Operations in Iraq

Private Ryan Wrathall dies in Basra

It is with great regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of Private Ryan Wrathall in Basra, Iraq, yesterday, Thursday 12 February 2009.

Private Wrathall was serving with 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment as part of 5th Battalion The Rifles (5 RIFLES) (Strike) Battle Group. He was found at Basra’s Contingency Operating Base having suffered a gunshot wound. Immediate medical assistance was provided, but sadly he died from his wounds.

Private Ryan Wrathall
Private Ryan Wrathall [Picture: via MOD]

The incident, which occurred at approximately 0630 hours local time, will be subject to a full investigation. No enemy forces were involved and there is no evidence to suggest that anyone else was involved.

Private Ryan Wrathall

Private Ryan Wrathall, aged 21, from Surbiton, Surrey, was serving in 1 Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) - known as ‘The Armoured Tigers’.

He enlisted into the Army in November 2007 at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, prior to joining 1 PWRR in Paderborn, Germany, in June 2008.

On arrival in the battalion he joined his company in their preparations for deploying to BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Canada and subsequently deployed on Exercise Medicine Man 2. While in Canada he also took part in Exercise Fast Air (free-fall parachuting) which he thoroughly enjoyed. The remainder of 2008 was spent preparing for Operation Telic 13 in which he played a full and active part.

He deployed to southern Iraq in November 2008 and was about halfway through a six-month tour of the country as a member of the 5 RIFLES (Strike) Battle Group.

Pte Wrathall was an amiable and determined soldier who played a full and active part in his platoon and the company. He was well liked by all ranks and was never one not to volunteer for additional responsibilities or shy away from the less desirable tasks. Physically fit and keen to progress his career at every opportunity Pte Wrathall had a bright future ahead of him.

The Commanding Officer 1 PWRR, Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Sykes, said:

This is a unique Iraq tour. The city of Basra is at relative peace and we fully expect ours to be the last major British Army deployment to Iraq. This relative peace makes Private Wrathall’s death even harder to come to terms with, as, much like the sandstorms we’ve experienced here in the desert, it comes out of a clear blue sky.

A company is a close-knit and professional, but young, company. In many ways Private Wrathall exemplified this company. Quiet and reserved at first, but developing in confidence, he had arrived with the battalion just three days before we deployed to Canada for a tough month-long armoured exercise on the prairie. This was a real baptism of fire for a young soldier fresh from recruit training at Catterick, but his inherent friendliness and habit of volunteering for the toughest tasks very soon made him an integral member of 1 Platoon.

Kind-hearted and gentle, his personal administration seemed well-designed to test his platoon sergeant’s sense of humour. He was known variously as ‘Waffle’, ‘Wrath’, ‘Mr Clown’ (due to his clown tattoos and fun-loving attitude) or ‘Socks’ (after a mishap when he uncomplainingly spent an entire day on the prairie in boots without socks).

At the end of his time in Canada, he took part in Exercise Fast Air, a week-long free-fall parachuting course in sight of the Rocky Mountains. He was delighted at overcoming his initial fear and meeting the challenge, thrilled at the excitement of the sport. A man of contrasts, he was a regular smoker, but a naturally fit runner, regularly beating most of the remainder of the platoon.

Proud of his Spanish heritage, he joined the Army also proud of his two grandfathers’ military service and determined to live up to their example. He told his Platoon Commander that his Spanish grandfather had served in the Spanish Civil War and that his English grandfather had served in World War II. In his own words, he was eager to ‘make something of his life and proud to serve the country he believed in’.

Private Wrathall spent the last 10 days with 1 Platoon based in the marshes north of Basra. The patrol base is isolated on the side of a tidal estuary and usually travelled to by helicopter. A base from which to dominate the marshes and provide protection for the 4,000 coalition soldiers living and working on the Basra Contingency Operating Base, the job is a hard but rewarding round of foot and boat patrols with long periods spent on guard. Fit and active, Private Wrathall proved himself on arduous foot patrols, grafting hard and never complaining, helping others and fully involved in all the chores involved with living far from civilisation.

An only son, he had recently heard that his father was seriously ill in Spain. He flew back from Iraq and went with his mother to visit him and to be with his family at a time of crisis. A diligent and loving son, Private Wrathall had a particularly strong relationship with his mother and was always looking to make her proud.

All our thoughts are with his mother and family now. No words can ease their suffering and nothing can bring him back. Our loss is but a fraction of theirs.

Commanding Officer 5 RIFLES (Strike) Battle Group, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Chamberlain, said:

The death of any soldier is a personal tragedy both for his family and us, his comrades-in-arms. Private Wrathall was a fit, enthusiastic and open-hearted member of the 5 RIFLES (Strike) Battle Group for this Iraq tour who will be sorely missed by us all. I am proud to have served with him, he was a hard-working soldier with a masterful sense of the ridiculous who was maturing visibly through the tour.

