CORPORAL Michael Thacker was serving his second tour of Afghanistan and was just weeks away from returning home to visit his family in Cwmbran when he was killed doing the job he loved. His family spoke to ALISON SANDERS yesterday and paid tribute to the man they said was "larger than life".

DRESSED in his military uniform and wearing his operational medals with pride - this is the picture of Corporal Michael Thacker which is the most potent reminder to his family of his courage.

It is one of many photos his mother Alison Thacker has on display at her Cwmbran home which are now surrounded by dozens of bunches of flowers sent to her in sympathy.

Corporal Thacker, 27, died after being shot on Friday while on watch with 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

He leaves behind his mother Alison, brothers Marc, 31, Matthew, 25, and Ashley, 23, wife Catherine and two-year-old daughter Millie.

Ms Thacker, from Greenmeadow, said: "I feel absolutely numb and shocked. I can't believe he won't ever walk through the door. It's like it's not real."

Ms Thacker described her son as "bubbly and happy" and said he would be remembered as a "cheeky chap."

She said he always had to have the last word and said the family is very proud of him.

Ms Thacker said he was "as happy as Larry" when he was made a corporal last year.

She added: "He was a marvellous father to Millie - he doted on her. We won't let her forget her dad."

Cpl Thacker met his wife Catherine through the army when she was an army medic.

They were married for six years and lived in Coventry, Mrs Thacker's home city.

Mrs Thacker told the Argus: "He was one of a kind - a true diamond. He was loved more than life itself. I was extremely proud of him. He will never be forgotten and he will live on through Millie."

Cpl Thacker was born in Swindon but spent most of his childhood in Cwmbran when the family moved to Wales.

The former Fairwater High School pupil was also a keen rugby player playing for Cwmbran RFC until the age of 12.

Cpl Thacker joined the army in 2004 following in the footsteps of his uncle and grandad who had both served in the forces.

He completed basic training aged 19 at Catterick and spent time in Aldershot before completing tours in Northern Ireland in 2005 and in Iraq.

He and his brother Lance Corporal Matthew Thacker, currently stationed in Chester, served in the same regiment but in different companies.

The two brothers had lived near each other in Chester and next door to each other in Cyprus before they were sent out to Iraq.

Lance Cpl Thacker said: "We were more than brothers, we were best friends and words cannot express how much he will be missed.

"Michael could light up a dark room, always making people laugh because of his great personality."

He added: "He died doing the job that we Thacker brothers love. He is a true hero."

The family yesterday remembered seeing Cpl Thacker for the last time in March when he and his wife Catherine hired a cottage in Usk before he left for Afghanistan.

They said they were looking forward to seeing him in a few weeks time when he was due home on leave.

Cpl Thacker's older brother Marc explained how Cpl Thacker had just finished patrol and gone back to base when he was hit by small arms fire while manning an observation post on Friday.

Cpl Thacker was evacuated by helicopter but died of his injuries.

Mr Thacker said: "He was looking out for his men. He put other people before himself. He was selfless."

The family were already going through a difficult time when they received the devastating news at the weekend.

Ms Thacker is currently in remission from cancer and Cpl Thacker's 14-year-old nephew Jordan Chandler is currently battling leukaemia.

Tributes continued to be made to Corporal Thacker yesterday.

Fairwater councillor Philip Seabourne and his wife Rosemarie said: "We were all deeply saddened to hear of the death of Corporal Michael Thacker. We are all very proud of our young people who serve in our armed forces and saddened when anyone loses their life in doing so. It is particularly more saddening when that young person is from your community and went to school with our children as Michael and his brother did. Our thoughts are with his family at this desperately sad time."

Two memorial pages have been set up on the social networking site Facebook.

Kerry Thomas wrote on one saying: "Still can't believe it is true, you were one of the best Mike, always the joker making everyone you met laugh. You will be missed by so many people. My thoughts are with Cat, Millie, Matthew and the rest of your family at this horrific time, rest easy Mike."