Community mourns soldier's death

A TIGHT-knit community was yesterday plunged into mourning after the death of teenage soldier Robert Hayes.

Laurence Cawley

A TIGHT-knit community was yesterday plunged into mourning after the death of teenage soldier Robert Hayes.

Private Hayes, from Burwell, near Newmarket, was a keen boxer and rugby player who had always wanted to join the Army. Yesterday news that Pte Hayes, 19, had been killed in Afghanistan, was spreading through the village.

Canon Stephen Earl, vicar at St Mary's the Blessed Virgin in Burwell, said although he did not know Pte Hayes or his family the entire village was saddened and shocked to learn of the death. He said the village was a close community and said everybody would pull together to offer what support they could to the family.

He said: “The whole community is deeply saddened, especially of the loss of someone so young.

“Obviously the family and all who knew him well and colleagues are going to be really devastated. It is terrible news for the family. Everybody at St Mary's will be keeping his parents and his family in our prayers at this time of grieving and terrible loss.”

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At the Burwell Ex-service and Social Club, members paid tribute to the 19-year-old soldier.

Hank Piper, an ex physical training instructor in the army, said he had known Pte Hayes from the day he was born.

He said: “He was actually born in a house that I owned and his parents Steve and Diane were my tenants so I've seen the lad grow up. He was a smashing boy who turned out to be a fine young man.

“This will be a shattering blow for his mum and dad. He was their only child and my heart goes out to both of them. His father is a great man and Robert was certainly turning out to be just like him.”

Mr Piper, who served in Malaya, said the job British troops were performing in Afghanistan was extraordinary and they deserved total support.

Peter Reed, steward of the Burwell Ex-service and Social Club, said it was a tragedy for the family and the village.

“He was only 19 and my condolences go out to all his family and friends,” said Mr Reed. “He was brought up here and must have lots of friends so this will have a major impact on many people in the area.

“I heard it on the radio that a Royal Anglian had been killed and didn't know at first he was from the village. It's a terrible shock but all we can do is show our support for his family at this time.”

Neil Richardson, chairman of Newmarket Rugby Club, said: “We would like to express our great sadness at the death of Rob Hayes in Afghanistan.

“Rob, who joined as a youth member, was a very popular and talented player for the club whose enthusiasm for the game of Rugby Union was only exceeded by his desire to be a soldier and serve his country.

“Whenever he was home on leave he made himself available to play for the club and was happy to play for any of the teams, often adding a dash of youth and his unique talent to help out the veterans side if they were struggling for numbers.

“The way he played rugby was a metaphor of the way he lived his life, courageous and committed to his team mates and friends. He played with a smile on his face never giving less than One Hundred percent.

“His last game for Newmarket was in December shortly before his departure for Afghanistan. He will be greatly missed around the club and the thoughts of all of us are with his family.”