Hampshire Soldier's Funeral

The brother of a soldier fatally injured by an improvised bomb in Afghanistan broke down in tears today (Friday May 11th) as hundreds paid their last respects.

Sapper Connor Ray, 20, of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) was given full military honours at his funeral at St Woolos Cathedral in Newport, south Wales.

He was injured during a search and clearance operation in the Nad-e Ali district of central Helmand near Checkpoint Kahmanan on April 11.

Sapper Ray was part of a mission to clear a compound previously used by insurgents, allowing local people to safely return to the area, when he was seriously injured in an IED blast.

He was taken to Camp Bastion Role 3 Hospital and later transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, where he died on April 18, a day before his 21st birthday.

More than 500 people attended his funeral service at St Woolos this afternoon.

Among those paying tribute was Sapper Ray's brother Vinnie.

Mr Ray, whose mother died of cancer in 2008, said: ''I always wanted to do whatever Connor was doing.

''He wasn't just my brother - he was my best friend.

''I wish it was me in that coffin and not him.

''I know you're up there with mum - tell her I love her.''

Born in Southampton, Sapper Ray spent his early years in Bishopstoke - close to where his mum Tina was raised.

His family, which included two sisters and a brother, later moved to start a new life in Newport, south Wales, after his mother had met Steve in 2002.

Sapper Ray's childhood friend Mike Pagenton, who also spoke at the service, said his music loving pal had settled in well and was popular among classmates at St Julian's Comprehensive School.

''He was one of the type of person that would always would leave you with a smile on your face.

''There have been so many experiences that we have shared and that I will never forget.''

Among his favourite memories included power-ballad fan Sapper Ray being devastated when 1980s themed nightclub Reflex closed down, as well as his countless practical jokes.

He added: ''You were a true friend, a hero and a warrior.''

Sapper Ray began joined the army in 2008 - however, just as his new career began, his mother was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.

She died before getting to witness her son take part in his passing-out parade.

A family spokesman added: ''She would have been very proud of him, knowing what a true gent and hero he turned out to be, as is the rest of the family.''

His commanding officer Simon Bell said Sapper Ray was irreplaceable member of his regiment - saying he had helped saved countless civilian lives in Afghanistan by locating numerous clandestine roadside bombs.

''This regiment has lost an inspiring young soldier, who was certainly going places,'' he added.

Mourners sang the hymn Abide With Me, before Sapper Ray's Union flag-draped coffin was led out of the cathedral by Padre Robin Richardson, while six officers fired a three-shot military gun salute.

Following his funeral service, a private committal service for family and close friends took place at Gwent Crematorium.

Sapper Ray leaves behind his brother Vinnie, sisters Hollie and Bonnie, stepfather Steve, grandparents Leo and Linda, and his girlfriend Hollie.

His family say they plan to honour his memory through the online Connor Ray appeal fund - with proceeds going to Armed Forces Charity Help For Heroes.

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