An Army officer has been described at his funeral in Co Down as an “utter hero and a legend”.
Forty-two-year-old father-of-two, Captain Mark Hale, was near the end of his six month tour in Afghanistan when he was killed alongside two others last month.
The Ballykinler-based soldier, whose family lived in Dromara, had been helping to carry a wounded comrade to safety when he was caught in a bomb blast in Helmand Province.
Yesterday, Cpt Hale’s devastated widow clung to their two young daughters, Alex and Tori, as his |funeral cortege arrived at Hillsborough Parish Church.
In a statement read on her behalf by Major Alastair Field, Brenda Hale said her family had been left with an “unfillable void”.
“To us, his family he was our all in all. Mark was an exceptional father... nothing was ever too much for his beloved daughters; they were the centre of his life...”
“I have lost my soulmate and my best friend; words cannot begin to describe the utter desolation and loneliness that I feel.”
And in a tribute to the two young soldiers who died alongside her husband, Mrs Hale added: “Our thoughts are also with the families of Matthew Hatton and Daniel Wild, who died with Mark on August 13 in Sangin.
“As I think of Mark with each breath, I also think of them; we hold them close in our prayers.”
Hundreds of mourners including serving and retired military personnel, families from Ballykinler army base and local politicians packed the picturesque church for the hour-long service.
A Royal British Legion colour party lowered flags as the cortege snaked up the tree-lined drive.
The Army captain’s coffin, draped in a Union flag with his regimental hat and belt on top, was carried into church by six pall bearers from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, as a lone piper played ‘Highland Cathedral’.
Originally from Bournemouth, Mark Hale joined the Army as a boy soldier. He rose through the ranks to captain.
He has been described as an exceptional soldier and devoted family man who read philosophy, wrote poetry in his spare time and was a keen rower.
In church yesterday, eldest daughter Tori read a poem he had composed for his family before being deployed to Afghanistan in March. Tributes were also paid by family friend Andy Moreland and brother Kevin.
As his coffin was carried out of the church for burial at Legacurry Presbyterian Church, a Fijian choir sang — a large number of Fijians serve in the Battalion.
After the service, Major Field, 2 Rifles Officer Commanding, said: “He was an utter hero and a legend. Since he became a rifleman in 2 Rifles at Ballykinler, everyone has looked up to him.
“He has been strong on the rugby pitch as well as in work. His loss is utterly tragic.
“As a battalion we have certainly had a lot of loss. So, grimly we are getting used to the casualties that are coming back. But it is poignant that a man of his legendary status has been killed. It has hit us all extremely hard.”