The quiet courage of Private Tench, the 130th British soldier to die in Iraq

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When Private Michael Tench phoned his father from Iraq, they didn't talk about the dangers he faced, but about plans for the young soldier's leave in Sunderland, only a couple of weeks away.

"He was looking forward to coming home. He was going to get another tattoo done and we had arranged to go for a drink together," said Mr Tench, 45. "He never said anything about what was happening when he was out there. He must have just kept it to himself."

The 18-year-old could not tell his father that the Shatt al-Arab hotel, his base in Basra, is under constant threat of roadside bombs because there are only a handful of routes from there into Basra city. Private Tench, of A Company, 2nd Battalion, The Light Infantry, was killed last Sunday when his Warrior armoured vehicle patrol was hit by an improvised explosive device. His death brought the number of British troops killed in Iraq since 2003 to 130. Four other members of the patrol were injured, one of whom remains in a very serious condition.

The young soldier lived with his mother, Jan Fowler, and his 19-year-old sister, Stacey. Mr Tench, who cares full-time for his 79-year-old mother, learned of his son's death in a phone call from his ex-wife. "I had been out. It was a big shock to me," he said. "You always hear about other people, and you think it's not going to happen to you."

He said his son was "a lovely lad, great, very quiet. He was never cheeky, he never swore and he'd never been in trouble in his life. He joined the army at just over 16. I used jokingly to call him 'mummy's boy', as he doted on his family. His mother has taken it really bad. She worshipped him."

After finishing his training, Pte Tench was deployed to Iraq last September.

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