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Sunday, 21 September 2014

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Cumbrian town comes to standstill as soldier laid to rest

A devastated friend of Afghanistan bomb blast victim Sergeant David Monkhouse led tributes at his funeral, saying: “I feel blessed to have had you in my life”.

Hundreds of people paid their respects to the Aspatria soldier as he was laid to rest amid emotional scenes in his home town.

The town centre came to a standstill as people stood silent to remember a man who had been so full of life and who had grown into a brave soldier an amazing father.

Sgt Monkhouse, 35, known as Bob, was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province on July 17.

About 300 people packed into Aspatria’s St Kentigern’s Church for the Royal Dragoon Guard’s funeral. Many more stood outside as the service was held.

His heartbroken family – including young daughter Daisy Twinkle – and friends were joined for the service by serving soldiers and ex-servicemen.

During it, Lynsey Crosthwaite, a friend he had known almost his entire life, spoke emotionally of her loss and the fun she had with Sgt Monkhouse while they were growing up. The pair were in touch until the Wednesday before his death.

She said: “He was as daft as a brush – not rude, hurtful or nasty, just daft. David had a knack of turning everything into a laugh, the kind of laugh that left tears rolling down your face.

“I watched David grow into a man, a brave soldier and amazing father. I was proud.”

And in a moving message to her friend, she added: “David, I am so desperately sad you are no longer here but feel blessed to have had you in my life. I will miss you so much every day. I will take great comfort for the memories you have left me. I feel I will carry a part of you always.

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for always being there. Thank you for letting me boss you about. Thank you for always caring. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being my forever friend.”

Earlier, people had lined the streets and stood in silent respect as Sgt Monkhouse’s coffin was driven to the church, led by a lone piper and flanked by a guard of honour.

Another guard of soldiers lining the path from King Street stood with their heads bowed as his coffin, draped with the Union flag, was carried into the church. Representatives of Royal British Legion branches across Cumbria also stood with their standards lowered.

Among those who were at their church to pay their respects was the county’s Lord Lieutenant, James Cropper.

The church bell tolled as Sgt Monkhouse’s coffin was carried inside. So many people attended the service, led by Rev Clive Shaw at 1pm, that it was relayed on loudspeakers to those outside.

Rev Cole Maynard, an Army Deputy Assistant Chaplain General, also gave an address.

Speaking of Sgt Monkhouse, he said: “He was one of those people who everyone knew and seemed to like – one of life’s characters.

“When someone like David, someone who is such a character, so full of life and larger than life, leaves us, the hole they leave behind is large. The question for us is how do we deal with that loss?”

The hymns Jerusalem, He Who Would Valiant Be and Abide With Me, were sung, along with the Collect of the Royal Dragoon Guards while the poem, I saw thee weep, by Lord Byron, was read by Tony Burgass. After the service, Sgt Monkhouse’s coffin was carried into the packed St Kentigern’s churchyard.

The piper played Flowers of the Forest by the graveside. A firing party fired three volleys over Sgt Monkhouse’s coffin after it was lowered while a bugler played the Last Post and Reveille.

Lieutenant Colonel James Carr-Smith, Sgt Monkhouse’s commanding officer and friend of 18 years, paid a moving tribute to him outside the church, describing the soldier made a real go of his military career following his daughter’s birth.

He said: “He was a remarkable soldier. He had a love of medicine and got into combat medicine.

“He was itching to get to Afghanistan and joined a wonderful organisation, the Brigade Reconnaissance Force. There were 12 Royal Dragoon Guards, of which he was one. He was immensely proud to have made it and was much loved by them all.”

Speaking about seeing Sgt Monkhouse in Afghanistan, Lt Col Carr-Smith added: “He was clearly having the time of his life. He was with friends doing what he joined the Army to do.

“We were all devastated by his loss. He was a great soldier, but more importantly was a dear friend.”

Sgt Monkhouse was killed by a bomb while patrolling to help decrease the intimidation of local people in southern Afghanistan.

Born in Carlisle in 1974, he was raised in Aspatria and went to Beacon Hill secondary school before joining the Junior Leaders’ Regiment in Bovington, aged 16. A class one medical technician, he served on four tours in Northern Ireland and in Iraq in 2007.

He has been described as a devoted and loving dad, much-loved son of Bobbie and the late Robert, a dearest brother of Deborah, caring uncle and dear brother-in-law.

Speaking after his death, Sgt Monkhouse’s family described him as “an exceptional soldier and loving and devoted parent”.

The number of UK deaths in Afghanistan since 2001 stands at 327.

The News & Star attended Sgt Monkhouse’s funeral with the permission of his family and the Ministry of Defence.

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