Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 2007, Major Paul Harding, 4th Battalion, The Rifles, was killed by a mortar direct hit on the sangar from where he was directing a resupply convoy into the Provincial Joint Coordination Centre in Basra City, Iraq.
He had enlisted in the Royal Green Jackets in 1976, served in Northern Ireland, and made his way through the ranks from Rifleman to Regimental Sergeant Major before receiving his commission. He proudly represented the Army at athletics, soccer, swimming and triathlon.
On one occasion after Major Harding had been appointed Chief of Staff of the Provincial Joint Coordination Centre; the outpost was attacked by 200 armed militia aiming to take the building and kill the occupants. His calm and inspiring leadership played a large part in the composite defence force holding off the attackers for four hours.
Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Sanders OBE said: “A eulogy is intended to celebrate the life of the person and to pay him respect and honour in death. But as I sit here trying to do justice to Major Harding, there are simply no words that can do the job adequately. I lost a close friend, comrade and confidant; 4 RIFLES lost a deeply respected and loved Company Commander; The RIFLES lost one of its most senior, long-serving and admired Riflemen, and the country lost a veteran soldier of deep personal integrity, professional excellence, wisdom, experience and simple decency. 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. A Rifleman with a lifetime of service, he had over the course of 30 years risen from the rank of Rifleman to his present rank of Major. He had done the job of every man under his command….he knew all the tricks that Riflemen pull, had endured the same hardships and danger, got up to the same mischief…..he knew and understood the Riflemen better than any man alive. And he loved them. The Riflemen loved him back with fierce loyalty and devotion. They came to see that beneath his gruff manner and bristly gunfighter moustache (so typical of his generation of soldiers forged in the tough school of Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s), lay a man with wisdom, judgement and compassion; a consummate professional; a tough, quick-thinking and unflappable veteran who they knew they could trust with their lives. Always one to lead by example, he constantly exposed himself to danger from mortars and snipers, encouraging and leading his men and so it was no surprise when I learned that he had placed himself in the front sangar - the most dangerous and exposed spot - in order to help secure the route in for a resupply convoy from the Palace last night. It was typical of him - he would never ask a Riflemen to do something he wouldn’t do himself and wanting to minimise the risk to his men, placed himself in danger. Tragically the sangar he occupied was struck with a direct hit and Paul died instantly. The resilience, determination, professionalism, decency and compassion, pride, good humour and fighting spirit that I see in the eyes of this Battalion, despite the losses we have suffered - these things are Paul’s legacy.”
Paul, from Winchester, was 48 years old and married with two sons.