The friend of a paratrooper who gave his life trying to save another has paid tribute to him amid emotional scenes as his body was repatriated to the UK.
Private Martin Bell, of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, died after he disobeyed a direct order so he could give aid to a wounded friend on January 25.
He was the 350th British serviceman to die since operations in Afghanistan began in 2001.
The 24-year-old, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, was flown into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, where a private service was held for his family before the cortege passed through nearby Wootton Bassett.
Hundreds of people joined his family and friends in lining the town’s High Street in tribute. Pte Bell’s mother, Elaine, was supported by his two brothers as she wept for her son. She laid a red rose on top of the hearse and waved goodbye as it slowly drove away.
Paratroopers from the training regiment in Harrogate also came to pay their respects for a man they said made the “ultimate sacrifice”.
Pte Bell was south of Nahr-e-Saraj in Helmand province when he was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). He had been rushing to help the second of two of his friends injured by separate devices that day.
Private Stephen Mann of 2 Para – the same platoon as Pte Bell – was on leave when Pte Bell was killed. On Thursday, the 29-year-old travelled from Reading to say goodbye to his friend, who he said carried out “a very human” act.
“Professionally he was an outstanding soldier, very switched on and very dedicated,” said Pte Mann. “He was disobeying an order not to go to a casualty and provide aid, but he did so anyway and in doing so he paid with his life – but that was Martin all over – he would never just sit there and watch one of his friends suffer if he thought he could do something about it.
“I don’t think there are many people that could see their friend in pieces and just obey an order to stay put when they think they could get to their friend and help them. Some more than others, and Martin was certainly the sort of bloke that would get up and try to go and help if he thought he could do anything for his friend.”