Parents praise 'vibrant' son killed in Afghan war

L/Cpl Ben Whatley had been due home for belated Christmas on 8 January
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The parents of a young Royal Marine who was killed as he led his men in bitter fighting with Taliban insurgents on Christmas Eve have paid tribute to their "vibrant, larger than life" son.

Sam Whatley, 54, a retired solicitor, and his wife Teresa, 52, were staying in Chester with her parents when they were told that their son Benjamin, 20, had been killed. L/Cpl Whatley, from King's Lynn in Norfolk, was the 136th British serviceman to die in Afghanistan since the start of operations there in 2001.

Yesterday Mrs Whatley, a hairdressing lecturer at the College of West Anglia in King's Lynn, said they had decided not to put up a tree or any Christmas decorations in their home because their son was away in Afghanistan. Instead they had been planning a belated Christmas dinner with him after he returned for a two-week break on 8 January – the halfway point of his seven-month tour. "We would have had a turkey meal with crackers and poppers once he was home. There was no way we could have had a proper family Christmas while he was away," she said.

"You never stop worrying when your son is away on a tour. You are on edge for seven months because you never know if you are going to get a phone call or a visit to say something has happened. The only time you know your son is safe is when you speak to him on the phone. Then you can relax for that time – but as soon as you put the phone down you begin to get worked up again. You don't know what he will be doing in 10 minutes' time. Now we have had that visit which we were dreading. I suppose it is something we don't have to worry about any more."

Mrs Whatley said her 6ft 5in tall son wanted to be a Royal Marine from the age of 12. His best friend, Tom Curry, was killed in January last year when they were serving together in Afghanistan. "He just said that they were doing a job and they had got some work to do. He was so buoyed up. He loved being a Marine.

"He was a very vibrant person. He lived every day as if it was his last and always made the best out of every situation. He packed more into his 20 years than most people do in 60 years."

Mr Whatley added: "He enjoyed being with his unit. I don't think he considered the political side of things too much. He was a Marine. It was a job he simply adored. I can't imagine him being anything else or wanting to be anything else."

His commanding officer in 42 Commando Royal Marines, Lt-Col Charlie Stickland, said another "Smiley Boy" had died "doing the job he loved in an environment in which he excelled and surrounded by his mates".

He said his death in the Nad-e-Ali district of central Helmand had rocked the entire commando but particularly the highly experienced Lightening Lima Company in which he served. The company was engaged in the task of clearing enemy forces from the north of the district when they came into contact with heavily armed Taliban fighters. L/Cpl Whatley's death would only knit them tighter as a group and make them more determined in their fight against insurgents, said Lt-Col Stickland.

With two tours of Afghanistan already under his belt, L/Cpl Whatley was considered to be a veteran among comrades fighting in the escalating conflict having previously led his men successfully in heavy fighting at Zarghun Kalay. He had also spent time between deployments taking part in mountain training in the Himalayas.