His Company Commander, Major Andy Flay, said:

Many of his closest friends were in tears today as they sought to come to terms with his untimely death. Private Wrathall was clearly a fantastic friend to have. Utterly reliable with a great sense of humour, he could play the clown who, although proud of his life in the Army, was also keen to highlight the more ridiculous moments of military life.

One of the greatest strengths of his friendly and trusting nature, brought out when talking with his fellow soldiers today, was the way he would welcome the newest members of the company into the platoon. Often he was the first member of the platoon new soldiers would meet when arriving in the battalion and he delighted to show them around and help them feel at home. To many soldiers arriving in a new and confusing environment for the first time, his bright smile and understated good humour was one of their first impressions of the company.

He was full of plans, hoping to earn his driving licence soon and he wanted to earn the respect of his Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle commander and qualify as a gunner.

The company joined together at a memorial service for Private Wrathall held this evening in a chapel in the corner of the dining facility. Still shocked by the sudden and unnecessary waste of such a young life with so much to offer, his fellow Tigers remembered highlights of his life and struggled to come to terms with his death.

Private Wrathall was a fine young soldier who will be very sadly missed by the company. He really stood out for his amiable and selfless nature. I am very proud to have known him as a fellow ‘Tiger’.

His Platoon Commander, Lieutenant Olly Kay, said:

Private Wrathall was a professional and diligent soldier. Never one to avoid hard work he would often volunteer for the less desirable tasks that others would shy away from. Known as ‘Socks’ to his friends, Private Ryan Wrathall will be sadly missed by his fellow soldiers. His officers and brother soldiers will remember him for his positive outlook on life and could rely on him to bring humour to almost every situation.

Private Wrathall was a respectful and polite young soldier. Only recently he told me how he was determined to make the most out of the British Army and work hard in everything that he did. He was well liked by his fellow platoon members whom he had a close bond with, and with whom he served the regiment and country with pride.

Pte Wrathall’s Section Commander, Cpl James ‘Smudge’ Smith, added:

‘Socks’ was a character. He had a very dry sense of humour; he was always cracking jokes on the sly. You would see a cheeky smile appear on his face. When he worked in my section as a [LMG] gunner his drills were the best of all the gunners. I will remember Ryan as a caring and witty man with admin like a grenade explosion, but that was just him. God bless Wrathall.

Corporal John McAllister said:

‘Waffle’ was a kind-hearted soldier who could not do enough to help anyone in need. Sometimes his dress sense and personal admin was not up to scratch but with his dry sense of humour you could not help but laugh. He will be remembered by us all and will be sorely missed.

Lance Corporal George Flower said:

Ryan, or ‘Waffle’ as we knew him, was a kind-hearted young man who always put others before himself. He was also good at being highly elusive in barracks as no-one knew where he was sometimes (skiving in the NAAFI!). I have fond memories of Waffle while bringing him home in my car; although he said he lived in Tolworth, he actually didn’t know where he lived and made the drive a nightmare. He was a good lad who will always be remembered by all that had the pleasure of knowing him.

Lance Corporal Steve Johnston said:

Pte Wrathall, or ‘Wrath’ as he was known, had a heart of gold. His personal admin left something to be desired from time to time and this was the centre of some laughs and jokes amongst the lads. It was part of his character. However it didn’t affect his soldiering ability; Ryan often put others before himself - the mark of a kind young man. Ryan will be sorely missed.

Private Joel Hindson said:

Pte Wrathall had that aura about him that always made you laugh - he was the kind of guy who you could never argue with as he just made you laugh too much.

Private Christopher Trussel said:

Ryan Wrathall will be sorely missed in the platoon. He was always full of energy and always up for a laugh. He had only begun to come out of his shell and was a genuinely kind man. He will be remembered for all he brought to the platoon.

Private Damien Wood said:

Ryan was a kind and generous lad, he was always willing to help; he helped me out with a few things and always liked a drink. We spent a lot of time together since he turned up. He was always in my room, watching DVDs and playing Xbox, and we always started the party in my room before we go out on a weekend. He will be missed a lot.

Private French, who undertook his infantry training with Private Wrathall, said:

I will remember him as that rare individual with whom you could never argue.

Private Easterby-Green, a close friend, described him as:

Generous and kind-hearted and always on hand to welcome new soldiers into their new regimental family.

Private Dobson, who trained with him in Catterick and had just joined A Company in Iraq, said:

He was an awesome bloke, he was always willing to help others and make sure that you were OK. ‘Ruffle’ was a person you could never argue with. He was always up for a laugh, got involved in most things and also made sure that no-one was left out. We shared some funny moments in training and he loved a drink.

Perhaps Private Wrathall himself should have the last word (from his initial interview on arrival in 1 Platoon):

I have always been a kind, friendly active person who loves to mingle with mates. I was a bit of a clown at school which isn’t too funny when you don’t have any GCSEs!

Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton said:

Private Ryan Wrathall’s colleagues and commanders have described him as a man who was professional, courteous amiable and determined, a testament to his family and a sad loss to the Army. I was saddened to hear of his death and my thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.

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