Portadown Gurkha hero Neal is laid to rest
Hundreds of people lined the streets of Portadown town centre yesterday to pay their last respects to an inspirational young soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.
Lieutenant Neal Turkington, who died just days before turning 27 years old, was laid to rest after a moving funeral service in his home town yesterday afternoon.
The soldier, one of three killed on July 13 while serving with 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, died in a rocket-propelled grenade blast — launched by Talib Hussein, who was claimed by the Taliban |to have been acting on their |behalf.
The 26-year-old, whose proudest moment was said to be joining the prestigious Gurkha regiment two years ago, was buried with full military honours as hundreds of people lined the main street to see his flag-draped coffin carried on the final leg of its journey from Afghanistan to the burial ground in nearby Kernan cemetery.
During the funeral service in a packed St Mark’s Parish Church in the town’s High Street, the congregation heard Neal described as someone who was “always happy, challenged, purposeful and fulfilled”.
The young Lieutenant’s parents Ivor and Marie, brother Gareth and sister Cathy thanked the countless people who visited them at their Ballyhannon home, wrote letters, and offered their thoughts and prayers during the past four weeks.
During the service, which was conducted by the Reverend Jim Campbell and Canon Terence Cadden, lines inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If...’, chosen by Neal’s friends, were read aloud in praise of his steadfast determination to succeed.
“You met with triumph and disaster and treated those two impostors just the same,” it read.
Bishop David Chillingworth, who travelled from Scotland espe
cially for the funeral service yesterday, said the man he knew as a boy always had the needs of others in his heart.
“There was so much to Neal — he pushed the boundaries, he thought deeply and he questioned,” he told the funeral congregation.
“He became the soldier who committed himself in the service of his country and in the cause of freedom and peace — the trusted comrade who supported and |inspired others.”
Following a short burial service, at which more than 20 soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with Neal’s family and friends as the The Last Post sounded, Major Andrew Todd, of 1 Gurkha Rifles, said their “exceptional” colleague would be sorely missed by all who knew him.
“He paid the ultimate sacrifice, fighting for a cause he believed in,” said Major Todd.
“His memory will live on.”
The death of Lieutenant Turkington and his Gurkha colleagues Major James Joshua Bowman (34) and Corporal Arjun Purja Pun (33) brought the total number of soldiers killed since the Afghan war began in 2001 to 317 — a figure which has since risen to 327.
Portadown honours one of its own
There was an eerie silence in the normally bustling town centre of Portadown as crowds waited patiently for the arrival of a coffin carrying one of their own.
The first of thousands began to gather as early as 11am for a 2pm church service which would bid goodbye to a local man killed in the line of duty.
A gentle ripple of applause signalled the arrival of Lieutenant Neal Turkington, followed closely behind by his grieving parents, brother and sister, at St Mark’s Church in the centre of the town.
As six Gurkha soldiers prepared to carry their comrade into the church the lightest of raindrops began to fall, lasting only until the hero soldier was inside the church doors, having been serenaded by a lone piper playing Dvorak’s Going Home.
A single wreath of white lilies adorned the flag-draped coffin alongside Lieutenant Turkington’s Gurkha hat, cross-belt and knife, which were later presented to his family.
Billy Wilson turned out to pay his respects with his 21-year-old daughter Jo-Anne. “No parent wants to see their child die but we came here today to show them that we are grateful that he died for us and for our country,” said Mr Wilson.
Mr Wilson and Ita McAdam, whose son-in-law has served twice in Afghanistan, said the show of community support was significant.
“It is great to see the shops shut and so many people taking the time to come out and show their support for the Turkington family.”
An inspiring career soldier
By Lesley-Anne Henry
A courageous and determined university graduate with a keen sense of adventure and passion for making a difference, his “devastated” family said in a statement that they could not have asked for a finer son or brother.
And his university professor described him as an outstanding young man with exceptional potential.
Clearly, Lieutenant Neal Turkington was one of the best.
The Portadown man, who would have celebrated his 27th birthday days before he was killed by a renegade Afghan soldier last month, always wanted to pursue a military career.
During his time studying engineering at Imperial College London he travelled to South America to help poor communities build schools, homes, latrines and other infrastructure.
After graduating in 2007 he attended the Military Academy at Sandhurst and a year later was commissioned into 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles.
His family said: “One of Neal's proudest moments was hearing that he had been commissioned to join the Royal Gurkha Rifles. He felt honoured and privileged to serve with such distinguished, courageous and loyal men.”
Lt Turkington went on to successfully complete the Platoon Commanders' Battle Course in Wales and has been described as an officer his men trusted with their lives.
His CO, Lt Col Gerald Strickland, said: “He was a true friend to his fellow officers and a leader to whom his soldiers would willingly entrust their lives.”
His first appointment at regimental duty took him to Brunei, but he also spent three months of language study in Pokhara in western Nepal.
“Neal was jovial, kind, considerate and loyal to his family and friends. He was relentless and steadfast in his pursuit of those causes he believed in with his passion for making a difference whatever the circumstance.”
“We are all so proud of him.”