released until the gang's remaining demands were met. The released soldiers were flown for debriefing to RFA Sir Percivale, of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, off the coast.
After the release of the soldiers, the West Side Boys' spokesman, the self-styled "Colonel Cambodia", used the satellite telephone to contact the BBC for a lengthy interview in which they outlined a series of demands, including a re-negotiation of the Lome Peace Accord and the release of prisoners held by the Sierra Leone authorities. The BBC had prior warning from the Foreign Office that the interview would take place. "Colonel Cambodia" quickly depleted the batteries in the telephone, but his call to the BBC enabled specialists from the Royal Corps of Signals to determine the exact position of the telephone.
The West Side Boys were unstable, possibly due to use of cannabis and cocaine, and their behaviour during the crisis was erratic. After their release, the five soldiers described an incident in which Kallay, dissatisfied with their explanation, conducted a mock execution in which he threatened to shoot the soldiers unless they told him why they had entered the West Side Boys' territory. The gang's drug habits also posed a problem for the British negotiators as their cannabis use caused them to forget previous discussions and the cocaine made them distrustful.
During the negotiations, the relatives of several of the West Side Boys were brought to the gang's camp to ask them to release the British soldiers. The gang responded that they had nothing against the soldiers, but that holding them had brought attention to their demands—which now included immunity from prosecution, safe passage to the UK to take up university courses, and guaranteed acceptance to the re-formed Sierra Leone Army.
Around the time that the five soldiers were released, two negotiators from the SAS joined Fordham's negotiating team. One of them joined Fordham in several meetings with the West Side Boys, posing as a Royal Irish major in order to provide reconnaissance and gather intelligence in case an assault was required. Shortly after the patrol's capture Surgeon Lieutenant Jon Carty RN, the medical officer on board HMS Argyll —which was operating off the coast—was brought ashore to assess the soldiers, should they be freed, or to provide immediate care in the event of an assault resulting in casualties. Argyll also served as a temporary base for two Army Air Corps Lynx attack helicopters from No.657 Squadron which had been flown to Sierra Leone to support any direct action.
As planning for a potential military operation to release the captive soldiers progressed, it became clear that, given the number of West Side Boys and their separation between two locations (Gberi Bana as well as the village of Magbeni), the operation could not be conducted by special forces alone. Thus, the headquarters of 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment (1 PARA) was ordered to assemble an enhanced company group, which would support special forces if such an operation was launched. The battalion's commanding officer selected A Company, led by Major Matthew Lowe, which had been on exercise in Jamaica at the time of the initial British deployment to Sierra Leone. Several members of A Company were new recruits who had only completed basic training two weeks prior. Lowe decided that replacing them with more experienced soldiers would risk undermining the cohesion and morale of the company, but several specialist units from elsewhere in 1 PARA were attached to A Company to bring the company group up to the required strength, including a signals group, snipers, heavy machine gun sections, and a mortar section. The additional firepower was included to maximise the options available to the planners, given that the West Side Boys had a numerical advantage and that additional resources would not be immediately available should the operation run into difficulties.
On 31 August, the company group was ordered to move to South Cerney in Gloucestershire, under the cover story that they were conducting a "readiness to move" exercise. It was only at this point, and after all mobile telephones had been confiscated to ensure operational security, that the entire company was briefed on the operation that was being planned. With the operation becoming more likely to be launched, Lowe and his planning group flew to Dakar, Senegal, on 3 September to continue planning and to study intelligence gathered from SAS patrols operating near the West Side Boys' camp. The British government feared that deployment of forces to Sierra Leone might precipitate an adverse reaction by the West Side Boys against the captive soldiers. They calculated that it would take 14 hours to launch an assault from the United Kingdom should it be required in an emergency, so the remainder of the company group was also moved to Dakar in order to reduce the response time. In order to further reduce the response time, political authority to launch the assault in an emergency was delegated to the British High Commissioner in Freetown, Alan Jones, while the military decision was delegated to Brigadier David Richards, commander of British forces in Sierra Leone. Two days later, a pair of SAS observation teams (one on each side of Rokel Creek) were inserted near the villages by assault boats manned by the Special Boat Service (SBS)—the Royal Navy's special forces unit. They began monitoring the West Side Boys' movements and gathering intelligence, such as details of weapons, as well as identifying viable landing sites for helicopters.
