Poignant service for Royal Marine Ben

THE serenity of a quiet, misty afternoon was broken by a solemn volley of rifle fire to honour the Norfolk Royal Marine killed in action on Christmas Eve.

THE serenity of a quiet, misty afternoon was broken by a solemn volley of rifle fire to honour the Norfolk Royal Marine killed in action on Christmas Eve.

The scene was a world away from the Afghan battleground where L/Cpl Ben Whatley, 20, died as he fearlessly led his men against Taliban insurgents.

But as the muffled bells of St Mary's Church in East Raynham sounded his final homecoming, his parents Sam and Teresa and about 600 mourners gathered to pay tribute to a courageous comrade and well-loved friend.

The funeral service, with full military honours, was held a few miles from L/Cpl Whatley's family home in Tittleshall.

His coffin, draped with the union flag, was carried through a guard of honour formed by his fellow soldiers from 42 Commando Royal Marines.

The congregation then heard prayers and tributes from friends and family before the cortege departed for a private cremation ceremony, accompanied by a rifle salute.

Most Read

His older brother Luke, 22, read a poem entitled Remember Me, which began: 'You can shed tears that I have gone, or you can smile because I have lived.'

He said: 'Ben was kind, loving, charming, wild and untameable. He was never controlled, only guided by the Marines, by his friends and by his mother.

'He did not walk the path of life - he ran, jumped, hopped and skipped.'

L/Cpl Whatley's godfather Peter Fabian recalled tales of a boisterous but popular young man growing up in Norfolk, who had wanted to be a Royal Marine ever since he was 12.

'Ben will be sorely missed and it is a testament to his regard that so many have gathered here to celebrate his life and mourn his death,' he said.

'He was a Marine through and through. He packed more into his 20 years than most do in 60.'

L/Cpl Whatley was the 136th British serviceman to die in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001 - a figure which has since risen to 141.

Four of those losses were suffered by 42 Commando on their current tour.

He was killed in Nad-E-Ali district in central Helmand during his second tour of Afghanistan, while his company was involved in a month-long operation to clear enemy forces from the north of the district.

Leading his men from the front, he was hit by enemy fire during a prolonged and fierce battle with insurgents.

Cpl Gavin Brown - known as Buster - also took part in the operation, but his company was fighting a few kilometres away when he heard of his friend's death.

Cpl Brown, 28, also grew up in Tittleshall, and said he had known L/Cpl Whatley since he was 10.

He said: 'When I heard he had been killed it was gut-wrenching. It is always bad to hear one of your lads has been killed, but having known him for so many years made it very hard to deal with.

'The conditions we were working under were quite arduous. The weather came in wet. It was like a scene from the Somme with deep mud, like syrup, sticking to everything. It was some of the worst soldiering conditions I have experienced.

'Ben will always be remembered as the life and soul of the party and the manner in which he conducted himself as a professional soldier. He was fearless, and that is what made him

the person he was.'

The funeral service was conducted by the Rev Edward Bundock, along with naval chaplain John Morris, who took L/Cpl Whatley through his commando training at Lympstone in Devon.

Before the service, Major Paul Shergold of 42 Commando said: 'Ben Whatley was every inch a Royal Marine. He was determined, courageous and selfless, and smiled in the face of adversity.

'He was very proud to serve with the Royal Marines and gave his life in a job he loved doing. He will never be forgotten.

'It is poignant that we are here in the heart of the English countryside at a quiet church so far removed from the stark reality and climate of Afghanistan.'