Hundreds say farewell to 'bravest of the brave' Newport soldier
A NEWPORT bomb disposal expert was described as "the bravest of the brave" as over 500 people crammed into Newport Cathedral for his funeral today.
Sapper Connor Ray was fatally injured while searching an unoccupied compound in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on the eve of his 21st birthday last month and died a week later on April 18 at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.
His commanding officer in the 33 Engineer Regiment Simon Bell described Sapper Ray as a "simply outstanding soldier" who was involved in "one of the most dangerous and emotionally difficult roles in the armed forces".
As part of the explosive ordinance disposal unit, he searched and cleared areas of explosives - something that had saved countless lives.
Despite the dangers he faced, Lt Col Bell praised Sapper Ray for his "limitless optimism" and "remaining positive and upbeat", saying he was "one of the bravest of the brave".
The sun shone as representatives of ex-serviceman’s associations from around Gwent gathered at the gates of the cathedral over an hour before the service, friends congregated outside the Church House pub opposite and fellow soldiers paced around the top of Stow Hill.
Before the funeral of the 1980s music fan, who had joined the army at 16, songs by Meatloaf were played.
His coffin was then carried in draped in the union flag, with his regimental cap and poppies on top.
After the first hymn, This Little Light of Mine, the cathedral fell silent, as Sapper Ray’s brother, Vinny, walked up to pay tribute.
Mr Ray composed himself, before moving away from the altar and walking slowly around his brother’s coffin. He placed his hand on it and stood in silence staring at it for a few minutes.
He then described a typical brotherly relationship, saying: "from day one, all we did was fight", before adding: "Now all I do is fight back tears".
He then spoke of how much he loved his brother, saying: "I’ll go on in life and make you ever so proud."
Sapper Ray’s best friends from St Julians High School, Mike Pagenton and Jackson Bardsley then spoke of a man who had "a million dollar smile" and brightened everyone’s lives.
They spoke of a prankster, who had amazing dance moves, of trips to Barry Island and that the only time they’d seen him upset was when his favourite 1980s music venue Reflex closed in Newport city centre.
After the second hymn Abide With Me, Sapper Ray’s coffin was carried out to a three round salute by a firing party before a family service at Gwent Crematorium.
* Members of Sapper Ray’s squadron didn’t attend as they are still in Afghanistan.
33 Engineer Regiment chaplain Padre Robin Richardson who conducted the service said they were continuing the work Sapper Ray was involved in on the day of the funeral.
Newport City Council's Labour leader Bob Bright called Sapper Ray "a true hero" adding: "The death of such a fine young man is deeply saddening."