With the progression of the plans, the enhanced A Company was tasked with planning for an assault on the village of Magbeni, to the south of Rokel Creek, while the SAS would aim to release the captive Royal Irish soldiers by assaulting Gberi Bana, on the north bank. The Magbeni assault had several purposes: to neutralise weapons in the village which could disrupt the SAS operation, to distract the West Side Boys in Magbeni and prevent them from crossing Rokel Creek to interfere with the operation in Gberi Bana, to defeat the West Side Boys and destroy their military capabilities, and to recover the Royal Irish patrol's vehicles.
Several methods of insertion were considered, both for the paras and the special forces personnel, including an overland approach using four-wheel drive vehicles, and a water-borne insertion using the same method by which the SAS observation teams had arrived at their position. The planning group decided that the overland approach would not allow troops to enter the village undetected, largely due to the West Side Boys' roadblocks on the road into the village, and that insertion from Rokel Creek was not feasible for large numbers of troops due to the sandbanks and powerful currents in the river. Thus, it was decided that the insertions would be made from three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters from No.7 Squadron, which had been in Sierra Leone since the beginning of Operation Palliser.
By 5 September, the British media was openly speculating on the possibility that an operation would be launched to free the remaining soldiers, having picked up on 1 PARA's heightened readiness. The following day, the media was reporting that British forces had arrived in Sierra Leone "as a contingency". The British special forces kept a low profile, as was traditional, and the media interest surrounding 1 PARA allowed D Squadron, 22 SAS to enter Sierra Leone unnoticed.
The enhanced A Company group—approximately 130 troops in total—arrived in the country in several groups and joined the SAS, who had already established a base in Hastings, a village 30 miles south of Freetown, where several of the paras recognised former colleagues among the troopers from D Squadron. At Hastings, the paras focused on live firing exercises and rehearsed various scenarios in a scale replica of Magbeni which had been constructed at the camp. As well as learning the layout of the village and refining battle technique, the rehearsals allowed the soldiers to acclimatise to the tropical heat, and led commanders to the decision that the paras would go into battle with minimal equipment to reduce the risk of heat exhaustion—excluding weapons and ammunition, they would carry only water and field dressings. Some officers feared that the weight of body armour would increase the risk of heat exhaustion, but commanders hoped that the cooler temperatures of the early morning (when the operation was planned to be launched) would mitigate the effects of the weight, and decided to order its use.
A day after the arrival of the paras, Director Special Forces (DSF), Brigadier John Holmes, arrived in Freetown with a headquarters staff which included the commanding officer of 22 SAS and the officer commanding D Squadron, as well as three personnel from the Royal Air Force’s Tactical Communications Wing. Holmes based himself at Seaview House, the British military headquarters in Freetown, near the British High Commission. From there, his staff established contact with the SAS observation teams on either side of Rokel Creek and with COBRA, the British government's emergency committee in London. The DSF, who usually attends COBRA meetings during crises which may require the use of special forces, was represented by his chief of staff and by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, operations officer at Headquarters Special Forces.
On 9 September, "Colonel Cambodia" stated that the remaining six members of the Royal Irish patrol, who had now been held for over a fortnight, would be released only after a new government was formed in Sierra Leone. The negotiators concluded that the West Side Boys' increasingly unrealistic demands were stalling tactics rather than a serious attempt to conclude the crisis. At around the same time, the SAS teams near the West Side Boys' base reported that they had seen no sign of the captive soldiers during the four days they had been in position. There were also concerns that the West Side Boys might move further inland, and either kill the soldiers or move them to a location from which it would be more difficult for British forces to extract them. The combination of these factors led COBRA to order an assault.
The operation was to commence at first light the next day, 10 September. The intervening time was spent securing the political and legal basis for the raid. Final approval was gained from Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Kabbah, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while the Army Legal Corps secured approval from the Sierra Leonean Police. Fordham, who had been leading the negotiations, telephoned the West Side Boys and was able to establish that the captive soldiers were alive, and the final orders were issued in the evening of 9 September.
