DEVASTATED comrades of soldier Paul Welch jetted in from their base in Germany to pay their last respects to their "fun-loving and courageous" friend at his funeral in Accrington on Tuesday.
Paul, 25, who served with the Royal Artillery in Sennelager, was killed alongside his friend and colleague Scott Hollows from Rochdale two weeks ago when their car ploughed into trees off the M1 in Leicestershire.
Gunner Paul, who joined the Army four years ago, was heading home to Accrington on leave to visit his relatives when tragedy struck.
He had served in Iraq during the Gulf War, when he guarded oil fields around Um Qasr and carried out security patrols. Earlier in the year both crash victims had been deployed in Kent on firefighting duties.
His funeral at St Peter's Church, Accrington, was attended by scores of his friends and relatives, including his mum Kathleen Clark, who lives in Willows Lane, dad David Welch, brother Christopher, sister Nicola and heartbroken fiancée Becky.
His coffin, which was draped with the Union flag and had his Army cap and belt resting upon it, was carried into the church by pallbearer soldiers from his regiment, who wore black armbands as a mark of respect.
During the service Major Alex Freeborn, who was one of several high-ranking officers in attendance, paid tribute to the tragic soldier. He said: "Paul lived life to the full and was a person you could always rely on. He was determined and courageous and was a team player. He was the epitome of a British soldier."
Every pew was full for the service, which was conducted by the Rev David Lyon, who expressed his sorrow to Paul's family. He said: "It is easy for those who knew Paul to feel angry and bewildered. He served in some of the most dangerous places but was killed driving on a British road."
He added: "People who serve in the military have always had a special place in the hearts of people from Accrington. It dates back to the First World War when the Accrington Pals were among the first to go over the top during the Battle of the Somme. Likewise Paul will always have a special place in people's hearts."
A recording of a poignant ballad by singer Faith Hill then echoed around the church before Paul's coffin was taken to Accrington Cemetery where it was paraded past the war memorial before being laid to rest, as a bugler in full military uniform played The Last Post.