Captured marine 'will boost spirits'

Captured Lowestoft marine Mark Banks will be doing everything in his powers to keep spirits up among the 15 British service personnel being held in Iran, one of his closest friends said.

Captured Lowestoft marine Mark Banks will be doing everything in his powers to keep spirits up among the 15 British service personnel being held in Iran, one of his closest friends said.

Nicholas Stokeld said he was shocked and worried by the ongoing crisis, but insisted Mr Banks had the strength of character to stay positive and maintain morale among his colleagues as diplomats strive to bring them home.

“Mark will be in high spirits and I think he'll be helping others along the way if they are feeling down,” said Mr Stokeld, 24, of Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft.

“His personality is very lively and bubbly, and he will bring a lighter mood to the situation, which I think will rub off on others.”

The friends first met when they played for Pakefield Boys football club as 12-year-olds and have remained close ever since, regularly meeting up for nights out when Mr Banks, 24, is on leave.

They are part of a large group of friends, who have been closely monitoring events and praying for a quick resolution to the crisis, which started on March 23 with claims British forces had encroached into Iranian waters.

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“I'm very close to Mark and it's a worrying situation,” added Mr Stokeld. “I was very shocked when I found out and am just hoping and praying for his safe return.

“He's got a lot of friends who are hoping for his speedy return. I'm trying to deal with it and although I'm still going to work, I am thinking about Mark and want to see him and give him a good hug.

“When he is home, we go out a lot and he's always up for a good craic and a bit of a joke; he certainly likes to party hard.

“I'm sure we'll arrange a party for him after he's released, but he's got to be back soon because a group of us are planning to go to Ayia Napa on holiday in July.”

The pair progressed through Kirkley High School together and both took business studies courses at Lowestoft College. They also worked at the same printing firm in Lowestoft before going following separate careers - Mr Stokeld in the oil and gas industry and Mr Banks with the Royal Marines.

“After I left the printers, Mark stayed on for a while, but he didn't really see a career in that so he joined the Royal Marines,” said Mr Stokeld.

“He hadn't always talked about going into the forces. He didn't really know what he was going to do, but another mate went into the Royal Marines and that inspired Mark. I always knew he would have the determination to get through the rigorous training.”

The friend's close ties have also extended to Lowestoft-based Kirkley Football Club where Mr Stokeld is a regular first-team player while Mr Banks used to turn out for the reserves before he joined the marines about three years ago.

News filtered through about the Iran crisis shortly before Kirkley's game against Needham Market on March 24 and Mr Stokeld said many players who knew Mr Banks were stunned.

“It was very shocking and the dressing room was a bit quiet,” he added. “People at the club have been constantly ringing me to find out how Mark is getting on.”

Friends received an email from Mr Banks just days before his capture and Mr Stokeld said he appeared to be in good spirits and was “the same old Banksy”.

He added that that his friend had first served in the Iraq region last year and had appeared calm before he set of on his latest tour of duty.

Mr Stokeld has visited Mr Banks' parents, Allistair and Penny, at their Lowestoft home and said they were receiving vital support from a large group of relatives and friends.

In a statement released on Sunday, Mr and Mrs Banks said their son would be “humbled and overwhelmed” by the support shown since his capture.