Soldier dies in Basra accident as gunner killed in Helmand blast is named

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The Independent Online

A British soldier was killed in Iraq when his Warrior armoured vehicle rolled off a bridge into water below during a routine supply convoy.

The soldier, who has not been named, was a member of 2 Royal Tank Regiment. Two other soldiers sustained minor injuries in yesterday's accident, which happened as the convoy travelled through the As Sarraji district of Basra to the Basra Palace military base.

The Ministry of Defence has named the 20-year-old soldier from Manchester who died in Afghanistan eight days ago.

Neil "Tony" Downes , of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, died of injuries sustained when his vehicle bore the brunt of a landmine explosion.

He was the vehicle's gunner on the operation with the Afghan National Army to widen and deepen irrigation ditches near the town of Sangin, in Helmand province.

Guardsman Downes had already completed one tour of duty in Iraq since joining the army in 2004.

He had been in Afghanistan for 12 weeks and, when he was killed on June 9, became the 60th British serviceman to die there since operations began in November 2001.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Carew Hatherley, said:

"He was a resolute and steadfast friend to all who knew him. He excelled as a soldier, whether in tunic and bearskin or combats, and was held in the highest regard by all who had the pleasure to serve alongside him."

Guardsman Downes' mother, Sheryl, said: "All Tony ever wanted to do was to be in the Army. We are very proud that he served as a soldier. We wouldn't have stood in his way.

"Before he left for Afghanistan he wrote a letter to me and his dad, which was only to be opened if he died. There is one paragraph in it that says it all for me: 'Please do not be mad at what has happened. I did what I had to do and serving the British Army was it.'

"I just want everyone to know that we think our son died a hero, because he was."

Teachers at Middleton Technology School remembered him as a "bright, happy" student who left with 16 GCSEs.

His qualifications made him a natural choice for intelligence rep, said Major Marcus Elliot-Square, his company commander in the Inkerman Company.

He said: "Consummately professional in everything he did, he never stopped gathering vital intelligence whilst on patrol in areas such as Sangin, Gereshk and Babaji.

"He was completely dedicated to his job and to the men around him, making him both a pleasure and an honour to command."

His friend, Guardsman Richard Brown, said: "He was a character, always up for going out and having fun. He enjoyed his job, loved his family and his girlfriend Jane. He is a friend I'll miss forever."

Guardsman Mike Piantkiwskyj said: "He had an enthusiasm that was infectious and a mature, level head. He would want to be remembered as a professional soldier. It is a shattering blow."

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