Dead Anglian soldier was Suffolk rugby player

A ROYAL Anglian Regiment soldier killed by an explosion in Afghanistan on Sunday while on a foot patrol in Helmand Province has been named.

Jonathan Schofield

A ROYAL Anglian Regiment soldier killed by an explosion in Afghanistan on Sunday while on a foot patrol in Helmand Province has today been named.

Newmarket rugby player Private Robert Hayes, 19, from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, is the first death to be confirmed this year making him the 12th casualty from the regiment and the 246th British soldier to die in what is now the ninth year of the conflict.

An MOD spokesman confirmed Private Hayes, from Burwell, on the Suffolk/Cambridgeshire border, died as a result of an explosion while carrying out a foot patrol in the Nad-e Ali area.

In a statement the family of Private Hayes said: “Trying to express the true measure of our sorrow - and our sense of loss - at this time, is impossible.

“We are still coming to terms with this devastating news. However, we are strengthened by the thought that he was with his comrades, doing the job he so dearly loved, when his life was taken.

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“From childhood, Robbie had one ambition, to be a soldier. He fulfilled his dream, last February, passing out from training, at Catterick, where he was described as a man of great determination and a credit to his platoon.

“Sport, particularly rugby and boxing, became his passion. He was a very popular young player for Newmarket Rugby Club and won his Battalion's boxing championships, at welterweight, in his first attempt.

“Robbie loved all aspects of life, in his home. Among his peers he enjoyed great popularity but found particular happiness with his girlfriend, Gemma.

“After training for Afghanistan he deployed to Helmand province last October. There his potential for promotion became noticeable. “Robbie sincerely believed his fellow 'Vikings' were his 'other', military, family. Although he had an enthusiastic and energetic personality, our son could just as easily behave with the manners of a gentle, reflective, caring person.

“As a grieving family, we would ask that our privacy be respected. We also ask that our brave son's memory be duly honoured."

Lieutenant Colonel James Woodham MC, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, said:

“I was shocked and saddened to the core to learn of the death of Private Robert Hayes killed today in the Nad-e'Ali district.

“He died whilst on patrol in an area that has seen some of the most intense fighting with the insurgents that seek to undermine the Afghan Government.

“In the past two months, he and his platoon have given their all to deliver a secure environment for the people of Nad-e'Ali in what are some of the most demanding of conditions.

“Robert's death leaves a huge hole in The Vikings' ranks; he will be remembered as a trusted member of the team, a young man whose energy for life was contagious, for his bravery and sense of humour.

“Robert was young man who made a real difference in his short time with the Battalion - he has been taken from us and we are all the poorer for his passing.

“I know that all members of The Vikings will join me in offering our thoughts and prayers to Robert's family and friends. He will be remembered forever more.”

Lieutenant Colonel David Wakefield, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, added: “His dauntless courage and his sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

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 veteran's 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.”

The tragic news comes less than a month after the death of Lance Corporal Adam Drane from Stanningfield, near Bury St Edmunds, who became the 100th British soldier to die in 2009 when he was killed by small arms fire in the same region on December 7.

The Royal Anglians - known as the Vikings - were the first to suffer a casualty in Afghanistan when Private Darren George, 23, died in April, 2002.

Following news of the latest death Alison Burgess, of the Viking Family Support Group, said: “This is devastating news and our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this terrible time and also with the Vikings who are still fighting in Afghanistan.

“We will do everything we can to support the family but we also know how tough it is on his comrades who are left to carry on their job.”

Mrs Burgess, who currently has two sons aged 21 and 22 serving with the Vikings in Afghanistan, said it was tragic to hear of yet another death in the regiment but the support group would do everything it could to be there for the family.

The group was co-founded by Mrs Burgess in 2007 after nine of the regiment were killed in a harrowing four-month spell.

This included a “friendly fire” incident in Helmand Province on August 23 of that year when three members of the regiment were killed.

The death toll for British forces soared last year when troops launched missions to provide security in Helmand Province before the presidential and provincial elections in August.

It became the bloodiest year for UK forces since the Falklands War in 1982 - claiming a total of 108 lives.

Yesterday the US military confirmed that four American soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan in a separate explosion on the same day.

For more information on the Viking Support Family Support Group go to www.vikingfsg.co.uk.

The full list of Viking casualties is:

- Pte Darren George, aged 23, died on April 9, 2002.

- Pte Chris Gray, 19, April 13, 2007.

- Lance Cpl George Davey, 23, May 20, 2007.

- Cpl Darren Bonner, 31, May 28, 2007.

- Lance Cpl Alex Hawkins, 22, July 25, 2007.

- Pte Tony Rawson, 27, August 10, 2007.

- Captain David Hicks, 26, August 11, 2007.

- Pte Aaron McLure, 19, August 23, 2007.

- Pte Robert Foster, 19, August 23, 2007.

- Pte John Thrumble, 21, August 23, 2007.

- Lance Cpl Adam Drane, 23, December 7, 2009.

- Pte Robert Hayes, January 3, 2010.

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