The two villages were to be assaulted simultaneously—Gberi Bana, where the Royal Irish were held, by the SAS and Magbeni by the paras. In addition to the remaining Royal Irish soldiers, the SAS were also tasked with extracting Lieutenant Musa Bangura—the patrol's SLA liaison, whose extraction was given the same priority as that of the Royal Irish—and a group of Sierra Leonean civilians who were being held by the West Side Boys.
The task force left Hastings—approximately 15 minutes' flying time from the West Side Boys' camp—at approximately 06:15. Downstream from the villages—approximately 15 minutes' flying time, just out of the West Side Boys' visual and hearing range, the helicopters went into a holding pattern to allow the SAS observation teams time to get into position to prevent the West Side Boys from attacking any of the captives before the extraction teams were on the ground. Once the observation teams were in position, the helicopters proceeded up the line of Rokel Creek, the Chinooks flying low enough that the downdraft tore off the corrugated iron roofs of several huts in the villages, including the roof of the building in which the Royal Irish were being held. As the helicopters approached, the SAS observation team at Gberi Bana engaged West Side Boys in the vicinity of the captives to prevent any gang members from attempting to kill them before the area was secured. Upon their arrival, the two Lynx attack helicopters strafed the villages to make the landing zones as safe as possible for the Chinooks and destroy the heavy weapons that had been identified by the SAS observation teams.
After the first sweep by the attack helicopters, two Chinooks carried the SAS to Gberi Bana. The troopers fast-roped into the village and immediately came under fire from the West Side Boys. Early on in the confrontation, the British operation sustained its first casualty—a round entered Trooper Bradley Tinnion's flank, leaving him seriously injured. He was dragged back to the helicopter and flown to the medical team aboard the RFA Sir Percivale, dying despite intensive resuscitation attempts on board. The SAS proceeded to clear the village, engaging those West Side Boys who offered resistance and capturing those who surrendered, including Foday Kallay.
The SAS located the captive British soldiers from the latter's shouts of "British Army, British Army!", though Bangura had been held separately and proved more difficult to locate. He was found in a squalid open pit, which had been used by the West Side Boys as a lavatory, and had been starved and beaten during his captivity, and thus had to be carried to the helicopter. Less than 20 minutes after the arrival of the SAS, the remaining members of the Royal Irish patrol, including Bangura, had been evacuated from the area.
As the SAS operation concluded, the Chinooks ferried prisoners and bodies from Gberi Bana to the Jordanian battalion of UNAMSIL. From there, the bodies would be identified and buried, and those prisoners identified as West Side Boys would be handed over to the Sierra Leonean Police. Operation Barras also freed 22 Sierra Leonean civilians who had been held captive by the West Side Boys—the men were used as servants and put through crude military training by the West Side Boys, possibly with the intention of forcing them to fight in the future, while the women were used as sex slaves. Planners had been concerned that West Side Boys might try to conceal themselves among the civilians and so the civilians were also restrained and taken to the Jordanian peacekeepers' base to be identified. A 23rd civilian was caught in the crossfire and killed during the assault.
The third Chinook carried half of the enhanced A Company group from 1 PARA to Magbeni. The helicopter hovered low above the landing zone that had been identified by the second SAS observation team and the paras jumped from the rear ramp. The observation team had warned that the ground was wet but had been unable to determine the depth of the water, so the paras were surprised to find themselves jumping into a chest-deep swamp. The majority of the first group immediately waded through the swamp to get to the nearby tree line and from there to the village, but a small party tasked with securing the landing zone had to wait in the swamp for the Chinook to pick up the remaining members of the company group and return to insert them at the landing zone.
The returning Chinook, carrying the remainder of the A Company group including second-in-command (2IC) Captain Danny Matthews, came under fire from a heavy machine gun in Magbeni, which was promptly strafed by one of the 657 Squadron Lynx helicopters until it ceased firing. The soldiers in Matthews' helicopter exited and joined the first half of the company group on the ground. As the company group moved forward, an explosion—possibly a mortar fired by the British fire support group—injured seven men, including company commander Major Matthew Lowe, one of the platoon commanders, a signaller, and two of Lowe's headquarters staff. Another signaller radioed in a casualty report, and one of the Chinooks en route to Gberi Bana to extract the Royal Irish (who had just been freed by the SAS) landed on the track through the village. The casualties were loaded onto the helicopter, which then picked up the Royal Irish and flew to RFA Sir Percivale where all 13 men were assessed by medics.
