Corporal Cornish died at approximately 0300hrs on Tuesday morning as a result of wounds sustained in a mortar attack on a Multi National Force base in Basra City. Corporal Cornish sustained serious injuries from the explosion and was evacuated by helicopter to the Field Hospital at Shaibah Logistics Base where sadly he subsequently died from his injuries.
Corporal Matthew Cornish was born on 20 July 1977 and grew up in Yorkshire. He enlisted into the Army in Leeds and started his career in Cyprus. An impressive succession of postings followed, including operational deployments to Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, and to Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
He was serving in Iraq with The Light Infantry, normally based in Paderborn, Germany, and was currently three months into a six-and-a-half month tour as part of 20th Armoured Brigade.
Corporal Cornish, or ‘Pastie’, as he was destined to be nick-named, was the sort of character that thrives in the Army. As a young soldier he would take great pleasure in bringing his Army mates home, where he knew they would get a friendly grilling from his Mother, who was a keen Greenpeace supporter.
He was an ‘anti-tanker’, trained in the MILAN weapon system, and a key member of that platoon. Over the last six months in particular, people were starting to notice him, and he was regarded by many as a ‘safe pair of hands’. He had a good eye for detail and was always willing to stand up for his soldiers, as was his manner.
Matthew developed into a trusted and respected Junior Non-Commissioned Officer who was liked by all who met him. In 2006, in Iraq for a third time, his key role was the task of navigating and leading his pair of Warrior Armoured Vehicles around Basra. Within two weeks he knew the city intimately. On the night of his death he had led his Company Commander around some of Basra’s most notorious districts in the pitch dark, with little reference to a map, and with an assurance that was a credit to him.
The Battalion is much the poorer for his loss.
His Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Bowron, said:
It is with the deepest regret that I have to announce the death of Corporal Matthew Cornish. Matthew was a great soldier, a fine friend and a marvellous husband and father. He will be remembered for his heart and his great character.
As an attached member B Company, he made it a richer place for his presence. And as a Fire Support soldier, he clearly added to the strength of the Company in a difficult location.
The care of his vehicles was first class and they were always in excellent working order - an indication of the sort of chap he was. He was very much his own man, not a typical Non-Commissioned Officer - he followed his own course, and a lot of the time he was absolutely right.
His typical Yorkshire manner helped pick him out as one of the ‘characters’ of B Company. ‘Pastie’ could always be relied upon to give his opinion on any subject, whether it was wanted or not. He had begun to develop an unnerving ability to know what was going to be asked of him before his boss knew himself. And lately he had started rebuilding parts of the camp in Basra without asking permission from anyone at all. This in particular was beginning to drive his Company Serjeant Major to distraction - principally as his ideas were all thoroughly useful.
A Yorkshireman through-and-through and an enthusiastic follower of Leeds Rhinos Rugby League, he was constantly teased for his inexplicable loyalty to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. His true passion, though, was for his family. His wife Abby, daughter Libby, and son Ethan, were what lay closest to his heart - the rest was irrelevant. He spoke of them often, and loved them dearly.
Corporal Cornish died on Minden Day, when the Light Infantry recalls its Battle Honour by the wearing of white roses. For his friends and colleagues the wearing of the Yorkshire rose will in future have added poignancy.
On learning of the incident, on the same day as three British Soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Des Browne said:
This morning’s news from Afghanistan and Iraq is very sad. I know I speak for everyone when I say that our thoughts are with the families and friends of the soldiers who were killed and injured.
Those responsible for the attacks on our soldiers in Northern Helmand do not want to see security and prosperity brought to the local people. We cannot allow them to succeed, and we remain committed to seeing through our part in this vital international effort.
Nor will the sad death of a British soldier in Basra deflect our support to the elected Government in Iraq. In both Iraq and Afghanistan our troops are doing a tough job magnificently well. Their courage and commitment demands nothing but admiration.