Family was ‘so proud’ of Dereham paratrooper killed in Afghanistan

The family of a young Dereham soldier, killed while on patrol in Afghanistan, has paid a glowing tribute to him.

Private Lewis Hendry - who would have celebrated his 21st birthday on Saturday - died during a gun battle on Wednesday in the north of the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province, where he had been deployed on an operation aimed at bringing stability to the war-ravaged region.

Although born in Norwich, the 20-year-old spent most of his life in Dereham, where he attended St Nicholas Junior School and Northgate High School before joining the Colchester-based 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.

His 22-year-old comrade Pte Conrad Lewis, from Bournemouth – a member of the Fire Support Group attached to Pte Hendry's company – died alongside him during his final mission.

Community leaders in Pte Hendry's Norfolk home town spoke of their sadness at the loss of the young man who was remembered for his enthusiasm and generosity.

Meanwhile, his family and colleagues led the tributes to the popular soldier who will be missed for his morale-boosting character, his professionalism and his courage under fire.

His mother Katrina and father Kelvin said: 'So proud of him, his smile lit up every room he walked into. A true heart of gold and such a lovely boy to be around.'

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His older brother Jamie said: 'He was not only a brother but my best friend, our childhood memories will never be forgotten.'

His younger sister Stacey said: 'You are my rock, you were always there to protect me. We have so many memories that will never be forgotten, I love you so much.'

Grieving staff and pupils at Dereham's Northgate High School, where Pte Hendry studied from 2001 to 2006, are considering the best way to celebrate his life – and one idea is to have a garden of remembrance in his honour.

Deputy headteacher Sue Wheeler said there had been a sense of 'absolute shock' in the school.

'What a waste,' she said. 'He was an affable and pleasant young man who had an excellent relationship with his peers and staff. He enjoyed sport, both in and out of school. He was a great team player and enthusiastic supporter of school charity events. Lewis will be remembered for his outgoing personality.'

During his schooldays, Pte Hendry played in rugby, football and cricket teams, was a keen swimmer and enjoyed fitness and going to the gym.

Dereham mayor Robert Hambidge said the town council would make preparations to fly a flag at half-mast from the market place war memorial on the day of Pte Hendry's funeral.

He said: 'Any Norfolk soldier who is prepared to serve Queen and country should be given that honour, but as this was a Dereham man, it brings it a lot closer to home. Any loss of a young life is always a shock. I am a father myself of a 21-year-old and I cannot imagine the grief that Lewis' parents must be feeling.'

Pte Hendry was employed as an intelligence specialist and was killed while carrying out a foot patrol to reassure the local population and gather census information in a small village north of the Nahr-e Bughra Canal.

His patrol came under small arms fire and, during the ensuing firefight, he suffered a serious gunshot wound. Despite immediate medical attention at the scene and being airlifted away by helicopter, he died of his wounds.

His battalion's commanding officer, Lt Col James Coates, said: 'Pte Hendry's courage was undisputed and his superb sense of humour made a real difference to everyday life in his patrol base.

'He has made a lasting contribution to his company's task in Helmand and leaves behind a huge gap. Our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends at this difficult time.'

The tributes from Pte Hendry's fellow paratroopers ranged from describing him as 'a truly remarkable Paratrooper and an awesome bloke' to 'the most good-looking bloke I have ever met'.

Major Richard Todd, officer commanding A Company, said: 'Pte Lewis Hendry, known to all as Lewy, had been selected to be a Patrols Platoon soldier for exactly the same qualities which he had shown daily in spades right up to the very point he was killed: bravery, selflessness, intense professionalism and a deep love of soldiering and his fellow soldiers.'

Wednesday's losses brought the number of British military casualties to 354 since operations in Afghanistan began in 2001.

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