Operations in Afghanistan

Captain Tom Sawyer and Corporal Danny Winter killed in Afghanistan

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Captain Tom Herbert John Sawyer Royal Artillery and Corporal Danny Winter Royal Marines were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday 14 January 2009.

Captain Tom Sawyer and Corporal Danny Winter (All rights reserved.)
Captain Tom Sawyer (left) and Corporal Danny Winter (All rights reserved.)

Both were killed in an explosion while taking part in a joint operation with a Danish Battle Group and the Afghan National Army north east of Gereshk in central Helmand. They were members of a fire support team that was engaged in an operation to clear compounds in a known Taliban stronghold. Two other members of the patrol were injured in the explosion.

Captain Tom Herbert John Sawyer, Royal Artillery

Captain Tom Sawyer was serving with 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery. He was in Helmand province deployed on operations as a Fire Support Team Commander attached to Zulu Company, 45 Commando Royal Marines.

Capt Sawyer, from Hertfordshire, was born on 20 January 1982. He was educated at Watford Grammar and Rickmansworth schools and, as a teenager, was a cadet with the Air Training Corps in Watford. A keen sportsman with a passion for outdoor pursuits, Tom decided at an early age to pursue a career in the Armed Forces. Settling on the Army, he was selected for training as an officer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and successfully passed out earning the Queen’s Commission as a Second Lieutenant in April 2002.

Captain Tom Sawyer (All rights reserved.)
Captain Tom Sawyer (All rights reserved.)

The next step in his career saw him selected by the Royal Regiment of Artillery for Young Officer training. On completion, he was posted to 32 Regiment Royal Artillery (subsequently 39 Regiment) as a Troop Commander. After this tour, Tom was posted to the Army Training Regiment at Pirbright where his flair for instruction and ability to communicate with all ranks were assets that helped him to excel. His final posting, to 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, came in September 2006, just in time for deployment to Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 5.

On Operation Herrick 5, Capt Sawyer was given command of an Afghan National Army outstation with a remit to oversee and facilitate Afghan Army mentoring and training. This responsibility again played to his strengths and he received a Brigade Commander’s Commendation for his performance under incredibly testing circumstances. On returning to the UK, he immediately passed the All Arms Commando course and in so doing earned the right to wear the Green Beret of Commando forces. Assigned to 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery based in RM Condor, Arbroath, Capt Sawyer was appointed Battery Training Officer and charged with preparing his unit for its return to Afghanistan in October 2008.

As the training officer, Capt Sawyer organised and delivered a first class pre-deployment training package that ably prepared 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery for operations; the high standards achieved by the men of the battery since bear testament to his endeavours.

Robust, fit and ever determined, Capt Sawyer was a keen sportsman who recently organised and led the Regimental Telemark Ski Team to compete at Army level in Austria. Looking to the future and the welfare of the men under his command, he had also planned to take his soldiers adventure training in Cyprus on completion of Op Herrick 9.

Socially, Capt Sawyer was a dynamo of good humour and fun; his company being thoroughly enjoyed by officers and soldiers alike. His intelligent wit and pleasant persona made him approachable by all ranks and one of life’s great characters. His death is a huge loss to the men of his Battery, his Regiment, 3 Commando Brigade and the Royal Regiment of Artillery.

Capt Sawyer is survived by his wife Katy, whom he married in March 2008, his parents Martyn and Susan and sister Wendy.

Tom’s family paid the following tribute:

Tom was the best husband, son and brother we could ever have asked for. He deeply loved his family and friends and his infectious personality touched all those who knew him. Dedicated to the army and his lads; he was loyal, loud and loving. He will leave a big hole in all of our lives but will always be remembered as our hero.

Lieutenant Colonel Neil Wilson Royal Artillery, Commanding Officer, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, said:

Captain Tom Sawyer died a hero, doing a job he loved and whilst taking the fight to the enemy in the only way he knew. He was a first-class officer with a natural flair for command and was hugely respected by all his fellow officers and by the soldiers he commanded. He excelled as an instructor and mentor, and the time he took to impart his knowledge and uncompromising professional standards to his battery will undoubtedly be remembered as one of his greatest gifts.

On operations, this selfless legacy, though immeasurable, has undoubtedly helped save the lives of both Afghans and British servicemen alike. He was a very proud and capable Commando Gunner with an exceedingly bright future. He had aspirations to achieve so much more in the military and, with the determination and strength of character he possessed, would undoubtedly have achieved his goals.

