Operations in Iraq

Warrant Officer Class 2 Lee Hopkins, Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, Corporal Ben Nowak and Marine Jason Hylton killed in Iraq

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence has confirmed the names of four UK Service personnel killed in an attack on a Multi-National Forces boat patrol on the Shatt Al-Arab waterway on Sunday 12 November 2006.

They were; Warrant Officer Class 2 Lee Hopkins, Royal Corps of Signals, Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott of the Intelligence Corps, Corporal Ben Nowak of 45 Commando Royal Marines and Marine Jason Hylton of 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines.

All died as a result of injuries sustained following the detonation of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) mounted on a bridge on the Shatt Al Arab River on the eastern edge of Basra City. The incident took place at approximately 1350 hrs local time. All were onboard a Rigid Raiding Craft (RRC) which was part of a routine boat patrol travelling north towards the Shatt Al Arab Hotel, a British Army base on the river. Three other UK service personnel sustained serious injuries in the attack.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Lee Hopkins, Royal Corps of Signals

Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Lee Hopkins, 35, of The Royal Corps of Signals, joined the British Army in 1988 and spent his entire career in the Royal Corps of Signals. He had seen operational service in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and previously in Iraq. At the time of his death he was five weeks into a planned six month tour in Iraq.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Lee Hopkins (All rights reserved.)
Warrant Officer Class 2 Lee Hopkins (All rights reserved.)

WO2 Lee Hopkins was an outstandingly professional soldier, who embraced the challenges of his profession. He was extremely fit, a qualified parachutist and keen all round sportsman. He excelled in rugby, squash, golf and orienteering. Members of his unit had been impressed by his strong character, wicked sense of humour, infectious enthusiasm and his ability to thrive on challenge. WO2 Lee Hopkins came from Wellingborough. He had been married for 10 years and leaves behind a wife and son, aged three.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Park, his Commanding Officer in Iraq said:

WO2 Lee Hopkins was the ultimate professional. Although he arrived in Theatre only five weeks ago, he made an immediate impact. Vastly experienced, he worked tirelessly for his soldiers, encouraging them to succeed. He would always make time to pass on the benefit of his knowledge to the newer members of the unit. He won the respect of all who met him for his leadership, enthusiasm and dedication. Fit and ambitious, he was a shining example to all.

Proud of his airborne training, WO2 Lee Hopkins took every opportunity to further his soldiering skills. He led from the front with a quiet authority and paid attention to every detail. Charismatic, he was comfortable in the presence of all ranks and selfless in seeking assistance for his soldiers.

WO2 Lee Hopkins was a dedicated family man who spoke often of his wife and young son. He was a loving husband and devoted father. His keen sense of humour and sociable character made him a very popular member of the unit. He was great fun to be around.

My thoughts and that of the unit are with his family and friends at this very difficult time. We have lost a trusted and valued colleague, who will be sorely missed by all.

Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott of the Intelligence Corps

Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, 34, spent her early career in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, proving herself early on when she was one of the first women to qualify as an aircraft technician in the army. Keen for new challenges, she transferred to the Intelligence Corps and served in the United Kingdom, Germany and Belize, as well as completing a number of operational tours including service in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq.

Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott (All rights reserved.)
Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott (All rights reserved.)

She had recently been posted to Cyprus from the Defence College of Intelligence where she had been a highly successful instructor. She was deployed to Iraq to fill a temporary post but, typically selfless, had volunteered to extend to serve a full six months tour.

Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott was born and grew up in Ipswich. She was single and leaves behind her parents and a wide circle of friends who will sorely miss her infectious love of life and her engaging smile. She dedicated much of her time before deploying to Iraq comforting a close friend who had been diagnosed with cancer.

Her Officer Commanding in Cyprus, Major Nick Tuppen, said:

Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott was fit, robust and full of life and ideas. She was a strong team player who was admired and respected by all. A no-nonsense, professional soldier who displayed both strength and compassion, we will remember her for her steel and determination, her calm, considered words and her smile. Our thoughts are with her friends and family.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Park, SSgt Elliott’s Commanding Officer in Iraq, said:

Dedicated and professional, Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott was an inspiration to all she worked with. Having very recently arrived in Theatre, she had taken it upon herself to assist the less experienced members of the unit. She set the highest of standards, and encouraged all those around her to strive for the very best.

Her love of the work led her to volunteer to train others in the skills she had acquired. She was a dedicated instructor: exacting in what she expected from her students, whilst always prepared to assist them to develop their full potential.

“Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott lived for her job and was passionate about her work and all that she did. Never afraid to challenge the status-quo, she would always give her opinion. She was fun loving and full of zeal; she always had a smile however difficult the circumstances. Our sympathy and thoughts go out to her family at this very difficult time. She will be sadly missed by her many friends and colleagues.”

