Sapper Connor Ray given full military honours at funeral in Newport

Sapper Connor Ray, 21, was serving with a bomb disposal unit clearing a compound in central Helmand when he was caught in a blast

A funeral of a soldier who died after an explosion in Afghanistan has been held with full military honours.

Sapper Connor Ray, serving with 33 Engineer Regiment, was wounded while hunting for explosives in April on the eve of his 21st birthday.

Sapper Ray, who lived in Newport and grew up in Bishopstoke, Hampshire, died of his wounds at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

Over 500 people attended his funeral at St Woolas Cathedral in Newport.

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.

Start Quote

He wasn't just my brother, he was my best friend”

End Quote Vinnie Ray Sapper Ray's brother

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

Born in Southampton, Sapper Ray spent his early years in Bishopstoke, near to where his mother Tina was raised.

His family, which included two sisters and a brother, later moved to start a new life in Newport.

Sapper Ray's childhood friend Mike Pagenton, who also spoke at the service, said his music loving friend 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," he said.

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

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 soldiers 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 was searching a compound previously used by insurgents in the Nad Ali district of central Helmand when he was seriously injured by an improvised bomb on 11 April, on the eve of his 21st birthday.

He was taken to Camp Bastion Role 3 Hospital and later transferred to Birmingham, where he died on 18 April.

'Always in good spirits'

He joined the Corps of Royal Engineers in June 2009 and took up his role as an advanced searcher in 33 Engineer Regiment bomb disposal unit, based at Wimbish in Essex, in 2010.

The Ministry of Defence said during his time in Afghanistan, Sapper Ray and his team successfully undertook a number of high risk searches which "undoubtedly saved numerous British and Afghan lives".

Sapper Ray's family said ahead of his funeral that he was a "kind-hearted, good-natured and amusing guy with a curious taste for '80s power ballads".

They said: "He described himself as a warrior even though he was scared of spiders.

"Always in good spirits and often mischievous, he had a cheeky grin and infectious giggle.

"Connor regarded his best friends as brothers and he loved to play practical jokes on them, filming them on his phone for everyone else's enjoyment."

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