It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of Guardsman Neil 'Tony' Downes from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on Saturday 9 June 2007.
Guardsman Downes’s vehicle was hit by an explosion when on a patrol with the Afghan National Army (ANA) close to the town of Sangin in Helmand Province.
The Grenadier Guards and the ANA had been taking part in an operation to help widen and deepen irrigation ditches for locals in the area. Guardsman Downes died from the injuries he sustained in the explosion.
Guardsman Neil ‘Tony’ Downes
Guardsman Tony Downes, aged 20, was from Manchester. He joined the Army in 2004 and had already completed one tour in Iraq with the Grenadier Guards in 2006.
Lieutenant Colonel Carew Hatherley, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, said:
Always full of energy and enthusiasm, his intellect and humour constantly shone through the darkest of situations. He was a resolute and steadfast friend to all who knew him. He excelled as a soldier, whether in tunic and bearskin or combats, and was held in the highest regard by all who had the pleasure to serve alongside him.
Over the previous twelve weeks he had fought alongside his fellow Grenadiers and the Afghan National Army soldiers against the Taliban, never once flinching from his duty. He gave his life in selfless service to his country. He will be greatly missed and never forgotten.
Company Commander The Inkerman Company, Major Marcus J G Elliot-Square, said of him:
Guardsman Downes was without doubt one of the most remarkable Guardsmen that I have had the pleasure to serve with. He was a man of huge intellect. In possession of sixteen GCSEs he was always going to be the Company’s choice as intelligence rep. This was a responsibility that he fully embraced, always willing to give informed briefs at a moment’s notice.
“He had developed such a depth of understanding about the areas that we worked in that the Company was always well prepared. Consummately professional in everything he did, he never stopped gathering vital intelligence whilst on patrol in areas such as Sangin, Gereshk and Babaji.
He was completely dedicated to his job and to the men around him, making him both a pleasure and an honour to command. Guardsman Downes loved soldiering and so died doing something he loved and believed in totally. Guardsman Downes added so much to the Company and asked for very little in return. He was a real asset and his loss will be felt keenly within The Inkerman Company and The Grenadier Guards as a whole.
His family and girlfriend have our deepest sympathies and our thoughts will be with them always.
Company Second in Command, Captain Alex Corbet Burcher, added:
Guardsman Downes was a bright, enthusiastic, hard working Guardsman who loved his Company, his Regiment and the Army. He was a pleasure to work with and was never afraid to tackle any challenges that arose. He never complained, and could always see the positive side to a situation. His character endeared him to all the men. He was a good soldier, a good friend and will be greatly missed.
Company Sergeant Major The Inkerman Company, CSM Wayne Scully, said:
Guardsman Downes was an intelligent, honest, trustworthy Guardsman. During his second operational tour with The Inkerman Company his professionalism was consistent throughout.
Guardsman Downes was manning the Grenade Machine Gun in my WMIK, a job which he conducted with great humour and relish. It was an unenviable job being a Guardsman in the Company Sergeant Major’s wagon, but one that he took in his stride.
Guardsman Downes was one of those Guardsmen that a Company Sergeant Major would say, ‘I wish we had more like Downes.’ It was honestly an honour and a pleasure to have ‘Downsie’ as a member of The Inkerman Company. He will never be forgotten.
His friend, Guardsman Richard Brown, said:
Guardsman Downes was one of my closest friends in the Grenadier Guards. I have known him since training. We went to Nijmegen Company together and then joined the Battalion and the same company together. He was a character, always up for going out and having fun. He enjoyed his job, loved his family and his girlfriend Jane. He is a friend I’ll miss forever.
Guardsman Jamie Kemp said:
Guardsman Downes was a good lad, who always had a smile on his face. You could always have a laugh and a joke with him. He loved the army and loved being in it and everybody thought he was good.
Guardsman Mike Piantkiwskyj said:
Words cannot describe Tony. He had a million watt smile and a sense of humour that could stir even the coldest heart. He had an enthusiasm that was infectious and a mature level head.
“He would want to be remembered as a professional soldier, and as a friend to all who knew him. He died doing the job he loved and will be remembered with great affection by all who knew him. All our lives are now richer for having known him. To his family go all our sympathies. It is a shattering blow.”
Guardsman Downes’ mother, Sheryl, issued the following statement:
All Tony ever wanted to do was to be in the Army. It was his life. His studies were his priority at school and he achieved 16 GCSEs but as soon as he could he joined up for the Army. We are very proud that he served as a soldier. We wouldn’t have stood in his way.
Before he left for Afghanistan he wrote a letter to me and his dad, which was only to be opened if he died. There is one paragraph in it that says it all for me: ‘Please do not be mad at what has happened. I did what I had to do and serving the British Army was it. Again, don’t be sad. Celebrate my life because I love you and I will see you all again.’ I just want everyone to know that we think our son died a hero, because he was.
Defence Secretary Des Browne said:
Guardsman Downes was clearly a very intelligent and dedicated soldier who lost his life doing a job that he loved. His death is a huge loss to his Regiment and the British Army as a whole. He will not be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, comrades and friends at this difficult time.
The family of Guardsman Downes have requested privacy as they come to terms with their loss.