Colchester: Mourners gather for funeral of soldier described as ‘the epitome of courage’.

A PARATROOPER who died while disobeying a direct order so he could help a wounded friend was described at his funeral today as “the epitome of courage and the finest example of what makes this country great”.

Private Martin Bell, 24, of Colchester-based Second Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, was the 350th UK military fatality in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001.

Pte Bell was fatally wounded by the blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) to the south of Nahr-e-Saraj in Helmand province on January 25.

He was struck as he moved to help a comrade injured by a separate device.

Today, hundreds of mourners packed Bradford Cathedral for a funeral service with full military honours.

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The mourners were led by his parents Elaine and Simon, along with his brothers Oliver and Philip.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Harrison, the commanding officer of 2 Para, told the congregation the action which led to Pte Bell losing his life was “one of the bravest acts I’ve witnessed in 23 years of soldiering”.

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He said the paratrooper was part of a patrol sent out to recover kit left behind two hours after a soldier lost his legs when he triggered an IED.

The officer said Pte Bell was the “lead man”, as he had been for the previous three months.

He said the patrol recovered the injured man’s rifle but were still looking for his mine detector when another IED went off, seriously injuring a second soldier, who lost his legs.

Lt Col Harrison said Pte Bell and his commander were “blown off their feet and landed a number of metres away”.

He said the commander ordered the whole team not to move and Pte Bell “visibly acknowledged” that order.

But “as soon as that commander’s back was turned”, the paratrooper “began to cross what was probably the most dangerous piece of terrain in the world at the moment”.

Pte Bell reached his “horrifically wounded friend” and applied a tourniquet to stem the blood for the six minutes until the rescue team arrived.

The officer said all the surgeons involved in the treatment of the soldier were “of the unanimous opinion that Martin’s first aid saved that soldier’s life”.

Lt Col Harrison went on: “As the rescue team approached, the third IED exploded, initiated by Martin as he dragged his colleague to safety out of the ditch.”

He said that, in the days before the incident, Pte Bell had bravely removed an IED from a local school.

“He was the epitome of courage and the finest example of what makes this country great,” he said.

“His reputation will resonate long after we have gone.”

Pte Bell’s father, Simon, 52, also paid tribute to his son during the hour-long service.

He said: “Martin was my son, my brother, my hero, my best friend and, along with his brothers, my everything.”

Mr Bell said his son “never moaned” and appealed for everyone to mark the 25th of each month as a “No Moan Zone”.

He asked the congregation to “think of Martin and his airborne brothers that day and just think ‘how lucky am I’.”

Pte Bell’s mother, Elaine, 53, told the service: “We’ve learned that he truly was courageous.”

She thanked the Paras for their support and said: “We now know why Martin was so proud to be part of such am elite force.”

Pte Bell, who was from Bradford, West Yorkshire, left for his first deployment in Afghanistan in October last year and was due back on Valentine’s Day.

He was a Police Community Support Officer in Keighley, West Yorkshire, before he joined the Paras.

His mother said he signed up because he was looking for a challenge - a decision which made his ex-Para grandfather, George, very proud.

Later, at a wake held at Bradford’s Midland Hotel, the family released 357 balloons to mark the servicemen who have died in Afghanistan.

The balloons were red, white and blue apart from one large one which was the Paras’ maroon colour, to represent Pte Bell.

The guests cheered as the balloons soared over the city.

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