Iraq attacks: 'Why did she have to die for such a silly cause?'

A week ago Ted Elliott opened up a surprise parcel to find a pair of silk-lined gloves, an early Christmas present posted by his daughter as she set off for Iraq.

It was typical of Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, 34, her family said yesterday after learning of her death on Sunday in Iraq, to be so thoughtful. She had noticed that Parkinson's disease had left her father's hand permanently frozen and in the flurry of pre-deployment had remembered to send the present.

"She was just such a lovely girl, so sensible and kind. We were just waiting to find out her new address so we could send something to her," Mr Elliott's wife said yesterday.

"Ted is utterly heartbroken. It was his only daughter. You just don't expect them to go before you.

"When she said she was going to Iraq I said I didn't believe in them being sent over there. She was just treating it as a job she had to do. She had been to many difficult places, but I don't think she liked this one. Why did she have to die for such a silly cause?" added Mrs Elliott.

Sharron Elliott, who was one of four soldiers killed in an attack on a boat on the Shatt al-Arab waterway, bringing the total number of British troops killed since the end of the war to 125, had had a difficult life. Her cousin, 22-year-old Judith Pattison, was killed in the 1989 Kegworth air crash when a plane bound for Belfast crashed into the M1. Then her fiancé, also a soldier, died in a motorcycle crash before their wedding.

Before deploying to Iraq, Sgt Elliott had been caring for a close friend suffering from cancer. Her letters home from Basra were full of concern about her father.

Her mother, Elsie Manning, said at her home in South Shields: "Sharron was the most beautiful, caring person in the world. She was very strong-minded and very compassionate.

"She had lots of friends and used to look after one of them who had cancer so that her husband could have a break - that is the sort of person she was. She loved cooking and used to take over the kitchen when she came home, whipping up all kinds of exotic dishes for us all to try. She was very close to her four stepbrothers and was 'best man' at her stepbrother David's wedding. She was delighted to become an auntie again last year to her little nephew Bradley.

"Sharron deployed to Iraq just over a week ago. Her life was the Army and she had served all over the world. It is of some comfort to the family that she died doing what she loved.

"We all loved her so much - she has left such a big hole in our lives. She was the most fantastic person, she was just amazing and touched the hearts of everyone she met. We can never replace her."

The Army had been Sharron's life from the moment she was born and grew up in the small Suffolk town of Hadleigh. Her father had served in the forces, two of her elder stepbrothers went on to do so, and so did cousins and other relatives. Ted Elliott was fiercely proud of his girl taking up the mantle.

Neighbours remember a beautifully behaved child growing up among the small group of simple redbrick homes surrounding a green, where she played with her stepbrothers Michael, Gary and David.

She joined the Army at the age of 18. She spent her early career in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, becoming the first woman in the Army to qualify as an aircraft technician.

Her history teacher, Penny Cook, said last night: "We are devastated by what has happened. What is so poignant is that it also happened on Remembrance Sunday.

"I remember she had a desire to go into the forces. For many young people it's a career they can get training in and make a living out of."

Sgt Elliott's godmother, 72-year-old Maureen Holland, recalled: "She met her boyfriend on a course where they were learning to repair helicopters. I saw her when she came back to look for a wedding dress. But then her fiancé died tragically. People asked if she would be giving up the Army afterwards, but she said she wouldn't, and she would finish the course because she wanted to do it for him. She was a very caring person and when her fiancé died, I remember her saying that she was going to stay with his parents to be with them.

"She was very determined and she was the first woman to pass this particular course. She was just so dedicated to her life in the Army.

"She was an absolutely lovely girl. Her parents must be really proud."

After six years in the Army, Sgt Elliott transferred to the Intelligence Corps, subsequently serving in Northern Ireland and Kosovo before being posted to Iraq.

Part of her training was at the 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group headquarters at Chicksands in Bedfordshire, where students are encouraged to study the local culture and customs at postings abroad. Students are also taught to question perceived wisdom and to question policy and disagree with the official view if necessary.

Her commanding officer in Iraq, Lt Col Andrew Park, said she was "never afraid to challenge the status quo, she would always give her opinion. Dedicated and professional, Staff Sergeant Elliott was an inspiration to all she worked with."

The other victims

* Warrant Officer Lee Hopkins, 35, from Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, was just five weeks into a six-month tour of Iraq, but had already made an "immediate impact", his commanding officer said. Lt-Col Andrew Park also paid tribute to the soldier as a "dedicated family man". He leaves a wife, Amanda, to whom he was married for 10 years, and a son aged three. "He led from the front with a quiet authority and paid attention to every detail," Lt-Col Park said.

* Corporal Ben Nowak, 27, of 45 Commando Royal Marines, was described by his uncle as "as an extraordinary soldier and an extraordinary young man". A promising young footballer, Cpl Nowak, of Speke in Merseyside, had trials with Southampton. But he joined the Royal Marines at 17 and became a rifleman, later qualifying as a physical training instructor. His uncle, Michael McEvatt, added: "He was so proud of what he did."

* Marine Jason Hylton, 33, of 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, was a divorced father of two teenage sons who lived with his parents in Swadlincote, Derbyshire. He had volunteered for a tour of duty in Iraq. His brother Daz, 37, said: "He loved the marine life and thoroughly enjoyed his job." But Marine Hylton's girlfriend, Sasha Martin, said: "He should never have been sent to Iraq, and it was not even his boat that he was on when he died."

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