Promising gunner was soon to marry

A promising Suffolk-based RAF gunner, who was killed in a fierce battle against Iraqi insurgents, was set to get married on his return home next month.

A promising Suffolk-based RAF gunner, who was killed in a fierce battle against Iraqi insurgents, was set to get married on his return home next month.

Tributes were yesterday paid to Leading Aircraftman Martin Beard, of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment, based at Honington, near Thetford, who died after a small arms fire attack in Basra on Tuesday night.

The 20-year-old, from Rainworth, near Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire, was taking part in a routine foot patrol at 8.30pm local time, near Basra Air Station, when his patrol came under fire.

The MoD yesterday confirmed that the serviceman suffered a gunshot wound while in the Al Waki district of the Iraqi city and was evacuated by helicopter, but died later at a field hospital.

LAC Beard, who had just turned 20 and was nicknamed 'Beardy', had been a member of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment for just under a year after graduating from basic training at RAF Honington with flying colours.

His commanding officer, Squadron Leader Jason Sutton, said the young gunner was a "strong, fit, exceptionally gifted infantryman", who had a "bright future" and was due to marry his fiancée Nic on his return from Iraq in September.

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"Though he was with us for less than a year, he had made his mark and on this most demanding of operations his were the qualities - loyalty, courage, dependability - that make success in our mission possible. In Martin the RAF Regiment has lost one of its most promising young men who will be terribly missed by us all.

"As we grieve for him, we here in Iraq can draw some comfort that he fell, weapon in hand, fighting for and alongside his comrades, doing the job he loved so much. For all of us, there can be no greater inspiration to continue to do our duty with renewed determination and fighting spirit, to live up to his legacy and our regimental motto: Per Ardua - Through Adversity," he said.

The latest fatality comes three weeks after two 1 Squadron RAF Regiment Senior Aircraftmen Matthew Caulwell, 22, from Birmingham, and Peter McFerran, 24, from North Wales, were killed in a rocket attack at Basra Airbase on July 19. A third SAC, Christopher Dunsmore, from 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, based at RAF Cottesmore, in the Midlands, who had been attached to 1 Squadron since August, was also killed instantly. The squadron is due to return to its Suffolk home base on September 1.

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