Army hero who died protecting children from elephant awarded bravery accolade

Anton Turner's parents and other family members with his medal. Picture: PA
Anton Turner's parents and other family members with his medal. Picture: PA
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A FORMER British Army officer who died protecting children from a stampeding elephant in Tanzania has been awarded one of the UK’s highest accolades for bravery.

Anton Turner, 38, was acting as a safari guide for a BBC children’s television series tracing the footsteps of explorer David Livingstone in Africa, when he was killed by the wild animal on 30 October, 2009.

Mr Turner, whose fiancée was expecting a baby at the time, stood his ground to try to protect the rest of the party. He was trampled by the charging elephant and died from his injuries while being airlifted to hospital.

His father, Major Timothy Turner, described his son as a hero, as he collected the Queen’s Gallantry Medal on his behalf at an investiture at Buckingham Palace yesterday.

The posthumous award, presented by the Queen, is given to civilians who have performed acts of exemplary bravery.

Hampshire-born Mr Turner was leading a large BBC party that included three children on a trek in the isolated Mbarika mountains in Tanzania’s south-west when he was killed.

An official account published by the Prime Minister’s office described how the group had been walking along ancient trails surrounded by dense foliage when they spotted two bull elephants on the track ahead.

The party took an alternate trail, veering to the left to avoid the animals, but were taken by surprise about 20 minutes later when another young bull elephant unexpectedly charged them at close range from out of the foliage.

A warning shouted by two trackers alerted the rest of the party, who dived from the trail to take cover behind bushes and trees.

However, Mr Turner stood in the path of the rampaging elephant and shouted in an attempt to scare it off.

It is believed the speed of the elephant’s charge left no time for the guide to fire the gun he had been carrying.

He wrapped his arms around the animal’s trunk on impact, before being thrown to the ground by the force of the initial charge.

One of the trackers then fired a shot into the elephant, prompting it to flee, but Mr Turner had already suffered fatal injuries. The children all escaped injury.

Mr Turner’s father said: “He was a hero. He was without fear and if he had a job to do, a duty to do, he would do it, whether it was in the army or the bush in Africa.

“He stood in front of the elephant to save other people. He stood his ground. All we have now is his medal.”

Mr Turner had led conservation-based expeditions in many parts of the world, including Indonesia, Belize and Ethiopia.

He also served as a captain in the Royal Tank Regiment and the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters.

Flight-Lieutenant Daniel Cullen was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross during yesterday’s ceremonies.

The 31-year-old’s helicopter came under attack during a rescue mission in Afghanistan, but he refused to take off until all the British troops involved in clearing a Taleban bomb factory were on board.

Bombardier Mark Carpenter and Corporal Carl Taylor, who rescued three Afghan children from a firefight with the Taleban in Helmand province after the youngsters became caught in the middle of a firefight, received Military Crosses.