SSgt Elliott’s family issued the following statement:

Sharron was the most beautiful caring person in the world. She was very strong-minded but very compassionate,” said her mother, Mrs Elsie Manning.

She had lots of friends and used to look after one of them who had cancer so that her husband could have a break - that is the sort of person she was. She loved cooking and used to take over the kitchen when she came home, whipping up all kinds of exotic dishes for us all to try.

She was very close to her four step brothers and was “best man” at her stepbrother David’s wedding . She was delighted to become an Auntie again last year to little nephew Bradley.

Sharron was born and brought up in Ipswich and moved to South Shields in the North East in 1998. She had four step brothers, two of whom are still serving in the Army. At the age of 18, she joined the Army as an Aircraft technician transferring six years ago to the Intelligence Corps.

Sharron deployed to Iraq just over a week ago. Her life was the Army and she had served all over the world. It is of some comfort to the family that she died doing what she loved,” added Mrs Manning.

We all loved her so much - she has left such a big hole in our lives. She was the most fantastic person, she was just amazing and touched the hearts of everyone she met. We can never replace her. We request that the media respect our privacy during this difficult time.

Corporal Ben Nowak, 45 Commando Royal Marines

Corporal Ben Nowak, 27, lived in Liverpool and had a long term girlfriend. He joined the Royal Marines on 8 July 1996 at the age of 17 and joined 45 Commando Group Royal Marines (45 Cdo Gp RM) as a Rifleman on completion of recruit training. He spent only five months at 45 Commando Group Royal Marines before being drafted to 40 Commando Royal Marines (40 Cdo RM) where he served for three years, initially as a Rifleman and towards the end of his time there as a Section Second-in-Command.

Corporal Ben Nowak (All rights reserved.)
Corporal Ben Nowak (All rights reserved.)

He then served as a Section Second-in-Command at the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines for two years. During this time he deployed to the Northern Arabian Gulf as part of the Fleet Standby Rifle Troop where he conducted boardings in support of anti-smuggling operations. In April 2003 he joined 40 Commando Royal Marines for a second time and it was during his time there that he attended and passed the aptitude tests to become a Physical Training Instructor.

He went on to attend and pass both a Junior Command Course and a Physical Training Instructors Course at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines before being promoted to Corporal. He subsequently remained at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines where he instructed recruits for two years before being drafted back to 45 Commando Group Royal Marines in July of this year.

He was then given the opportunity to deploy with 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines to Iraq on Operation TELIC for which he volunteered. He was attached to 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines in September and following a period of pre-deployment training flew into theatre at the beginning of this month.

Corporal Ben Nowak was an outgoing and gregarious individual who shall be remembered for his keen sense of humour. He was well liked by everyone that knew him and he constantly had a twinkle in his eye, symbolic of his enthusiasm and his love for his job. Corporal Ben Nowak lived for his sport; he was an outstanding footballer and he maintained a very high level of physical fitness. He was a keen supporter of Everton FC.

Most recently while attached to the Squadron, he shall be remembered for his circuit training sessions which he ran for the troop, one of which he conducted the day before he died. Corporal Ben Nowak was professionally capable and committed; there is no doubt that he had an outstanding career ahead of him in the Royal Marines. In spite of the relatively short time that he had been attached to the Squadron, having only joined in September, he made a deep and lasting impression on everyone. He will be sorely missed and his loss will be felt deeply by all those who were fortunate enough to know him.

Major Nathan Hale, Corporal Nowak’s Second-in-Command on 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, said:

Corporal Ben Nowak was a warm and outgoing man who epitomised the qualities of a junior commander in the Royal Marines. Although an accomplished sportsman and Physical Training Instructor he was, first and foremost a Royal Marines Commando. He was attached to 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines from 45 Commando Group as a volunteer for the Squadron’s operational tour to Iraq.

“Since joining the Royal Marines as a Junior Marine he set about creating a promising career. His love of sport led him to become a Physical Training Instructor since when he has continued to instil his passion in both Recruits and trained Royal Marines alike. With exemplary personal qualities and an abundance of potential for further command he was a tremendous asset to both his branch and the wider Service.

“We will best remember him for his constant good humour and his tremendous enthusiasm for physical training, although there may have been moments when we did not entirely appreciate him for it. This was no greater demonstrated than during the memorably tough physical training session that he ran for the Boat Group the day before he died.

“Our sympathy and thoughts go out to his partner and family at this awful time; we are all deeply saddened by this tragic loss. He will be sorely missed by his many friends from 45 Commando Group, 539 Assault Squadron and the wider Royal Marines family with whom he served.”

Lieutenant Colonel Haydn White, Commanding Officer of 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, speaking from Royal Marines Turnchapel in Plymouth, added:

It is with enormous sadness that we hear of the death of Corporal Ben Nowak. As a volunteer attached to 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines for their tour of duty to Iraq his impact was significant. He brought from 45 Commando Royal Marines the highest levels of professionalism, physical fitness and enthusiasm and he had an immediate and lasting impact on all those he served with. Our thoughts are with his partner, family and friends at this very sad time.

