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Final farewell to rookie soldier who died a hero

PUBLISHED: 15:46 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 10:03 12 August 2010

GRIEF: From left, sisters Ellie, Samantha and Stephanie and parents Tracy Leslie and Steve Brown.

GRIEF: From left, sisters Ellie, Samantha and Stephanie and parents Tracy Leslie and Steve Brown.

A YOUNG soldier who died so that scores of people could live was buried with full military honours, the first in a London borough on public land since the Iraq war nearly 20 years ago. Petts Wood came to a standstill as hundreds of mourners lined the Que

LAST RESPECTS: Crowds line streets for the funeral of Rifleman James Brown, right.

A YOUNG soldier who died so that scores of people could live was buried with full military honours, the first in a London borough on public land since the Iraq war nearly 20 years ago.

Petts Wood came to a standstill as hundreds of mourners lined the Queensway, outside the Royal British Legion club, last Thursday to pay their respects to Orpington 18-year-old, Rifleman James Brown, of the 3rd Battalion The Rifles.

The funeral cortege was led by standard bearers, with the hearse closely followed by his parents, Tracy Leslie and Steve Brown, sisters Ellie, Samantha and Stephanie and girlfriend Hayley Morris.

They each laid a single rose on his coffin before a minute's applause in honour of the rifleman's act of bravery. Poignantly, a jar of his favourite snack, Marmite, was placed inside the hearse.

Ferrari Press Agency...17.12.09. Collect picture of pte James Brown, 18, of he Rifles who was killed in Afghanistan after sending Christmas message home to his family

The young soldier had only been in Afghanistan for three weeks, a replacement for another battle casualty, when two suicide bombers on motorbikes detonated devices at his checkpoint on December 15. He and Lance Corporal David Kirkness, 24, had stood their ground when the bombers tried to speed into a market crammed with locals near Sangin in Helmand Province.

A friend, Liam Clarke, led tributes at St Barnabas' Church, in Rushet Road, where the coffin was carried in through a guard of honour. Mr Clarke said: "James could easily have gone down the wrong road but he didn't. He loved being in the army and The Rifles and he couldn't wait to get to Afghanistan."

"One of my memories of him was when we were 11. My dad was working on a building contract in Brighton and invited us all down to the beach. James asked his dad if he could go to Brixton beach with me and Ben. I don't know what you would have made of that, Steve."

He glanced at the hero's coffin draped in the Union Flag, cap resting on top with a picture of the young private looking smart in his uniform. Overwhelmed, his head dropped and, choking back emotion, he addressed the rifleman's dad and said: "James was very proud of you, Steve." Then he added: "James, you will live on forever in our hearts. It makes me proud to be English and even prouder to be one of your mates."

Mourners heard messages from Reconnaissance Platoon leaders, who paid tribute to the professionalism and courage he showed from his first patrol, despite being drafted in midway through a tour. He had lived up to the battalion's motto: "We lead, you follow."

Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Kitson said: "He was a young man only just embarking on a career and was with the battalion a desperately short time. He had immense courage and a talent for making people laugh. I see from speaking to his family where that humour comes from.

"We take comfort that they [James Brown and David Kirkness] prevented a much greater tragedy. It's all the more difficult to come to terms with the death of someone so young.

"What he lacked in experience he made up for in courage."

The rifleman's body was buried at St Luke's Church, Bromley Common, where mum Tracy Leslie, dad Steve Brown, sisters Ellie, Samantha, Stephanie and girlfriend Hayley Morris paid their last respects. The guard of honour fired a volley of three shots. As he was laid to rest the Last Post was sounded, followed by Reveille.

martin.sawden@archant.co.uk

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