Utterly courteous in all that he did, I will forever remember Tom as a gregarious, fun-loving, universally popular character with a ready smile and a joke. The great loss I feel as his Commanding Officer is incomparable to that which I know his wife and family will be feeling as a result of his death. My thoughts and prayers are with them all at this tragic time.

Major Jackson Docherty Royal Artillery, Battery Commander, 7(Sphinx) Commando Battery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, said:

Tom Sawyer was the senior captain in my battery and also a great friend. He was extremely ambitious and had plans to pursue a career in the Special Forces for which he was well-suited and in which he would undoubtedly have succeeded. Receiving the Brigade Commander’s Commendation for his performance during his last tour of Afghanistan, he was keen to replicate this performance which he did with courage, honour, and humility, always putting his team’s interests before his own.

He was passionate about his job and the battery could ask for no more from him. However, an Adjutant’s nightmare, Tom was notorious throughout 45 Commando Group for his shenanigans and his desire to look cool whilst wearing the latest military fashion - if it was different, Tom had it. He also had a knack of getting away with it!

“He will always be remembered within commando forces and his passing is felt by us all. He has paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of others. His wife Katy has lost a wonderful husband and we, in the battery, have lost a great officer. Our thoughts and prayers are with his newly wed wife Katy and his parents at this time.”

Captain Sam Hewitt Royal Artillery, Fire Support Team Commander, 26 Regiment Royal Artillery (attached to 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery), said:

Tom was a true friend, one, who no matter the circumstances, would help anyone, often putting himself out so others were not disadvantaged. I am a much better person for having known him. Tom had an enthusiasm for life paired with an overwhelming kindness which always seemed to brighten up a room. He worked hard and possessed a natural ability to lead, gaining respect from the soldiers under his command throughout the Gunners.

Tom always worked hard for his men and commanded with style and panache. He lived for his family and friends and died doing the job he loved. He was an officer in every sense of the word with qualities such as honour, selflessness and courage in abundance. The world will be a sadder place without Tom and I will miss him greatly.

My deepest condolences are with Tom’s wife Katy and his family. Mate, it was a pleasure to have known and served alongside you. You paid the ultimate sacrifice and you will not be forgotten.

Captain Rob Cooper Royal Artillery, Fire Support Team Commander, 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, said:

Tom was an outstanding officer, an outstanding Fire Supporting Team Commander and an outstanding husband to Katy. Tom was a true inspiration to me as a friend and those that he served. His devotion to his wife, Katy, was unrivalled and my heart goes out to her and Tom’s entire family who he never stopped talking about. You will be sorely missed mate.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Morris Royal Marines, Commanding Officer 45 Commando Group, said:

The tragic loss of Captain Tom Sawyer has been deeply felt throughout the whole of 45 Commando Group. A stalwart member of 7 Battery and 29 Commando RA, he has served with 45 Commando Group throughout two operational tours to Afghanistan and has lived and worked with us at home in Arbroath and abroad for the last two-and-a-half years - he is truly considered to be one of our own.

“Over the last year in which I have known Tom, we have had the opportunity to talk often. On every occasion I have been struck by his zest for life, the enthusiasm and commitment that he showed for his profession and his humility and preparedness to listen to advice.

“He had every quality that could be expected from a Commando Gunner Officer and I have no doubt that he had a very bright future ahead of him. All ranks of 45 Commando Group and, in particular, Zulu Company, join me in sending my very deepest condolences to his wife, Katy, and his close family and friends.”

Corporal Danny Winter, Royal Marines

Corporal Danny Winter was serving in Helmand province with the Mortar Troop of Zulu Company, 45 Commando Royal Marines. A specialist Mortar Fire Controller, his role within the company as the commander’s mortar expert required him to provide intimate mortar support to the front line of the fighting troops. It was whilst operating in this role, ensuring the ranks of Zulu Company were supported, that he was killed.

Corporal Danny Winter (All rights reserved.)
Corporal Danny Winter (All rights reserved.)

Corporal Danny Winter, known as Dan, was born near Manchester on 20 June 1980, and lived in Stockport. He joined the Royal Marines in October 1996 and specialised in the mortars heavy weapons branch very early on in his career. Serving with both 40 Commando and 45 Commando he had served operationally in Northern Ireland and in Iraq on Operation Telic in 2003 where he was involved in the initial aviation assault of southern Iraq.