Corporal Nowaks’s family issued the following statement:

Cpl Nowak’s mother Gillian Keary said:

Ben always had a smile on his face and he was the sort of person who could make friends across the generations, he was popular with everyone.

As soon as Ben came into your life he changed it for ever. He was the life and soul of the party and had dozens of friends, both at home and in Australia. He was a great family man and idolised his brother Sam. He liked nothing better than to be surrounded by his family.

Ben lived for the Royal Marines and had always wanted to join. He took every opportunity to wear the uniform and was very proud to serve his country.

Cpl Nowak moved to Australia when he was seven and returned to the UK when he was 16 to have trials with Southampton Football Club.

He was a keen fan of Everton Football Club and helped train promising players at the club’s academy.

Cpl Nowak’s uncle Michael McEvatt added:

When Ben’s friends heard about his death, dozens of them turned up at my house to offer their condolences. There must have been around 70 people who wanted to say how much he meant to them.

He was an extraordinary soldier and an extraordinary man.

Cpl Nowak held dual UK and Australian citizenship. He emigrated to Australia with his mother and returned to the UK to try to pursue a career in football. After having trials with Southampton, he joined the Royal Marines aged 17. He lived in the Speke area of Liverpool.

Marine Jason Hylton (All rights reserved.)
Marine Jason Hylton (All rights reserved.)

Marine Jason Hylton, 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines

Marine Jay Hylton, 33, lived with his parents near Burton on Trent and was divorced but leaves behind two sons. Marine Hylton joined the Royal Marines on 15 September 2003 at the age of 30 and on completion of recruit training joined 42 Commando Royal Marines (42 Cdo RM) as a rifleman. During his time at 42 Commando Royal Marines he volunteered to become a Landing Craftsman and subsequently attended and passed his Landing Craftsman 3 Course at Royal Marines Poole in December 2004.

Marine Jason Hylton (All rights reserved.)
Marine Jason Hylton (All rights reserved.)

From there he joined 4 Assault Squadron Royal Marines embarked onboard HMS BULWARK where he served for 18 months, initially as a Landing Craft Utility Crewman and subsequently as a Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP) Crewman. He deployed with 4 Assault Squadron Royal Marines at the beginning of this year to the Middle East, which was his first operational deployment.

Marine Jay Hylton joined Raiding Troop, 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines in September of this year and was a keen volunteer to deploy with the Squadron to Iraq on Operation TELIC as a Rigid Raider Craft Coxswain.

He was a bright, enthusiastic and thoughtful man who always did everything that he could to help his fellow marines. He was well liked by everyone that knew him and shall be remembered above all for his smile; he was a constant source of warmth and happiness. Professionally he was outstanding. He was intelligent, capable and utterly loyal; he clearly had a very promising career ahead of him in the Royal Marines. In spite of the relatively short time that he had been with the Squadron he made a deep and lasting impression on everyone. He will be sorely missed and his loss will be felt deeply by all those who were fortunate enough to know him.

Marine Hylton’s Squadron Second-in-Command, Major Nathan Hale, said:

Marine Jay Hylton was a bright and enthusiastic man who, although joining the Royal Marines older than most recruits, had quickly made his mark within the Service and had a promising career ahead of him. His unswerving loyalty led him to volunteer for this Iraq tour so soon after joining 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines from his recent deployment to the Middle East with HMS BULWARK.

“Only in his second year as a specialist in the Landing Craft Branch, Marine Jay Hylton’s ability and professionalism belied his experience. An intelligent man, he adapted exceptionally well to his duties as a coxswain, with a level of aptitude far in excess of his peers.

“We will best remember him for his infectious smile and for the constant cheerfulness that he brought to the Squadron, particularly during the preparations for the Boat Group’s deployment to Iraq. He has epitomised the true Commando Spirit throughout his time with the Squadron and the early deployment to Iraq.

“Our sympathy and thoughts go out to his family, particularly his young children at this awful time; we are all deeply saddened by this tragic loss. He will be sorely missed by his many friends in the Squadron and the wider Royal Marines family with whom he served.”

Lieutenant Colonel Haydn White, Commanding Officer of 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, speaking from Royal Marines Turnchapel in Plymouth, added:

It is with enormous sadness that we hear of the death of Marine Jay Hylton. A volunteer to be part of the Squadron’s operational deployment to Iraq he brought with him the highest levels of individual professionalism and selflessness. He had only recently returned from an operational tour to the Middle East onboard HMS Bulwark, which typifies his loyalty and courage. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time.

Pat Hylton, father of Marine Hylton, speaking from the family home, said:

We do not want to make any formal statement but do appeal to the media for privacy at this very difficult time.