Operations in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal David Leslie Kirkness and Rifleman James Stephen Brown killed in Afghanistan

It is with great regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Lance Corporal David Leslie Kirkness and Rifleman James Stephen Brown, both from the 3 RIFLES Reconnaissance Platoon, were killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday 15 December 2009.

Lance Corporal David Leslie Kirkness and Rifleman James Stephen Brown (All rights reserved.)
Lance Corporal David Leslie Kirkness and Rifleman James Stephen Brown (All rights reserved.)

Lance Corporal Kirkness was killed following a suicide improvised explosive device blast on a route into central Sangin, northern Helmand, Afghanistan. Rifleman Brown died on his way to hospital in Camp Bastion from injuries sustained in the incident.

At the time their platoon was manning a vehicle checkpoint alongside an Afghan National Army section in order to provide reassurance and security to the local population.

Lance Corporal David Leslie Kirkness

Lance Corporal David Leslie Kirkness (All rights reserved.)
Lance Corporal David Leslie Kirkness (All rights reserved.)

Lance Corporal Kirkness was born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, on 11 December 1985.

He was an air-conditioning engineer before joining the Army and, following training at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, he joined 3rd Battalion The Rifles (3 RIFLES) in Edinburgh in March 2004. He attended the Junior Non-Commissioned Officers’ cadre in 2005 and was promoted to Lance Corporal in March 2006.

He completed a close protection course in 2008 and, earlier this year, a two-month course to learn Pashto, the native tongue in much of Helmand province.

He completed the highly demanding two-month sniper course before deploying to Afghanistan with the 3 RIFLES Battle Group in October and has since been a key part of the numerous patrols and operations that are bringing security and prosperity to the population of Sangin.

Lance Corporal Kirkness’s parents, Christopher and Margaret Kirkness, and his daughter Brooke Kirkness, aged three, made the following statement:

We would like to thank family and friends for their support over these difficult times. If you knew David, you had to love him - it was impossible not to. And in David’s own words, ‘If you didn’t know me, hard luck’. He will always be in our hearts.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kitson, Commanding Officer 3 RIFLES Battle Group, said:

Lance Corporal Kirkness was a Rifleman of the highest standard, talented, highly motivated and with boundless energy. He was a first class leader, one who put the thoughts and needs of his men first.

To the younger Riflemen he gave inspiration and guidance, earning their respect and instilling in them the confidence and understanding to guide them through their current challenges. He balanced courage and grit with compassion and consideration, winning trust, admiration and friendship wherever he went.

Tragic as his loss is, we take comfort and pride from the fact that he and the soldiers who died with him, both Afghan and British, averted a much larger tragedy.

Their sacrifice prevented two suicide bombers from reaching their intended target, the bustling and ever more prosperous Sangin bazaar, packed with local Afghans going about their daily business.

The Battle Group has lost a talented young leader at the heart of the fight and we of The Rifles have lost a brother. He died doing a job for which he was the keenest of volunteers; a job he loved and for which he was made.

His memory, commitment and selflessness will be forever revered. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends; we all have much of which we can be truly proud.

Major James Richardson, Officer Commanding B Company, 3 RIFLES, said:

The death of Lance Corporal Kirkness is a terrible blow to our Company Group and to the Recce Platoon in particular.

He was a multi-talented Rifleman - recce soldier, badged sniper, Pashto speaker - typical of the flexibility and quality we seek in our best people. He was a core member of the tight-knit gang that the Recce Platoon is.

He featured strongly in the future plans of the platoon because he was integral to the way the platoon ran and operated - quietly professional, undoubtedly capable, experienced, level-headed and driven by a desire to see things done properly rather than through any ambition.

He was always at the centre of things, not because he craved attention or the limelight, but because people naturally gathered around him, such was his warmth. I suspect he was something of a father figure to some of the Riflemen.

He had a massive heart which was all too often worn on his sleeve and, perhaps unusually for someone in his profession, was never afraid to show his emotions.

His death has hit us all hard, for the hole that his personality has left cannot truly be filled. That said, our thoughts are with his family who will feel his loss even more keenly than we do.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Paul Kelly, Company Serjeant Major, B Company, 3 RIFLES, said:

I have known Lance Corporal ‘Kirky’ Kirkness ever since he joined the battalion nearly seven years ago. He was a trained sniper and a Pashto speaker and held a vital role within his section. He was a professional young man with a clear career path in which he would have excelled.

