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Former soldier Andy Godfrey dies during trip to honour fallen of First World War

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Andy Godfrey stands next to the grave of a First World War soldier

Andy Godfrey stands next to the grave of a First World War soldier

Andy Godfrey stands next to the grave of a First World War soldier

The family of a Ballymena man who died in Belgium during a trip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War have said he was a good person who was always there for them.

Andy Godfrey (71), who had served a combined total of 28 years as a soldier in the Royal Ulster Rifles and UDR, passed away after suffering a heart attack during his annual trip to honour the war dead.

A last photo posted on social media showed Mr Godfrey, a father of six and grandfather of 17, raising a glass with his friends in a bar in Belgium on Friday night.

The next morning he was found dead in the bathroom of his hotel room by a friend.

Mr Godfrey's son William (47) said his father looked forward to the remembrance trip every year, and had intended to lay a poppy wreath at the grave of a relative who lost his life in the First World War.

Originally from Belfast, Mr Godfrey had moved to Ballymena when he met his wife Elizabeth (71), to whom he had been married for 52 years.

"It's a total shock for the family," William said.

"It has been a terrible ordeal.

"My dad was on a trip with the Somme Association.

"He went over every year, it was important to him. He was a professional soldier and he did mostly home service in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

"He went over to Belgium last week and we got the phone call on Saturday morning that he had died.

"One of his friends went into his room and found him dead in the bathroom on Saturday morning. He had been with the rest of the group the night before - there is a photo on Facebook of him with three other friends. That was the last photo that was taken of him."

William said his final conversation with his father was last Tuesday, as he looked forward to the trip.

"He only goes away once a year and that's the only place he would go," he said.

"He goes over every year to lay a wreath.

"It won't really hit us until he comes home.

"He was a good man, if we ever needed him he was always there for us.

"He would have been a real family man - family was the most important thing to him.

"He was right and healthy - he was diabetic but that was it."

William said the family's efforts were now focused on getting their father back home.

"We don't know when he will be coming home yet. This is completely out of the blue," he said. "It could be this week or next week."

Mr Godfrey was a former chairman of The Services Club for veterans in Ballymena, and remained a member of the organisation.

Posting on social media, the Friends of The Somme branch with which Mr Godfrey had travelled to Belgium described him as a "true character and a good friend". In a statement on Facebook, Friends Of The Somme Association's Mid Antrim Branch in Ballymena wrote: "It is with deepest sadness that our Association has to report the death of our honorary member Andy Godfrey while on pilgrimage to France and Belgium to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the end of the First World War.

"Our love goes to Liz and the entire family circle.

"Andy you will never be forgotten.

"You were a true character and a good friend to us all."

Belfast Telegraph