The operation continued under the leadership of Matthews, the company 2IC, who had taken command almost immediately after the company commander was wounded. Under his command, each of the platoons assaulted a different cluster of buildings to which they had been assigned during training on the replica village at Hastings. The West Side Boys' ammunition store was found and secured and, once the rest of the buildings had been cleared, the paras took up defensive positions to block any potential counter-attack and patrols went into the immediate jungle in search of any West Side Boys hiding in the bushes. The village was completely secure by 08:00 and the paras secured the approaches with Claymore mines and mortars positioned to prevent a counter-attack, while a detachment destroyed the remaining vehicles and heavy weapons including the Bedford lorry which had blocked the Royal Irish patrol. The paras also recovered the Royal Irish patrol's Land Rovers, which were slung under the Chinooks and removed. The last British soldiers left the area at approximately 14:00.
The remaining members of the captured patrol were flown to RFA Sir Percivale. Fordham visited the men shortly after the operation and stated "they looked remarkably well considering the ordeal they had been through" and described them as being "physically and mentally exhausted". After medical checks, the soldiers, who had been held for 17 days, were allowed to telephone their families and then rejoined their battalion in Freetown. The paras were flown to RFA Argus where they spent the night before being flown back to the United Kingdom the next day. D Squadron, 22 SAS also left Sierra Leone the day after the operation, along with Director Special Forces and his headquarters staff.
The operation was the first time in its history that the SAS had been deployed to rescue other members of the British Army. One British soldier, Bradley Tinnion, died after being wounded during the operation, having been evacuated to HMS Argyll. Another twelve soldiers were injured, one seriously. The British Ministry of Defence did not officially acknowledge the involvement of special forces, issuing a press release which made no mention of the SAS, but when it was made public that Tinnion was a Lance Bombardier originally from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, it became clear to experts that Tinnion had been serving with special forces. Operation Barras was Tinnion's first operational deployment as an SAS trooper.
Also confirmed to have died in the operation were 25 West Side Boys, although the true figure is probably higher, possibly as many 80. The gang's resistance was stronger than expected and there was speculation that more bodies lay undiscovered in the jungle. Several other West Side Boys were captured, while others fled into the jungle. Many of those who fled later surrendered to Jordanian peacekeepers. The Jordanians had received 30 by the end of the day, and 371—including 57 children—had surrendered within a fortnight of Operation Barras, to which Julius Spencer, Sierra Leone's Minister for Information, declared that the West Side boys were "finished as a military threat”. Some of those who surrendered went on to volunteer for the new Sierra Leone Army and those who were accepted went into the British-run training programme. Kallay, the gang's leader, recorded a message for broadcast on Sierra Leonean radio urging the remaining West Side Boys to surrender to UNAMSIL. He also identified the bodies of West Side Boys killed in Magbeni and Gberi Bana, which were subsequently buried in a mass grave.
The morning of the operation, General Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS)—the professional head of the British Armed Forces—was coincidentally due to appear on Breakfast with Frost, a Sunday morning political television programme hosted by Sir David Frost. The first public knowledge of Operation Barras came from Guthrie's interview with Frost, which took place while the operation was still concluding. Guthrie told Frost "[W]e didn't want to have to assault, because it's a very difficult operation, there are big risks in it but we have done it [...] because our negotiations were getting nowhere. The hostages had been there for three weeks, they [the West Side Boys] were threatening to kill them, or they were threatening to move them to other parts of Sierra Leone and once they'd done that we'd never be able to recover [the soldiers] with ease, which I hope we've done this morning". The MoD issued a press release with more details later in the day.