His love for rugby and football was a source of banter within his platoon, and he always struck me as a larger than life character. He will be irreplaceable among his peers and his mates. Kirky was not only a Rifleman but a son, brother and father, and at this difficult time our thoughts are with his family.

Colour Serjeant Paul Lucke, Recce Platoon Commander, 3 RIFLES, said:

Lance Corporal Kirkness, ‘Kirky’ to everyone who knew him, was one of my Section 2ICs [Second-in-Commands] but, more importantly, I truly counted him as a friend, someone even I would seek advice from. People talk about someone being the life and soul of a party. Well Kirky was the life and soul of Recce Platoon.

Also a qualified sniper, he excelled during his time here, hoping to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. He even volunteered to complete a three-month language course just so he could interact with the local population and talk freely to them, which he did every hour of every day.

You could not ask more from anyone within the platoon, he delivered. My thoughts remain with his family at this difficult time. There is always a standing joke with the Rifle Platoons that the reconnaissance symbol is a Christmas tree - well if this is true Kirky would be the star on top, shining bright forever.

Serjeant Slater, Recce Platoon Serjeant, said:

Kirky was a soldier of excellence, a future star of the battalion, a practical joker in the best possible sense. You were the life and soul of the party.

He made Recce Platoon the platoon it is today; he was a vital member of the platoon - loved by all. Kirky was professional at all times. You were also a friend which I could talk to any time. A hole in our hearts will never be filled. Best Friend.

Corporal Richard Green, 1 Section Commander, said:

A true friend and a hero is how I remember Kirky. A born joker one minute, but the most serious and diligent soldier I have had the honour to serve with. Nothing would be too much for him, from patrolling the areas of Afghanistan to relaxing with a beer back in Edinburgh.

A natural character, he belonged in Recce; ‘it was the way he did business’, he used to say. He will be sorely missed by us all, more so me. My thoughts go out to his family, especially his younger brother at this difficult time.

Lance Corporal Cove, 2 Section Commander, said:

Lance Corporal Kirkness was a true friend to the platoon and to me. It will not be the same without him, he was a really funny lad and the life and soul of the platoon; he loved his job so much - it was one of the things he would always say. He was the man who you would look up to as he was so good at what he did and just seemed to know everything about the Army.

I know that he will never be forgotten. He loved his family and Recce Platoon so much, as we all did him and always will. My thoughts are now with all of his family. Goodbye mate. True to the platoon motto - ‘We lead, you follow’.

Lance Corporal Cook, Recce Platoon, said:

David, Kirky, or known in the Platoon as the BUSH-PIG for his outrageous snoring, was a close mate and was liked by everyone who met him. I’ve worked with him since he joined the battalion, first B Company, then Recce Platoon.

In all his work, and everything he put his mind to, he did it with diligence and complete determination. Even when he commanded his men he always led by example and from the front.

He was the practical joker and always had the lads in hysterics and laughter. Within the platoon, there is now a gap, as there is in my heart where he will never be forgotten! My thoughts go out to his family, mum, dad, brother, girlfriend and daughter. Goodbye mate: ‘We lead, you follow’.

Rifleman Humphrey-Lomberg, Recce Platoon, said:

Kirky, as he was known, was a good commander and a friend. I had the privilege of working with him since I have been in Recce. He was liked by everyone in the platoon and throughout the battalion.

He always had time for people and if he could help he would. Always helping new lads fitting in anyway he could. There is no other way I can say this: you will be missed like mad.

My thoughts go out to your family. For family and friends, the ones we care about and the ones we lose. ‘We lead you follow’. Goodbye mate - missing you already.

Rifleman James Stephen Brown

Rifleman James Stephen Brown (All rights reserved.)
Rifleman James Stephen Brown (All rights reserved.)

Rifleman Brown was born in Farnborough Hospital, Orpington, Kent, on 9 January 1991. He joined the Army in 2009, completing initial training at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick before passing out to join 3rd Battalion The Rifles in October 2009.

He attended the individual reinforcement course for Operation HERRICK and deployed as a battle casualty replacement in late November 2009 where he joined B Company Group.

