Soldier killed on Christmas Eve

A SOLDIER killed in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve was named today as a 20-year-old Royal Marine from Norfolk.

A SOLDIER killed in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve was named today as a 20-year-old Royal Marine from Norfolk.

L/Cpl Benjamin Whatley, from King's Lynn, was serving with 42 Commando Royal Marines in Helmand province.

He was killed by enemy fire as he led his men into action against Taliban insurgents, near Lashkar Gar.

L/Cpl Whatley is the 136th British service person to die in Afghanistan since the start of operations in the country, in 2001. They include 11 Royal Marines.

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A statement released by his family today described L/Cpl Whatley as a “vibrant, happy person”.

“Ben was a vibrant, happy person who had an unbridled enthusiasm for life,” it said.

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“He was so proud to be a Royal Marine. His death creates an irreplaceable loss for all his family and friends.”

The MoD said L/Cpl Whatley was second in command of Lima Company, which was conducting an operation to clear enemy forces from the north of the district.

“Leading his men from the front, Lance Corporal Whatley was killed by enemy fire during a prolonged and fierce battle with insurgents,” the MoD said.

Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton said: “L/Cpl Ben Whatley has been described by his friends and colleagues as a superb Marine and an example to others. He died leading his men into battle.

“His friends and colleagues will feel his loss enormously and my thoughts and prayers are with his family above all at this very difficult time.”

Major Rich Cantrill, the officer commanding Lima Company, said: “Lance Corporal Ben Whatley was a tough, uncompromising commando. Tall with a booming baritone voice, Ben Whatley had in abundance that magic ingredient of 'presence'.”

Major Cantrill said he saw the Afghan “veteran” winning a previous fire fight against tough opposition.

“This is what Ben was doing when he was killed, fighting from the front for his friends, for his team, for his company,” he said.

“I will remember him as an ever-young commando, a fighter, a man's man, a Royal Marine to the core.”

Cpl Luke Colman, section commander of 9 Troop, Lima Company, said he could not have wanted a better second-in-command and said he would be seen “going up and down the line encouraging the other lads when things were getting hard”.

“More than all this, he was a great friend to all the lads in the section, me included. Words cannot express what a great loss this has been to all of us.”

Lt Col Charlie Stickland, commanding officer of 42 Commando Royal Marines, said: “Another 'Smiley Boy' from 42 Commando lost whilst doing the job he loved, in an environment in which he excelled and surrounded by his mates.

“His loss has rocked the entire Commando, particularly the tight and combat hardened band of warriors that are 'Lightening' Lima Company.

“L/Cpl Ben Whatley sat at the heart of a group of comrades bound together through rugged shared experiences, with strength of friendship that many cannot understand.

“He had truly earned his Lance Corporal's stripe and had so much more to give. All he served with knew him as a 'proper bootneck' and an uncompromising friend.”

L/Cpl Whatley's military career was last night posted in a tribute on the MoD website. It read:

“Benjamin Whatley, whose home town was King's Lynn, was born on 29 July 1988. He joined 42 Commando Royal Marines as a rifleman in Mike Company.

“It was during this formative stage of his career that he deployed to Afghanistan for the first time on Operation HERRICK 5.

“A hugely successful tour, it saw Ben realise his potential as an infantryman and he began to grow into a junior commander, relishing any opportunity to step into the breach and provide an example for others to follow.

“A brief respite after that tour saw Ben deploy to the Indian Himalayas on Exercise Himalayan Warrior, a test of physical endurance, determination and soldiering at high altitude in the harshest and most unforgiving environments.

“This change of scenery was short-lived as Pre-Deployment Training started in earnest for this current tour of Afghanistan, yet this time Ben had a clutch of junior marines looking to him for sage counsel, guidance and inspiration - a role that he assumed naturally.”

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