LONDON (AP) - The family of an unarmed British soldier ambushed outside a Northern Ireland army base said at his funeral Wednesday that IRA dissidents stole his chance to prove himself in battle.
Military engineer Mark Quinsey, 23, “was looking forward to going to Afghanistan _ he wanted to prove what he was made of,” Quinsey’s family said in a statement read out by Lt. Col. Roger Lewis, his commanding officer.
“He has been cheated of the opportunity to serve his country, which is what he so desperately wanted to do.”
Quinsey was only hours away from deploying to Afghanistan when he and another soldier were shot outside at the entrance of the Massereene army base in Antrim, Northern Ireland, on March 7.
The pair were picking up a pizza delivery when dissident Irish Republican Army gunmen opened fire and closed on foot to shoot their victims at point-blank range.
The killings were the first deaths of British security personnel in Northern Ireland in more than a decade.
Quinsey’s sister Jaime described his killers as cowards.
“It breaks my heart to think that I will never see you again,” the 25-year-old said, reading a letter to her brother during the service.
About 200 people lined both sides of the street ahead of the funeral at the Immanuel Church in the victim’s hometown of Birmingham, England.
Jaime later told reporters she was “absolutely amazed” at the huge turnout for the ceremony, as well as the tributes left to her brother on the social networking site Facebook.
Quinsey’s aunt, Norma Clarke, offered her condolences to family of Patrick Azimkar, the other British soldier who died in the assault.
“We pray that there will be no more deaths,” she said.
The ambush _ followed two days later by the slaying of policeman Stephen Carroll _ shook Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant coalition government and refocused attention on the small, radical groups that still seek to wrest the province from the United Kingdom by force.
At Wednesday’s funeral, British army chaplain Rev. Colin Butler told the mourners that “for those of us old enough, emotions to do with the Northern Ireland of the past were reawakened.”
“For those who are too young to have such a connection, it must be utterly bewildering. What did the perpetrators of this wicked event really think it would achieve? … More deaths, more events like today?”