The Brown family said:

James Stephen Brown, a son, brother, uncle, boyfriend, and a friend. You were a true hero and will be dearly missed. We all love you so much. You died a hero living your dream and you will always be in our thoughts. Your actions will always speak louder than words ever could.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kitson, Commanding Officer 3 RIFLES Battle Group, said:

Rifleman Brown was a young man only just embarking on his chosen career with the Army and The Rifles. He had been with the battalion for a desperately short time but was showing the promising signs of a soldier with a bright future. He had already made a lasting impression on his fellow Riflemen with his immense courage, infectious confidence and talent for making people laugh.

Amid this tragedy, we take some small comfort but immense pride in the fact that he and the soldiers who died with him, both Afghan and British, averted a much larger tragedy.

Their sacrifice prevented two suicide bombers from reaching their intended target, the bustling and ever more prosperous Sangin bazaar, packed with local Afghans going about their daily business.

What he lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm, young yet keen to please and with a voracious appetite for work and fun in equal measure. It is all the more difficult to come to terms with the loss of one so young and we are all deprived of the joy of watching his promise unfold.

Few will ever rival his commitment and sacrifice. We remain fiercely proud of his all too brief but lasting contribution to our current challenge. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

Major James Richardson, Officer Commanding B Company, 3 RIFLES, said:

The death of Rifleman Brown is, in many ways, particularly cruel. He had arrived with the company less than two weeks ago and had been very quickly integrated into his platoon and deployed to one of the patrol bases.

He had made a really good first impression, typical of the high quality Riflemen that are coming to us from training and that I am so lucky to command. He was already making his mark, and not just for his insistence that he should be known by his rather unflattering moniker of ‘Fat Head’.

He was beginning to show all of the hallmarks expected of the thinking Rifleman and was testimony to the generation of guys who are willing to take on the challenges that we face out here.

While he did not have a chance to forge the closest of relationships with his new battle partners his loss weighs heavily because of the unrealised potential and the strength of the initial signs. Our thoughts are with his family for whom this will have been the bitterest of blows.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Paul Kelly, Company Serjeant Major, B Company, 3 RIFLES, said:

I have known Rifleman ‘James’ Brown only a short time, he joined us approximately midway through the tour so far. He joined us at a difficult time but this did not faze him, he wanted to join his platoon and get started.

Apprehension is something we all have to deal with daily but James seemed to take it in his stride. His loss has hit us all hard but our thoughts must be with his family at this very difficult time.

Colour Serjeant Paul Lucke, Recce Platoon Commander, said:

Rifleman Brown sadly only joined the platoon a week ago. Importantly he fitted straight in. He found making friends easy and showed enough even from the first patrol that he could deal with the rigours of Afghanistan.

This was shown with him being appointed as one of our Vallon metal detector operators, an incredibly important job after such a short time with the platoon. He definitely had a bright future ahead of him within The Rifles.

Unfortunately he never will be able to show us his full potential. My thoughts remain with his family during this difficult time. He is truly worthy of the platoon’s motto: ‘We lead, you follow’.

Serjeant Slater, Recce Platoon Serjeant, said:

Rifleman Brown, known as ‘Brownie’, you were sadly only with us for your short time of a week. What I saw of you, you were a professional young man with a fearless character which singled you out from the rest.

You had an appetite for soldiering which was seen by all. You had all the tools for being a good recce soldier but sadly you were taken away. Rest! ‘We lead, you follow’.

Rifleman Atkinson said:

I only knew Rifleman Brown for a few months but he made a lasting impression on me and all others who met him. He looked to help everyone when he could and was very much a ‘team player’ whether in the field or even on the football pitch.

He was a very outgoing person and it did not take him long to make good friends. He made everyone around him laugh and always saw the positive side of life.

Rifleman Brown was someone who always spoke about his family, especially his dad, mum and girlfriend who he missed very much. His loss is felt massively within the platoon. He was and always will be a true Rifleman. Rest in peace, mate.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said;

I was extremely saddened to learn of the deaths of Lance Corporal David Kirkness and Rifleman James Brown. They were killed as they were working side by side with their Afghan Army counterparts to provide security and reassurance to the local population.

My thoughts and condolences are with their family, friends and colleagues at this sad time.