After returning from Operation Herrick in Afghanistan in 2007 he completed command training and his enthusiasm to deploy to Helmand for a second time was testament to his determined attitude. Corporal Winter was an extremely professional and dedicated member of the Unit Mortar Troop and he epitomised its unique ethos. He had a true passion for his specialisation and revelled in the small community of which he became a vital part.

Highly capable and determined, Cpl Winter was also exceptionally laid back and humble. He undertook everything with absolute gusto, whether it was at work, supporting his beloved Manchester United FC, or spending time with his family and partner Amanda, with whom he shared his life. His enthusiasm was infectious as was his smile, which always had a laugh not far behind it. His combination of attributes made him an irreplaceable character to be around. Unselfish and unswervingly loyal to all that knew him, he encompassed all of the qualities of a Royal Marine.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Morris Royal Marines, Commanding Officer, 45 Commando Group, said:

Corporal Danny Winter was an exceptional Royal Marine, Mortarman and Non-Commissioned Officer with a big future ahead of him. Clear thinking and forthright yet loyal, warm-hearted and very approachable, he was hugely influential both within the Mortar Troop but also within Zulu Company where for the last few months he had provided them with staunch fire support and planning advice throughout the many challenges that they have faced in Afghanistan.

“Brave, committed, extremely determined and operationally experienced he had a gift for giving honest advice and opinion without raising hackles and he was tremendously well respected by all ranks as a result. He was killed right at the forefront of an operation whilst providing the measured and balanced advice to his commander that had become his trademark. His loss has been deeply felt across the whole of 45 Commando and his ultimate sacrifice will always be remembered. The whole Commando joins me in sending my deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Cheeseman, the Company Sergeant Major of Zulu Company, said:

Danny has been Zulu Company’s Mortar Fire Controller [MFC] Alpha for over a year and has worked with the company throughout all pre-deployment training, deploying on Operation Herrick 9 as the Zulu Company MFC Alpha. Danny was always 100 per cent focused on his job and his professional opinion was always welcome and accepted within the Zulu Company Headquarters.

Danny was a key personality within Zulu Company who all the lads looked up to. He always had time for the lads’ questions on Mortar Fire and how best it supported them. He was out on the ground supporting most of the patrols over the last three months and would never pass up any opportunity to go out, even on the smallest of tasks.

“He discharged his responsibilities with pride and the utmost professionalism. Danny will be sorely missed within Zulu Company. Our thoughts are with his family and friends and we just want to say that Danny was a true ‘Zulu Warrior’ who was very proud to serve with Zulu Company, 45 Commando and the Royal Marines. A true bootneck has been lost.”

Captain Olly Denning Royal Marines, Officer Commanding Mortar Troop, said:

Corporal Danny Winter was the epitome of 45 Commando Mortar Troop. He absolutely loved being a part of the Troop and was a part of its very character. He was extremely professional, fit and motivated. With a ready smile he worked hard without ever showing pressure, with a confidence and assuredness that steadied those around him. It was the ‘work hard, play hard’ rule he took most seriously and could swing from work to full run ashore mode at the blink of an eye. A true great, I will always consider myself lucky to have known Danny Winter.

Colour Sergeant Ross Gunning Royal Marines, Mortar Troop Second-in-Command, said:

I considered Dan a true bootneck from the start; a bloke who worked hard and played even harder. During this time I could see his passion for the job and his total devotion to his mates. Danny would always be the centre of attention on a night out, whether spinning ‘dits’ [stories] about his experiences on previous operations and exercises or just life in general, which he appeared to know a lot about, or so we thought.

“He enjoyed karaoke and was often seen with a cigarette and pint in one hand, whilst loosely holding the microphone with the other, and belting out Neil Diamond classics at the top of his voice, often involving everyone else around him to great effect.

“Danny progressed in his career and became an outstanding Mortar Fire Controller. This was a job that he put his heart and soul into - like his singing - and excelled at. He was one of the best. From all the Mortar lads our thoughts go out to your family during these difficult times. You will never be forgotten.”

Sergeant G T C Jones Royal Marines, 45 Commando Mortar Troop Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, said:

Corporal Danny Winter was one of the most professional mortar men ever to pick up a set of binoculars and a compass. He was a man’s man, who always had time for you and especially his lovely girlfriend Amanda. If things weren’t going your way he would be there raising your spirits with a cheeky grin, witty comment and a laugh that was infectious and unique to him.

