Picture Gallery: Funeral for Light Dragoon soldier

A popular soldier who survived the war in Afghanistan only to lose his personal battle with cancer has been buried with full military honours, close to his Norfolk base.

The funeral of 37-year-old WO2 Grant Armstrong brought a huge crowd of mourners to All Saint's Church in Swanton Morley at 2pm yesterday.

Among them were about 250 of his colleagues from the Light Dragoons, based at Robertson Barracks in the village, who joined family and friends to celebrate the life of the skilled soldier and devoted family man.

WO2 Armstrong had been deployed on eight operational tours during his army career, including four in Bosnia, one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, the most recent of which he returned from safely in 2009.

But after escaping the bullets and bombs of the Taliban, the soldier steeled himself for a different kind of battle after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour last year. Despite a brave fight, he died on June 4.

The service began with a mournful tune from a lone piper as the coffin was carried into the church by the soldier's comrades, flanked by a guard of honour. The cortege later moved to Swanton Morley Cemetery, where a rifle salute rang out across the surrounding fields.

Although the funeral was carried out with full military ceremony, there were some poignant family touches added to the service.

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WO2 Armstrong's wife Donna, on the day which would have been the couple's eighth wedding anniversary, released a white dove as a symbol of hope and freedom.

Meanwhile, soil had been specially brought from the soldier's birthplace in Northumberland to cover his grave.

The congregation included Sgt John Nelson, who had started his own army career with WO2 Armstrong 20 years ago and served alongside him in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

He said his friend's combat qualities had not failed him when he learned of his illness.

'From the very start, Grant showed a fighting spirit,' said Sgt Nelson. 'I remember speaking to him when he first found out. He was under the impression that it was no drama, and said: 'I will beat it'.

'He cracked on and tried to do that but it was one battle too far for him. He will never ever be forgotten. He was a true gentleman, a true friend and a fantastic soldier.'

'Grant was a larger-than-life guy who was always the life and soul of the party. He was a very loud, but also very modest and well-spoken individual.

'Intellectually he was up there, and took a lot of time to look at things to do with nature. He studied it a lot.'

Cpl Carl Cribbin, who served under WO2 Armstrong on his last tour of Afghanistan, said: 'He was probably the best boss I ever had. He was just such a strong character, through and through. He will certainly be missed.'

WO2 Armstrong joined the army in 1990 and had been a member of the Light Dragoons since its formation in 1992.

In a eulogy read to the congregation, WO2 Armstrong was described as a 'keen, motivated and skilled soldier' who enjoyed volleyball and whose good humour 'was a source of inspiration to all who deployed alongside him'.

'After fighting his illness with such huge bravery for such a time, The Light Dragoons' regimental family will be the poorer without him,' it said. 'He was an enormously popular member of the warrant officers' and sergeants' mess and will certainly be remembered and missed by all who were lucky enough to have known him.'

WO2 Armstrong leaves behind his son Leon, who was born in 2000, his wife Donna and their daughter Jess – who will be three years old next month.

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