Winchester, England, UK
Army, MAJ, 4th Btn The Rifles
6/20/2007, Iraq, Basra
Major Paul Harding, 48, was killed by a direct hit from a mortar on the exposed vantage point where he was watching over his troops during a re-supply mission to their outpost base. Last night a wave of heartfelt tributes poured in for the hugely popular dad of two, whose glittering career had seen him work his way up through all the ranks to command a company in the 4th Battalion, The Rifles.
Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Sanders said the officer’s selfless final actions were “typical” of his approach.
He said: “Always one to lead by example, he constantly exposed himself to danger from mortars and snipers, encouraging and leading his men. It was no surprise when I learned he had placed himself in the front hangar, the most dangerous spot, to help secure the route in for a convoy.
“It was typical of him. He would never ask a Rifleman to do something he wouldn’t do himself. So, wanting to minimize the risk to his men, he placed himself in danger.”
Major Harding, from Winchester, Hants, had been in Iraq for only a month. But having joined the Army as a boy soldier, he was one of the oldest serving in the region. He had already led his men in a desperate defense of the Basra base they shared with Iraqi police chiefs – the city’s Provincial Joint Operations Centre. Despite being heavily outnumbered, they had overcome a bid by 200 armed militia men to overrun the building in a four-hour firefight, loosing off more than 9,000 bullets.
Famed for his gruff manner and “gunfighter” moustache, Major Harding was one of the Army’s most respected soldiers. His wife and teenage sons were inconsolable last night.
Lt Col Sanders said: “It may seem strange to talk of love between soldiers, but the very best officers and soldiers inspire extraordinary love, devotion and loyalty in their fellow men. Paul was such a man.
“The experience he gained over 30 years meant he had done the job of every man under his command, and had done it better than any of them.
“He loved his men as a father, encouraging, chastising, leading by example and taking immense pride in their achievements. The Riflemen loved him back with fierce loyalty and devotion. My desk is covered with short handwritten tributes from his Riflemen. They are unbearably moving and speak volumes for the love and respect Paul inspired.”
He added: “We have lost a close friend, an outstanding leader, an exemplary Rifleman and a remarkable and decent man. But we are not bowed or beaten by his loss. “Instead we stand a little taller today than yesterday. The resilience, determination, professionalism, compassion and fighting spirit I see in the eyes of this battalion are Paul’s legacy.”