BY MARK GREAVES
BISHOP THOMAS Burns of Menevia has called for more helicopters and better funding of the war in Afghanistan at a Requiem Mass for a 20-year-old soldier.
He said that the name of Fusilier Jonathan Burgess, from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, would be “etched in the history of the Battalion forever”.
Fusilier Burgess died in a gun battle in Helmand Province only a month before his fiancée was due to give birth to a baby girl.
Bishop Burns, formerly Bishop to the Forces, told hundreds of mourners at the Catholic cathedral in Swansea: “When will Afghan institutions rise out of the dust to take responsibility for their own affairs? “When will there be a surge in funding to achieve this, and the ongoing military support to bring it about, to pay for better military vehicles, more and better helicopters and better intelligence, all of which are so badly needed?
“If this were done, surely this will mean fewer lives will be sacrificed in the future.” The bishop said: “Jonathan is the kind of young man we need in Britain today. We cannot afford to lose him and others like him.” He added: “We all hope that soon our servicemen and women will be able to come home and rejoin their families and do the work that we require them to do to keep peace and make peace and foster peace and ustice throughout the world.
“We need young men like Jonathan – they are excellent role models. We cannot afford to lose such young lives.” About 400 mourners packed into the Cathedral Church of St Joseph in Swansea, while another 100 stood outside listening to the service through loudspeakers.
Among the flowers was a bouquet of 16 white roses with a card saying “Daddy” – from the girl he and his fiancée, Kelly Forrest, planned to call Abigail.
Another tribute said: “I promise to tell Abigail about her daddy and how much you love her.” In an interview in January Fusilier Burgess talked of his joy about impending fatherhood.
“Kelly is due to give birth in May and I should be back home in April. It’s going to be a girl and I have thought of the name Abigail.” “I am really excited – I’m over the moon at the thought of being a dad,” he said.
Mourners wept as soldiers carried Fusilier Burgess’s coffin, wrapped in the Union flag, into the cathedral.
His older brother, Ashley, said: “Before Jonathan went to Afghanistan we spoke about his deployment, about death and how funerals should be.
“Jon said he thought too many flowers at a funeral was a waste of money and he didn’t like to see people cry.
“We only spoke about it as a joke at the time but now I realise why he brought it up.” At the time of his death, his family said in a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence: “Jonathan was a loving and caring man who enjoyed life to the full.
“He had an infectious smile that would brighten up anyone’s day. We were all very lucky to have had such a wonderful person in our lives.
“He was a much-loved son, brother, friend and fiancée and would have been an amazing father to his baby girl. He will be greatly missed by us all. He will always be our hero.” Major Angus Henderson, senior major with the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, said at the funeral that Fusillier Burgess’s legacy would be the gains made in their area of Afghanistan.
He said: “In the short time Jonathan was out there he would have noticed a real difference in the area that he was in – schools were beginning to open, people were beginning to come forward with healthcare, they were even talking about beginning to vote this summer.
“Put that against the harsh, almost medieval regime of the Taliban in the area and it is a vast difference and that is the way we want to remember Jonathan and the operation – the positive gains we made in the area. That will be his legacy to Afghanistan.” Bishop Burns was an outspoken critic of the Government during his tenure as Bishop to the Forces between 2002 and 2008.
In 2007 the bishop said that the failure to equip and train soldiers properly for their mission had cost lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said: “Their [the military’s] activities are often jeopardised by poor equipment, outmoded vehicles and inadequate apparel. The Government has a moral duty to equip them for the task they give them.”