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  • Christina Drummond

Gunner Kenneth Laga, Craftsman Craig Smith, and Craftsman Craig Atkinson, attached to 26th Regiment,

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2005, Gunner Kenneth Laga, Craftsman Craig Smith, and Craftsman Craig Atkinson, attached to 26th Regiment, the Royal Artillery, died from injuries sustained in a road accident while serving in Gutersloh, Germany.

They were passengers in a Land Rover, the driver of which lost control during a ten-mile trip between barracks; it was the first time he had been behind the wheel of a left-hand drive military vehicle. At the inquest into Gunner Laga’s death, it was revealed that the driver had received an official permit to drive army vehicles in Germany, although he had not completed the required practical instruction, and had needed eleven attempts to pass the military theory test. The coroner called the driver training scheme a “shambles" and commented that the driver having been given a licence he was not qualified to hold as "defying belief." He returned a narrative verdict. The driver apologised, saying he would put it right if he could, and Gunner Laga’s mother stated that she believed he meant it – she said “"This was the culmination of a hard three-year fight with the army to get to the bottom of what happened. I was satisfied with the conclusions of the coroner”.

Gunner Laga served for four years with the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters (Territorial), which included an operational tour of Iraq, after which he decided to make a career with the regular army. He then joined the Royal Artillery - his mother said that when she saw him at the passing out parade, wearing his Iraq medal, she thought her heart would burst with pride. Sadly during basic training Gunner Laga lost his older brother in tragic (non-military) circumstances. He spent a short time at Larkhill before being posted to 26 Regiment, Gutersloh, and was only there for a few months before the fatal accident. His mother later set up the Military Families Support Group: Kenneth, from Kidderminster, was 22 years old.

Craftsman Smith began his basic training in September of 2003, he took the recovery mechanic’s course the following year, then in July of 2005 was posted to Gutersloh. His mother said: “All my son ever wanted to do was join the army. He was almost 17 years old when he enlisted into the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers. I was so proud and also saddened to see him go as he set off to the Army Technical Foundation college at Arborfield….he was posted to Mansergh Barracks, Gutersloh with 26 Regiment…then came home on leave, we were all so happy to see him home again safe and well. At the end of his leave we drove him to the airport to go back to his unit in Germany. That was the last time any of us saw him alive.” Craig was 18 years old.

Craftsman Atkinson while still at school had been keen to join the army, and scored high on the entrance exam. He had wanted to join the Army Air Corps but was told they would not be recruiting until late the following year, so he decided on the Royal Electrical Mechanic Engineers. He passed out at Pirbright in April of 2004 as the most improved recruit. In May of 2005 he was posted to 26 Regiment at Gutersloh. He called home daily, enthusing about how happy he was with his job and indeed the whole experience. His parents said that their son had so much to give, that the army had lost a great soldier, and that they had lost a great son. Craig had just celebrated his 19th birthday.

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