Several decorations were awarded to the personnel who took part in Operation Barras, including two Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses (Parachute Regiment Colour Sergeant John David Baycroft and Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Iain James McKechnie MacFarlane), five Military Crosses (Parachute Regiment Warrant Officer Class 2 Harry William Bartlett, Major James Robert Chiswell, Captain Evan John Jeaffreson Fuery, Sergeant Stephen Michael Christopher Heaney, and Acting Captain Daniel John Matthews), and five Distinguished Flying Crosses (Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Timothy James Burgess, Squadron Leader Iain James McKechnie MacFarlane, Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Priest, Flight Lieutenant Paul Graham Shepherd, and Army Air Corps Captain Allan Laughlan Moyes). Holmes (Director Special Forces) was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the operation. Tinnion received a posthumous Mention in Despatches.
The British media struck a celebratory note at the success of Operation Barras. The risks of Operation Barras were acknowledged by the MoD and by officers involved in the planning and the assault. It was described by an SAS soldier as "not a clinical, black balaclava, Princes Gate type operation. It was a very grubby, green operation with lots of potential for things to go wrong". Richard Connaughton observed in the journal Small Wars & Insurgencies that the operation showed that Tony Blair's government was not averse to the possibility of casualties where they felt the cause was just. Geoff Hoon, British Secretary of State for Defence, summed up the effect of the operation at a press conference, stating that "[Operation Barras] sends a number of powerful messages. Firstly, it is a yet further demonstration of the refusal of successive British governments to do deals with terrorists and hostage takers. Secondly, we hope the West Side Group [sic] and other rebel units in Sierra Leone will now [...] accept the rule of law and the authority of the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone. Thirdly, we hope all those who may in future consider taking similar actions against UK armed forces will think carefully about the possible consequences and realise there is nothing to be gained by such action". Andrew M. Dorman of King’s College London suggested that the fate of the wider British operation in Sierra Leone depended heavily on the success or failure of Operation Barras and that, had the British forces been defeated, the United Kingdom would have been forced to withdraw all its forces from Sierra Leone. Dorman also suggests that a defeat would have "raised questions" regarding Tony Blair's policy of using armed force for humanitarian intervention.
The Operational Service Medal 2000 was instituted to replace the Campaign Service Medal 1962, which was then still be awarded for Northern Ireland. The ribbon was meant to distinguish it for an award for Sierra Leone, and a small rosette was issued for the ribbon bar. For those who specifically participated in Operation Maidenly on 15th July 2000 or Operation Barras on 10th September 2000, a special large size silver rosette was issued. Less than 150 of these large size rosettes were issued to the men who partook in these two operations, the majority being for Op Barras. One of the recipient’s of this extremely rare award was Private Julian Sheard.
On his return home, Sheard became a local hero and featured in his local newspaper on the front page of the Milton Keynes Citizen under the header ‘’Para’ Julian set for hero’s return’. The paper goes on to state that ‘just weeks after completing his basic training teenage city soldier Julian Sheard has leapt from a helicopter gunship and into battle with hardened Sierra Leone rebels. Last night the 19 year old was due for a hero’s welcome back home in ******* after helping rescue fellow soldiers held hostage in the African jungle.
He and other soldiers of 1 Para’s exploits have won international acclaim - but none more important than that from dad Fred and step-mum Carole. “We are so proud of him,” said Fred yesterday. Julian has always wanted to join the famed Parachute Regiment. “He had a really well paid job in computers but gave it up for the Army,” said company boss Fred. Julian signed up a year ago and completed his basic training, Passing out with his parachute wings just over a month ago. “He went on leave and then we had a phone call to say he was off somewhere - but he could not tell us where. “We guessed and that was confirmed when we saw the Paras leaving for Sierra Leone a fortnight ago,” said Fred.
On Sunday news came through about the attack on the infamous West Side Boys stronghold - and that there had been British casualties. “We were very worried until the MOD confirmed Julian was not among them.” In a brief phone call home Julian told his dad how he was among the troops who landed right inside the enemy compound. Twenty-five West Side Boys were killed in a severe firefight. “He said he was frightened at first and then the training just kicked in. Now he is glad to be coming home - and having a pint.” said Fred who observed that but for the ‘current’ crisis at home the Paras’ exploits would have been front page all week. “It is ironic to think what they have done and all we are worried about is filling the car with petrol.”
