British soldier killed in Basra was his platoon's 'backbone'

A family was in mourning last night for a British soldier killed in Basra, the third serviceman to die in the Iraqi city in the past 10 days. L/Cpl Paul Thomas was killed when his patrol was attacked by about 50 Iraqi insurgents firing rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

A family was in mourning last night for a British soldier killed in Basra, the third serviceman to die in the Iraqi city in the past 10 days. L/Cpl Paul Thomas was killed when his patrol was attacked by about 50 Iraqi insurgents firing rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The 29-year-old, a member of the 2nd Battalion, the Light Infantry, had been in Basra on Tuesday when militia loyal to the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr ambushed his small squad.

Sqn Ldr Spike Wilson, in Basra, said: "The patrol defended itself and killed a number of insurgents before withdrawing. Unfortunately, one soldier was killed and another injured." The wounded soldier, from 1st Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment, was being treated yesterday but his injuries were said to be non-life-threatening.

L/Cpl Thomas had been selected for promotion two days before his death. His platoon commander, Lieutenant Will Follett, said last night : "Taff was a proud Welshman who had a passion for all sports. He was a keen rugby supporter, as well as a follower of his local football club, Shrewsbury Town. He was a popular member of the platoon, widely regarded as its backbone, through his diligence, professionalism and unfaltering enthusiasm to the job and the soldiers under his command.

"His death has shocked the platoon, especially those soldiers who were with him when he died. He will be sorely missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones at this time."

One British soldier in Basra said last night: "As you can imagine his platoon are gutted. Morale has taken a few blows."

A single man, L/Cpl Thomas lived with his parents David and Helen in Buttington near Welshpool, Powys. A family friend said: "They are very upset. It has all been a great shock to the family."

L/Cpl Thomas had already served in Iraq when his battalion, now based in Edinburgh, was deployed there last year. He volunteered to return this year as part of a Light Infantry platoon attached to C Company, the Cheshire Regiment. Having joined in 1996, he had served in Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Falkland Islands, Kosovo and Sierra Leone.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Ted Shields, said: "He was one of the stalwarts of his platoon and helped to make them one of the closest knit groups of soldiers in the battalion."

He added: "Diligent and unfailingly professional, he always gave 100 per cent both on and off duty. L/Cpl Taff Thomas was an outstanding Light Infantryman who served his regiment and country with distinction. We in 2LI, serving both here in Edinburgh and in Iraq, are stunned and deeply saddened his tragic and untimely death."

The lance corporal was the 65th British serviceman to die in Iraq. Last Thursday Pte Marc Ferns, 20, serving with 1st Battalion, the Black Watch, was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra. Three days earlier Pte Lee O'Callaghan, of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, died after being shot in the chest when a gun battle broke out between British forces and armed militants thought to be loyal to Sadr.

Troops in Basra have been trying to maintain a low profile as pockets of violence erupted across the city during the past few days. Militants attacked two civilian cars reportedly carrying foreigners, injuring two people, the Basra police colonel, Kareem Sadkhan, said.

As news of L/Cpl Thomas's death emerged, the mother of another young soldier killed in Iraq called for grieving families to join together and demand troops be brought home. Rose Gentle, who lost her 19-year-old son Gordon, has joined the Stop the War Coalition.

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