Soldier's funeral a long way from Hutton inquiry

Captain David Jones 1974-2003: Yesterday, they buried Capt Jones, killed when a bomb hit a Red Cross ambulance near Basra. Hundreds paid their respects at his funeral. For them, the appearance 150 miles away of Tony Blair at the Hutton inquiry must have seemed an irrelevance

They had last gathered at All Saints Church just over 13 months ago for an occasion full of joy and cheer. It was for David and Isobel's wedding, and it was a charming affair.

Yesterday, the wedding guests had turned mourners as hundreds crammed into the same pews to say their farewells to David Jones, soldier, husband, comrade and friend. His wife, stunning in white last July, was this time wreathed in black.

Captain Jones, aged 29 - Dai to all who knew him - perished when the Red Cross ambulance he had volunteered to command two weeks earlier near Basra in Iraq was blown up. He had died doing the job he adored. It was his second mission to Iraq - one he had volunteered for.

Comrades from the 1st Battalion, the Queen's Lancashire Regiment carried his coffin under darkening skies to the 13th-century church in South Elkington, Lincolnshire. The eulogy was of his courage, dedication and love of his soldiers. So many were there that the mourners spilt on to the lawns outside.

They cared little for government dossiers, sexing up, or who said what to whom about a Ministry of Defence scientist. Those were matters to be dealt with 150 miles to the south, where the man whose decision it was to take his armed forces to war was under scrutiny.

Instead, they listened in silence as Major Adrian Peters said: "Above all, an infantry officer is required to demonstrate considerable personal and professional qualities, and Dai had them all - courage, fitness, compassion, robustness, commitment, selflessness and, most important of all, a caring and paternal relationship with his soldiers.

"Dai was tragically killed in the service of his country doing a job that he loved and believed in. It is typical of his selflessness that he was killed having volunteered to command an ambulance to take a wounded man to hospital.

"Dai had a great and enduring love of his soldiers - there can be no greater compliment for a man given the privilege of commanding soldiers in war."

It is a war that yesterday claimed its 50th British victim, Fusilier Russell Beeston, aged 26, from Govan, Glasgow, who was shot after the convoy with which he was travelling was surrounded and attacked by a crowd of angry Iraqis on Wednesday night. The British military had been on a raid, the target of which was people who had been involved in "anti-coalition activities''.

Fusilier Beeston and Captain Jones were part of that coalition.

But in South Elkington there were no recriminations on what may or may not be going wrong with the British occupation of Iraq. The congregation instead remembered the man who joined the Army in 1991 as a soldier in the Royal Medical Corps, who had graduated from Sandhurst in 1999 to join 22 Regiment Royal Artillery, and who had then transferred to the Queen's Lancashires.

They remembered a talented and enthusiastic rugby player, who had served in Cyprus and Northern Ireland before volunteering for Iraq. They remembered a new husband who had moved to Louth from Catterick in North Yorkshire shortly before his wedding.

Major Peters said: "It has been my privilege to serve with a man who was a loving and faithful husband, a supremely professional officer and a caring and considerate human being. Although circumstances meant that we knew each other for a comparatively short period of time, Dai's friendship to me was as strong as if we had known each other for ever."

Before the funeral, Capt Jones' commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Mendonca, said his death had robbed the regiment of an "excellent officer" who was helping to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Basra and help improve the infrastructure. "He was doing a superb job and was highly respected. Captain Dai Jones was not just a dedicated, highly professional, warm-hearted officer, he was a fun-loving friend, a budding entrepreneur and a very genuine person."

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