Since she was a child, Denise Rose had dreamt of being a soldier and she signed up as soon as she could after leaving school. Fifteen years later she had climbed to the rank of staff sergeant and, she told friends, happily travelled the world with the job she loved, earning "lots of money".
But yesterday her family were coming to terms with the news that she had become the first British woman soldier to die in Iraq since the beginning of the war 20 months ago. She was found dead from a gunshot wound on Sunday.
As investigators began piecing together the circumstances of her death, friends and family said that they were devastated and confused at the loss of the popular and intelligent 34-year-old.
Sgt Rose, who had volunteered to go to Iraq as a member of the Royal Military Police's Special Investigation Branch (SIB) just over a month ago, was found dead at the Shatt al-Arab Hotel, a British Army base in Basra, on Sunday. Last night it remained unclear whether she had taken her own life or had died as a result of an accidental discharge of a weapon.
"The family are just devastated as we are only just finding out what has happened. We are sticking together and grieving for my sister, said her brother, Sean Barcas.
A statement from her family said: "The family are struggling to come to terms with the tragic loss of Denise. We will always remember her as a fun-loving girl who was the life and soul of the party.
"We are a very close family and Denise was adored by us all. We know that we speak not only on behalf of her family, but also of all her friends and colleagues, when we say that she will be missed terribly and will always remain in our hearts and thoughts."
Her widowed mother Florence, who friends said had taken three weeks off from work at Fazakerley Hospital in Liverpool in anticipation of her daughter's return home on leave, was said to be devastated by the news.
The staff sergeant had arrived in Basra on 27 September, where her work involved helping to train Iraqi CID officers as well as investigating allegations against British soldiers. The Ministry of Defence said yesterday that her death was being investigated but there was nothing to suggest that it was suspicious or that anyone else was involved.
One soldier said it remained a mystery, adding: "Having spoken to people who were with her, they had no idea. There was no indication that she had been miserable for a long time. It may have been an accident or she may have just been a very private person."
The only girl in a family of three boys, Denise Barcas had grown up on an estate in Norris Green, Liverpool, attending St Lawrence Church of England junior school before going on to Archbishop Blanch high school. Friends remembered her as a clever, hard-working pupil who never got into trouble.
"She is remembered as a pleasant and able girl," the head teacher, Stephen Brierley, said yesterday.
Her long-time friend, Lynne Bathurst, said: "It was always her dream since she was a little girl to be in the Army and she made it happen. Her family were really proud when she left school and went in the armed forces and they watched as she did really well.''
A former neighbour, Maureen Leatherbarrow, said: "She was a clever girl, and very career-minded. Her Army career took over everything. They were an Army-orientated family and the boys were in the Army. I think her father was in the Navy."
Four years after leaving school in 1989, Sgt Rose joined the Royal Military Police, training as an SIB investigator in 1995, conducting investigations into serious incidents within the military across the UK and Cyprus before moving to a base in Osnabruck, Germany. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Silk, the commanding officer of her parent unit in Rheindahlen in Germany, said that Sgt Rose had had a bright future ahead of her.
She married and divorced twice and had no children. Neil Rose, whose three-year marriage to the sergeant ended in 1997, said yesterday: "I am still trying to get over the shock.
"It is a terrible thing to happen. She was dedicated to the Army and enjoyed her work. We were both in the Army when we met and she always took her job very seriously, though she was not the kind to take her troubles home with her. She certainly never seemed the kind of person to harm herself. You always think that you are going to come home safe and sound."
Bob Wareing, the Labour MP for West Derby and the sergeant's family's MP, said: "I am deeply sad to hear about this death in such tragic circumstances. My sympathies certainly go out to her family in Norris Green. I trust that there will be a full inquiry by the Ministry of Defence." He added: "I do not know the circumstances so I cannot comment further. But war does have a dreadful effect on people and they can react differently to it."Reuse content