He was always the first one to call you out for a drink down the pub, and he was always the first to need taking home. He was the heart and soul of whatever the lads were doing at any time, and he genuinely believed that he was ‘the best looking and hardest man in Arbroath’!

“Danny had a strong character, was calm under pressure and had the heart of a lion which enabled him to offer advice to friends and family and company commanders. He always led by example and was looked up to by the younger Marines. He was especially well respected in the world of Royal Marines mortars, and he was immensely popular in Arbroath.

Looking back on his time in 45 Cdo Mortars, it is impossible not to smile at some of the comical exploits he used to get up to. On numerous nights out he would always crack his trade mark dance ‘the Van Damme’ which he executed with all the grace of Woody, from Toy Story. He was a fanatical Man United fan who never missed a game, and would always be singing Man United songs whether they won or not, even if it did wind everyone up.

Danny Winter will be deeply missed by his family, and friends. He was a man who would do anything for you. He is a tragic loss to those who knew him closest and he now leaves a huge hole in Mortar Troop. Danny was a legend and an inspiration to all of us in Mortars and I know he would want us all to be strong and crack on. It was an honour to serve beside him and it was a privilege to have worked in the presence of this massive character. Danny Winter, a true Mortar man.

Corporal Mark Jolly Royal Marines, Mortar Troop, Alpha Mortar Fire Controller, said:

Danny was a good friend, whether teaching other members of the troop how it should be done professionally, or on a run ashore. On most occasions we aspired to be like him whether it be as an MFC, run ashore or as a one man tribute band to Neil Diamond. Danny’s wild ways were finally diminished by the presence of a new passion in his life - Amanda, whom he fell for, head over heels. Amanda appeared to take control of Danny’s personal remote control to great effect and they were good for each other. Danny you will be truly missed by all that knew you, and will always remain in our thoughts€¦ and future spoofs!

Corporal Lee Birkin, 10 Troop Z Company, said:

Danny Winter was an all round good bloke who did all he could to help 10 Troop Zulu understand Mortar support, and how best to use them. He explained on many occasions in his down time how the lads could call for Mortar support if he could not have eyes on their target. He was liked by us all and had time for all of us with some great words of wisdom. Above all he was well respected and he will be missed dearly by the lads.

Marine Scott Longden and Members of 4 Section Mortar Troop said:

Danny Winter was a bootneck through and through who worked hard and played even harder. This will hit our troop hard because to us he was the face of 45 Mortars and our motto, ‘MMM’, couldn’t be more befitting to any other man. My last memory of Danny is walking into the Ship knowing that he would be on his favourite perch by the juke box, playing ‘Caravan of Love’ for me. Danny will be sorely missed by the men of mortars but certainly not forgotten.

A friend, Marine Sam Laid, said:

All I can say is that words cannot describe the loss of Danny Winter, ‘the best looking man in Arbroath’, as he would introduce himself. I first met Danny when I joined 45 Commando in 2003. Danny and a couple of other corporals, who know who they are, took me under their wing. I started drinking with them every weekend and leave period in Arbroath til this very day.

He was his own person and a totally unique character. A true bootneck. I could spin lots of dits about Danny ranging from our time fishing together, to waking up in his flat watching him rush about getting ready for work, with red body paint all over from the night before, when he had been ‘celebrating’ Hallowe’en.

He never did things by half and I know he will be sadly missed by his closest friends, his family, Arbroath and of course his girlfriend Amanda to whom my thoughts go out at this time. I’m absolutely gutted, love you brother, God rest your soul and may your memories live on.

Lance Corporal Simpson, Zulu Company, said:

Danny was a nice genuine man and a true gent. He was a key man for Zulu Company, who was respected by all of us for his high standards of professionalism and support he gave at all times. He always had time for the lads and their questions, and for this we had the utmost regard and respect for him. We are gutted he has gone and he will be missed greatly.

Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton MP said:

It was with great sadness that I learnt of the deaths of Captain Tom Sawyer and Corporal Danny Winter, one a proven mentor and leader and the other an NCO of great professionalism and experience. It is clear from the comments of their colleagues and commanders that they were both brave and committed servicemen, with proud records and bright futures in the military.

Both died doing jobs they loved and for a cause vitally important to their country. We owe them a debt, and at this sad time our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones and colleagues.