'My son was just a piece of meat to Blair. Why was he there?'

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Indy Politics

When Gordon Gentle told his friends that he wanted to join the Army, they laughed at him because they thought he was too good-natured to make a soldier.

When Gordon Gentle told his friends that he wanted to join the Army, they laughed at him because they thought he was too good-natured to make a soldier.

But, for the 6ft 2in, sports-mad teenager from Pollock in Glasgow, who was nicknamed "Soft" by his friends because of his family name, it was a dream come true when he joined the Royal Highland Fusiliers just three months ago.

He was proud to wear the uniform of a regiment with more than 200 battle honours to its name and he thought of the Army as a way of seeing the world. When his battalion was sent to Iraq, the enthusiastic boy-soldier asked his family not to worry - it was part of the job.He even told his mother that all he was doing was delivering water.

Yesterday morning a letter from the teenager dropped on the doormat of the family home, full of plans for the future and excitement that he was due to come home within two weeks. Sadly, the arrival of the letter came less than 24 hours after his parents and two sisters had been told that he was the latest casualty in a conflict for which they believe he was too young and poorly trained to have been sent.

"I can't believe my only son has gone," said his mother, Rose, yesterday as she was comforted by friends and family. "He shouldn't have been there, none of our boys should be there, Why don't Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon send their own families out to Iraq?

"My son was just a bit of meat to them, just a number. They don't care about him, all they're worried about is the next election. This is not our war, my son has died in their war over oil and they haven't even taken up the trouble of picking up the phone and say they're sorry for our loss."

Gordon Gentle, 19, from Glasgow, became the 60th British serviceman to be killed since the war began in Iraq in March last year. He was fatally wounded when his vehicle triggered an improvised explosive roadside device while on routine patrol in Basra on Monday morning.

Two other soldiers were hurt but their injuries were said not to be life threatening.

Despite the Army's assertions that the enthusiastic teenager had been properly trained - the regiment having gone through ambush scenarios to prepare for Iraq - his family are not convinced.

An MoD spokesman said: "Fusilier Gentle was obviously involved in a tragic accident, but prior to deploying out to Iraq he did complete all of his basic army training and his combat infantry training. He was, therefore, fully trained to deploy out to a theatre of operation. Our deepest sympathy is with his family at this moment."

Two of the boy's uncles criticise the Government and the Army yesterday over the way their nephew was posted to a combat zone after such a short time in the military.

"He was just out of training a matter of weeks before he was sent to Iraq," said Mrs Gentle's brother Willie Graham. "He was just 19 years old ... He hadn't had the time to be trained properly. They should give these young lads at least two years' training before sending them into situations like Iraq.''

A former pupil of the local Hillpark Secondary School, Gordon Gentle's ambition to join the Army was well known and his father, George, 45, admitted that the day his son finished basic training at Catterick and passed out in April was "one of the proudest days of my life".

Initially the young soldier was sent to Cyprus and his family were happy that he was enjoying his chosen profession and seeing a bit of the world.

When the battalion was dispatched to Iraq his parents, and his sisters, Pamela, 21, and Maxine, 14, were concerned for his safety but accepted his assurances that everything would be fine.

His regular phone calls and letters were upbeat and full of how he was enjoying serving in Iraq. He told them he had taken up boxing and was looking forward to finishing his tour of duty and travelling to Greece or Spain for a holiday next month. There was never any mention of the danger he and other British troops faced every day.

Even in the letter which arrived yesterday, his uncle Gordon Graham said, the teenager was full of how much he was looking forward to three weeks' leave beginning on 10 July.

"It was addressed to his mum and said how much he was looking forward to coming home on leave," said Mr Graham. "He couldn't wait to go for a pint with his da and see his friends - he had a lot of friends."

Yesterday the wooden picket fence outside the family house became a makeshift memorial to the soldier, who was popular throughout the local community. Friends and neighbours paid tribute to "the nicest big boy you could ever meet" and by the afternoon the railing was almost completely adorned with flowers, teddies and football shirts in memory of the ardent Celtic fan. "He was a marvellous guy, nothing could change that," said a neighbour, Paul Montague. "Everyone knew him, all the kids in the street are devastated. He was absolutely brilliant and everyone you spoke to knew him and said he was a great guy."

Among the cards of condolence posted on the fence were cards which read: "Gordon, you will be remembered, big yeen"; "You will always stay in my heart"; "Gentle, gone but not forgotten, you will always be in my thoughts; You will never walk alone, rest in peace."

As family members continued breaking the news to relatives still unaware of the tragedy, they were awaiting news of when his body would be returned home for burial. "He was just a boy, too young to be sent out there," said his mother, choking back tears. "I just want my boy back."