On his return home, Sheard garnered further acclaim when he was interviewed aboard the Operation on the Nine O’Clock News. His interview will still be available. Sheard’s clarity of responses was then utilised by the Chief of the General Staff in an address to the Serving and Retired Officers Conference at Lancaster House, in which the C.G.S. referred to Private Julian Sheard by name, having also used a video clip of Private Sheard’s interview with the Nine O’Clock News to illustrate the quality of new recruits to the Field Army and the challenges they face early in their careers. Sheard had after all only passed out of his training a few weeks prior to his training, and it was due to his company commander’s wish to not break up the ‘A’ Company cohesion that allowed Sheard to participate in the operation, as was the case with a number of young recruits who had just joined the company a matter of weeks before being deployed. The C.G.S.’s comments at the conference prompted one of his staff officers, Major T.P. Robinson, 9/12Lancers, a Military Assistant 2 in the Office of the Chief of the General Staff, to send to Lieutenant Colonel N.R. Davies, MBE, MC, Commanding 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment a letter dated 26th October 2000, and passing on the Chief of the General Staff’s comments in an address to the Serving and Retired Officers Conference at Lancaster House. Sheard’s commanding officer then passed the letter on to Sheard via his Regimental Sergeant Major, with the R.S.M in passing it to the ‘A’ Company Colour Sergeant noting ‘Please pass onto Pte Sheard he clearly made an impression’. This signed ‘RSM’ and then additionally inscribed ‘For his scrapbook’. Both the letter and the forwarding note from the R.S.M are included with Sheard’s group.
Sheard would finally feature in the Osprey book from the Raid series ‘Certain Death in Sierra Leone - The SAS and Operation Barras 2000’ by Wil Fowler published in 2004. Sheard is mentioned by name on page 33 and 47.
Page 33 details Sheard’s experiences during the launching of the raid: ‘For 19-year-old Pte Julian Sheard who had recently joined the battalion this was a dramatic and challenging introduction to the business of soldiering: “I did not expect something like this quite so early on. I had not really settled in. I hadn’t even go my kit for the jumps course fully sorted out.” However, like the other young Paras of A Coy he would not disappoint the confidence placed in him by his Commanding Officer. Sheard probably summed up the views of everyone in the company: “You knew it was the real thing from the off and were very worried. You were worried for your own safety of course, but you were more worried about letting the team down.” On Page 47 Sheard’s account of the mortaring of the A Company HQ Group in which seven men including the company commander were wounded during the initial stages of the attack on Magbeni village. Sheard recalled: “There was a loud explosion and we could hear these agonising screams.’ The book Sky Men by Robert Shaw further quotes Sheard’s experiences of Op Barras.
It was not long after his return from Sierra Leone that Sheard found himself one again deployed on operations, this time to Northern Ireland when 1 PARA were sent on a six month tour during Operation Banner between December 2000 and June 2001. As luck would have it, his medal for Northern Ireland was issued first, hence its is worn first in his group, the Operational Service Medal for Sierra Leone coming second in order. Photographs remain of his time in Northern Ireland patrolling the streets.
Three years after Sierra Leone, Sheard once again found himself on operations, when as part of the 16th Air Assault Brigade, 1 PARA advanced into Iraq in February 2003 as part of the Anglo-American Coalition to secure the Rumaylah and West Qurnah Oil Fields during the second Iraq War. Both 1 and 3 PARA Battle Groups secured the main south –north route to Basra and 1 PARA took control of Al Amarah in the northern part of the Iraqi Maysan Province. It returned to the UK in July 2003. Some photographs of his time in Iraq remain, in one of which he is shown holding a Minimi light machine gun.
At some stage during his career Sheard joined the Sniper Platoon, and was promoted to Lance Corporal. In addition to his operational deployments he saw service in Kenya, Kuwait, Oman and Corsica on exercises. His Certificate of Discharge would state ‘working in the Sniper Platoon, Lance Corporal Sheard learned to use great self discipline and patience in mastering the different techniques required to be an effective sniper. Skills that demonstrate his ability to master difficult techniques over time. Furthermore he showed that he could cope well under situations of pressure, maintaining both concentration and a good sense of judgement.’
Sheard took his discharge and was transferred to the Army Reserve on 1st November 2004. Confirmed as his full entitlement.