The presentation of a bravery award brought a Wooler man face-to-face with the sister of one of the Tunisian terrorist attack victims he tried to save.
On Sunday, the Duchess of Northumberland presented the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery to Paul Short during a special ceremony at The Alnwick Garden.
The award gives national recognition to acts of great bravery, entailing risk to life, and is only given out in exceptional circumstances.
Among the guests at the event were Mary and Charlie Flockhart. Mary’s brother Jim McQuire and his wife Ann were among the 38 victims when terrorist Seiffeddine Rezgui went on a gun and grenade rampage at the Imperial Marhaba beach hotel in the coastal resort of Sousse, Tunisia, in June 2015.
Speaking to the Gazette, Mary said: “It’s been a comfort because we couldn’t fill this area of what had happened to Jim, but it was nice to meet Paul and speak to him and find out about Jim’s last moments on the step, it’s been a comfort.”
Paul, an ex-soldier in the Territorial Army, was lying by the pool while on holiday with his wife Sarah when he heard gunshots and got to his feet quickly.
“The man came up the beach and killed five people outright in front of me,” he said. “I got everyone up, we all ran to the hotel up the road. I got Sarah, my wife, into the bedroom with all the rest of the people that I could.
“About five minutes later, I came out because it had gone quiet. I went down, I saw people lying there dead on the floor, I saw one man moving, which was Jim. I tourniqueted his leg, put a towel into his leg. I got chased off by the gunman again trying to save another old gentleman.”
This older man was hard of hearing and he came into the lobby shouting for his wife, attracting the attention of the gunman.
Paul said: “The gunman turned around and started firing at him. I ran up to the old guy, the first bullet missed him and I pulled him behind a pillar.”
He managed to get the old man into a room and hid under a chair before the attacker launched a grenade.
Paul continued: “We had grenades being fired at us so I saved two or three different people, but Jim’s lying there bleeding to death and I tried my best to try to save him. That day was a horrendous day.
“Everything happened so quickly on that fateful day. You just go with your instincts and focus on what needs to be done to help others. That’s what anyone with any military training would have done.”
On meeting Jim’s family, he added: “Mary and Charlie are a lovely couple, I’m really getting to know them well. I’m pleased that they’ve found me because they went online, tried everything to find me, and eventually we’ve become good friends.
The citation for Paul’s Queen’s Commendation for Bravery said: ‘Paul showed outstanding courage, clarity of thought and a complete disregard for his own safety during what was clearly a terrifying ordeal.
‘His actions undoubtedly helped save the lives of others.’
The Duchess said she was honoured to present what was her first of these awards to a Northumberland resident.
“This is the first Queen’s Commendation for Bravery that I have given on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and that in itself is extraordinary that in 10 years as Lord Lieutenant I have not seen one of these badges,” she said.
“We have all heard about Tunisia and that terrible gunman attack and we never expected that one of the bravest men would be from Wooler.
“You wonder how you would react yourself and if it was me, I think I would be under the nearest sun-bed.
“The fact that he got out there and helped people who were severely injured and saved people from the gunman is truly remarkable so I’m deeply honoured to be able to have presented him with his award.”
Paul was equally honoured, saying: “I am thrilled, but surprised to get the commendation.
“It is a true honour to receive this award, especially when my name is included alongside those of so many brave people.
“I think it’s special and I’ll treasure it as much as I can.”
Paul and Sarah were not the only Northumbrians caught up in the attack; Ian Jennison and Julie Duffell, from Cramlington, were also caught up in the horrific events, but vowed to return to Tunisia.