| 11°C Belfast

Harry honours sacrifice of soldier who died helping safeguard wildlife

Mathew Talbot was killed after being charged by an elephant while on an anti-poaching patrol.

Close

The Duke of Sussex pays tribute to Guardsman Mathew Talbot (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Duke of Sussex pays tribute to Guardsman Mathew Talbot (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Duke of Sussex pays tribute to Guardsman Mathew Talbot (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Duke of Sussex has honoured the sacrifice of a British soldier who died helping to safeguard endangered wildlife in Malawi.

Harry laid a wreath at a simple memorial to Guardsman Mathew Talbot in Milawi’s Liwonde National Park, where the serviceman was killed after being charged by an elephant while on an anti-poaching patrol with local rangers in May.

Guardsman Talbot, 22, of the Coldstream Guards, was on his first deployment and was passionate about his work training Malawians to protect animals like elephants and rhinos.

Close

Mathew Talbot was killed by an elephant while on counter poaching operations (Ministry of Defence/PA)

Mathew Talbot was killed by an elephant while on counter poaching operations (Ministry of Defence/PA)

Press Association Images

Mathew Talbot was killed by an elephant while on counter poaching operations (Ministry of Defence/PA)

Harry has written to his family on two occasions and took a plaque they commissioned for the memorial with him when he travelled to Africa.

The duke’s handwritten message attached to the wreath read: “In grateful memory of Guardsman Talbot who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country and conservation. Rest in Peace.”

Troops from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles, the latest contingent of British troops to take part in anti-poaching operations in Malawi, were formed up near the memorial as a mark of respect.

Brigadier Tom Bateman, in charge of all counter-poaching deployment, gave a brief eulogy to the guardsman he knew, and before laying a wreath said: “Mathew Talbot was a young soldier in the early stages of his career as a Coldstream guardsman.

“Fired with enthusiasm for conservation and specifically counter-poaching, his professionalism, personal courage, was a hallmark of who he was.

“He wanted nothing more than to deploy with his battalion, who are scheduled to go on operations in Iraq next year.

“His selflessness in the face of adversity and his unique humour are typical of the characteristics of a British Army soldier – and we’re all immensely proud of him.

“It’s a sad day when we must gather to commemorate such a young brave life.”

After the ceremony Brigadier Bateman said about the Guardsman from Great Barr, Birmingham: “He was a very funny young man, with a cracking sense of humour and a wonderful person, he stood out from the crowd.”

The senior officer attended the presentation of the Elizabeth Cross to the soldier’s parents.

It is granted to the next of kin of Armed Forces personnel killed on operations or as a result of terrorism as a mark of national recognition for their loss.

Guardsman Talbot’s parents did not attend the brief ceremony but a video recording was made of the event which will be sent to them.

Close

Harry lays a wreath (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Harry lays a wreath (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Harry lays a wreath (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Their plaque featured an image of their son smiling as he takes a selfie with what appears to be some Malawian colleagues.

A poignant message from the family said “Precious son, brother, grandson and friend to all”.

It went on to say: “We think of you every day, sometimes with a tear but always with a smile, we are all so very proud of your achievements, you will be remembered for the honourable work you were doing here in Malawi.”

The heartfelt words added “you were fulfilling your childhood dreams” in helping to protect God’s creatures “whilst serving your country”.

His mother and father Steve and Michelle Talbot issued a statement praising the support they have had from Harry and his brother the Duke of Cambridge, who also wrote to them to pass on his condolences.

They said: “Mathew was passionate about helping endangered animals and would be so happy to know that Prince Harry is in Africa helping to raise awareness of efforts to do this.”

The Talbots also said: “As a family we were deeply moved when Prince William wrote to us after Mathew’s death expressing his deepest sympathy.

“We were equally touched by Prince Harry’s wish to pay tribute to Mathew during his and the Duchess of Sussex’s tour of Africa.

“As soon as we heard about Prince Harry’s planned tribute, we had a special plaque made to commemorate Mathew’s life.”

The soldier’s parents said they were extremely honoured and pleased the duke had taken the plaque to Africa.

Guardsman Talbot was taking part in the third deployment of Operation Corded – the British Army’s counter-poaching initiative in Malawi – when he was killed in Liwonde National Park, which is managed by the conservation organisation African Parks, which the duke supports as president.

After paying his respects at a memorial cairn erected by the side of a road, the duke travelled a short distance to see Gurkha troops taking part in an demonstration of tracking and surveillance skills.

Harry watched as mock poachers arrived back at their camp with tusks after killing an elephant, and then made off.

A patrol of soldiers searched the area for clues before heading into the bush to follow their trail, and caught the men with the help of a helicopter that swooped down sending out clouds of dust.

Harry ended his visit to Malawi by dedicating Liwonde National Park and the adjoining Mangochi Forest to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy – a network of forest conservation initiatives involving Commonwealth countries.

In a brief speech he said: “African Parks, Malawi’s rangers and Britain’s military are sharing respective field skills to improve expertise tracking, information analysis, bushcraft and patrol skills.

“This is one of the many examples of how our countries and key stakeholders can work together in partnership with a shared value and purpose.

“Anyone who puts themselves in harm’s way while serving their country should be hugely appreciated.”

PA