An LSE International Development postgraduate student has been awarded the New Zealand Gallantry Star for two acts of extraordinary bravery while serving as an army major in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

Geoff Faraday LSE International Development Student and winner of New Zealand Gallantry Star Geoff Faraday, 39,  retired from the army last year and is now studying for a Masters in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies.

Last year, while serving as a Major in the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps at a UN base in South Sudan, he intervened to protect Internally Displaced People (IDPs) sheltering at the base who were coming under attack from a mob armed with rifles and machetes protesting at the UN presence.

Geoff, who lives in London and has dual British and New Zealand nationality, explained: “There were approximately 5000 IDPs in the camp when this mob breached the camp perimeter and began to attack them. They were shooting randomly into the crowd of fleeing women and children.  Though unarmed I tried to get help to the IDPs during the attack by providing information back to my headquarters.  At one point I did find myself in a rather uncompromising position but by luck the attackers decided against shooting a UN personnel.”

The citation says: “Major Faraday arrived at the camp as the attack began and began coordinating the soldiers defending the camp, and at one stage he attempted to personally intervene while under threat by an armed attacker. Without regard for his safety, he reported on the situation to the United Nationals Mission in South Sudan Headquarters and was able to guide the quick reaction force to counter the penetration of the camp perimeter. The attack left 53 civilians dead and afterwards Major Faraday was one of the few people who went out into the camp to search for those in need of medical attention.”

Map of Regions in South Sudan

Map of Regions in South Sudan courtesy of NordNordWest/Wikipedia license CC-BY-SA-3.0-DE

A week later, he came under attack again while deployed as part of a protection force of UN peacekeepers on a convoy of four barges with civilian crew, tasked with taking essential food and fuel supplies along the White Nile River to another UN camp. As they came under heavy fire from a company of the South Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), the barge that Geoff was on sustained damage to one of its engines and became detached from the rest of the convoy, drifting towards the enemy on the river bank. It drifted to a stop 200 metres from the SPLA position, where it was bombarded by intense fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. The SPLA then tried to close in on the barge, but were repelled by the UN soldiers on board, four of whom were wounded during the fight.

The citation says: “Major Faraday took control of the situation, though he had no command authority over the UN soldiers or the civilian barge crews. For four hours from the start of the attack until mid-afternoon, the convoy was kept under constant fire. Throughout this period, Major Faraday provided leadership to all on board the barges, moving under fire between firing positions, encouraging the soldiers to fight back, and ensuring that the four casualties were safe and being tended to. He exposed himself to enemy fire on a number of occasions to maintain his situational awareness and provide regular reports to the UN Force Headquarters on the state of the battle and to request fire support and assistance.

“Realising that assistance would not be available, he made the decision to abandon the two fuel barges, transfer the personnel, casualties and stores to the two ration barges and withdraw the convoy out of danger, which he managed to achieve by nightfall, finding a safe harbour site with an anti-SPLA unit. After the fire-fight and withdrawal, Major Faraday reported to the UN Headquarters that the two fuel barges were probably adrift on the Nile, resulting in the barges being salvaged and recovered to Malakal.

“Major Faraday’s outstanding gallantry and leadership resulted in a successful conclusion to the battle with the rebel forces and prevented loss of life among the convoy’s 72 civilian and military personnel, and also enabled the UN’s northern base in South Sudan to remain operational.”

Geoff, who also served in the British Army for eight years before moving to New Zealand, added: “I am deeply honoured by the award, although I can say with sincerity that I was just doing the job I was trained to do.  I am very grateful for all the training that I received both in the British and New Zealand Armies that enabled me to react as I did in the circumstances which occurred in South Sudan.”

“In the barge attack, it is very much thanks to the Nepalese troops on board that the casualties were kept to a minimum on our side.  The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), Australian Defence Force and other New Zealanders  serving at that time with the UN mission also provided great support to those of us in the field.

Peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS)

Peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) via United Nations Photo on Flickr License CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“My experiences in South Sudan very much influenced my decision to pursue my LSE Masters course and my long-term desire to work for the United Nations. I sincerely believe in the mission of the United Nations and am very grateful for the opportunity to have served with the UN mission in South Sudan as a member of the NZDF.

“I would like to pay tribute to the South Sudanese people, who have borne the brunt of the violence in the region.  It is a fascinating part of the world that few from the West understand.  The people are incredibly resilient, after all the years of conflict they have gone through they continue to find hope.  Unfortunately the events in the UN base resulted in many of them, mostly women and children, losing their lives – a tragic and unnecessary waste.  The situation in South Sudan is still not good and we have seen ceasefires come and go without any resolution to the fighting. It is a complicated situation, one that those on the outside find very difficult to understand, and I hope that this latest peace agreement can hold, for the sake of the innocent victims of the conflict.”

This article originally appeared on the LSE news page on Wednesday 2 December