Last trip home for soldier killed in Afghan blast

The friend of a Yorkshire paratrooper who gave his life trying to save a comrade paid tribute 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 body of the 24-year-old, from Bradford, was flown into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, yesterday where a private service was held for his family before the cortege passed through nearby Wootton Bassett en route to Oxford.

Hundreds of people joined his family and friends in lining the town's High Street in tribute.

Paratroopers from the training regiment in Harrogate also paid 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 caught in the blast from an improvised explosive device (IED). He had been rushing to help the second of two of his friends injured by separate devices that day.

Pte Stephen Mann of 2 Para, the same platoon as Pte Bell, was on leave when Pte Bell was killed.

Yesterday the 29-year-old travelled from Reading to say goodbye to his friend, who he said carried out "a very human" act.

Pte Mann said: "Professionally he was an outstanding soldier, very switched on and very dedicated.

"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."

Pte Mann, who is due to travel back to Afghanistan in a couple of weeks, said he spent a sleepless night not knowing the exact details of what had happened.

"I was in bits. I was in pieces for hours," he said. "I felt like I should have been there. I wanted to be there. It's something that should have been a shared experience - something that should happen to all the guys in the platoon.

"I wasn't there to play my part in it, there could have been something I could have done to help, but because I wasn't there I couldn't and felt terrible about it.

"It was extremely professional and just a very human thing to do. He laid down his life to help somebody else, which is just the ultimate sacrifice.

"It's a massive loss. He was a great human being."

Pte Bell leaves behind his parents Simon and Elaine and his brothers Oliver and Philip.

In a statement released after his death, the family said: "Martin was proud to be in the Parachute Regiment and serving his country.

"He has made lots of friends easily at each point of his life's journey. He had a wicked and infectious sense of humour that would have served him well in difficult times. He made us all very proud and he will leave behind a hole in all of our hearts that will never be replaced."

The commanding officer of 2 Para, Lt Col Andrew Harrison, said Pte Bell had died "going to the assistance of a critically injured friend in the most dangerous combat circumstances imaginable".

Other colleagues said he was a key member of his platoon who would often put himself in harm's way for the sake of his friends.

Of the 350 British military fatalities since operations began in 2001, 309 have died as a result of hostile action.

A further 41 are known to have died either as a result of illness, non-combat injuries or accidents, or have not yet officially been assigned a cause of death pending the outcome of an investigation.

Police remember popular officer

Private Bell joined the Army in 2009 after working for West Yorkshire Police.

The former Salt Grammar School pupil had worked as a police community support officer in Haworth, Oakworth and Keighley.

Following his death, Chief Insp Mark Allsop, who had been Pte Bell's inspector, said he was a well respected and popular team member who had a "cheeky grin" and was always willing to help others.

Chief Insp Allsop said: "He was particularly brave, yet compassionate, and it was no surprise when he informed me of his desire to join the Army and his elation when he was accepted. It is tragic that a young man has lost his life but not surprising that Martin gave his life selflessly trying to help a colleague."