Hundreds mourn Iraq blast soldier.
Hundreds of mourners packed a church yesterday for the funeral of one of the youngest British soldiers to die in combat in Iraq.
An estimated 800 mourners attended the funeral of 18-year-old Private Michael Tench who was killed by a roadside bomb on the outskirts of Basra on January 21.
The young Light Infantry soldier's coffin was taken from his family home in the Carley Hill area of Sunderland by horse-drawn hearse on a mile-long journey through the housing estates where he grew up to the Holy Trinity Church, in Southwick, for an hour-long noon service.
Elderly residents of a nursing home stood silently outside their premises, dressed in black, as the carriage, followed by six funeral cars and three minibuses slowly made its way to the church.
As the carriage, drawn by two 17-hand white Czech carriage horses, arrived at the church hundreds of mourners stood with heads bowed along the full length of the church yard railings.
Six of the soldier's colleagues formed a guard of honour and carried the young squaddie's Union Flag-draped coffin into the stone church.
About 500 people packed into the service while hundreds more stayed at the rear of the building and in its grounds.
During the service, Lieutenant Colonel Ted Shields MBE, of the Light Infantry, paid tribute to the youngster, affectionately known to friends and colleagues as Tenchy.
He said: "When news of Michael's death reached us there was widespread shock, disbelief, immense sadness and, yes, anger.
"The untimely death of anyone, let alone a soldier, causes such emotions but especially so with Michael, Tenchy, to all who knew him in the Army. He was making his way in the world and beginning to carve out a successful career in the Light Infantry.
"Michael was one of those men who make the regiment the finest regiment in the British Army. He was a total enthusiast who loved his job."
Following the service, led by Father Geoffrey Driver and Army Padre Rory MacLeod, a private burial was held in nearby Southwick Cemetery.
Posted to Iraq last September, the former Hylton Red House School pupil spent his first Christmas away from home doing the job he had longed for since the age of seven.
The popular teenager is survived by his father Terry, 45, mother Jan, 45, stepfather Derek, 43, brother Mark, 25, and sister Stacey, 20. He joined the Army just two years ago, completing his training at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick before being posted to the 2nd Battalion The Light Infantry.
He left for Iraq with A Company on September 4 last year.
Following his death his family said he had told them he was looking forward to coming home to Sunderland on March 12 before going to enjoy a holiday in Spain with friends.
Another soldier from Sunderland, Private Liam Raine, from Pennywell, had been in the same patrol vehicle as Private Tench but survived the attack and attended yesterday's funeral service.