Tributes to heroic Royal Anglian

A soldier killed in Afghanistan and hailed as one of the finest of his generation was laid to rest in Norfolk yesterday as it emerged another of his Royal Anglian comrades had died fighting the Taliban.

A soldier killed in Afghanistan and hailed as one of the finest of his generation was laid to rest in Norfolk yesterday as it emerged another of his Royal Anglian comrades had died fighting the Taliban.

Family and friends of L/Cpl Alex Hawkins gathered at All Saints Church at Swanton Morley, near Dereham, to pay their final tributes to the 22-year-old, who was killed in July in an explosion while on patrol in the troubled Afghan province of Helmand.

But as the funeral came to an end, the Ministry of Defence revealed that soldier who had served with L/Cpl Hawkins in the 1st Battalion, Royal Anglians, had been killed in the area of Jusyalay, north east of Sangin, in Helmand.

The MoD said the soldier, who has not yet been named, was killed while on a patrol to check on an irrigation project.

One of his colleagues was wounded in the attack, which happened at 6am yesterday Afghan time, but last night his injuries were not thought to be life threatening.

So far there have been 69 British military fatalities in Afghanistan since the start of operations there in November 2001.

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Since their deployment in the south of the country in the spring of this year, 1st Battalion of Royal Anglians has now lost five soldiers and seen more than 40 wounded.

The latest casualty came as prime minister Gordon Brown refused to comment on how much longer British troops would remain in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown said only that “we have duties to discharge and responsibilities to keep” and the withdrawal of service personal would be based on “military advice from commanders on the ground”.

Before the funeral service for L/Cpl Hawkins yesterday , Regimental Sergeant Major Ian Robinson said that he had expected to see the promising soldier rise through the ranks.

“I've worked with him both in the UK and on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and I was impressed,” he said.

“He was the model of what we look for in soldiers.

“Keen on sport, professional, mature, very much a family man, and highly dedicated to his job. He was talented and hard working. “He did incredibly well on the sniper course. Doing that well is no mean feat.

“He was a good-looking guy who loved the camera and getting in pictures. There are just so many photographs with his cheeky grin in.

“A great example of a person and that example will live on even though he is now gone. It's hard to be a very good soldier and he was a very, very good soldier. He really stood out.

“I expected him to one day be wearing my uniform doing my job.”

In blazing sunshine that belied the sombre occasion, hundreds of friends, relatives and colleagues packed inside the historic church for the funeral with full military honours.

Royal Anglian soldiers currently at home for a brief spell of rest and recuperation turned out in force, with many barely managing to contain their emotions.

Police cordoned off the road due to the heavy number of mourners who travelled from across the country to pay their respects.

Shortly before noon a guard of honour was formed at the entrance of the church, with British legion groups from across the county holding standards as they greeted the flag draped coffin adorned with L/Cpl Hawkins's regimental hat.

Seven pall bearers brought the coffin into the church to Dire Strait's Brothers In Arms. Shortly behind them was a large group of close relatives, one of whom was a newborn baby who L/Cpl Hawkins will never get to see grow up.

Honorary chaplain to the Royal Anglian Regiment, Father Ken Reeve, conducted the ceremony, with two readings from senior offices.

The eulogy, which was read out on behalf of the family, recounted his life, how he was born in Kings Lynn, won a scholarship to Wisbech Grammar School and as a boy dreamed of being a fighter pilot.

He was a member of Dereham Army Cadets for five years, and upon joining the Royal Anglians was quickly promoted due to his determination and dedication, which also saw him volunteer for the fateful patrol in the Helmand Province. The eulogy finished by imploring people not to think of his death as a waste as he had a full life.

During the funeral Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You and Greenday's Time of Your Life was played with the ceremony closing with the commendation, last post and reveille.

The coffin was taken out to the awaiting cortege for burial with gun salute at St Mary Magdalene Church, Old Beetley, home village of L/Cpl Hawkins.

Yesterdaythe rest of the Royal Anglian regiment in Afghanistan held a ceremony in honour of L/Cpl Hawkins and upon their return in October will hold a memorial service and two freedom parades, one in Norwich on Thursday November 22 and in Bury St Edmunds on Friday November 23.

The Royal Anglian Regiment Memorial Fund is currently trying to raise money to provide a permanent memorial to those who have lost their life as well as help wounded soldiers and the families of soldiers killed. The association plans to publish a calendar but is trying to fundraise the cost to have it printed. To donate to the calendar fund send a cheque payable to CB1 Royal Anglian to Tom Smith, 2 Kingston Vale, Royston, Herts, SG8 9UG.

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