Thursday, 21 October 2021

Major killed in Iraq 22 years ago honoured posthumously

THE mother of an army major from Peppard killed in a “friendly fire” incident in Iraq says

THE mother of an army major from Peppard killed in a “friendly fire” incident in Iraq says she was proud to receive a medal honouring her son.

Major Harry Shapland was awarded the Elizabeth Cross posthumously and it was presented to his mother Caroline by Prince William at a private ceremony on St Patrick’s Day.

Maj Shapland, 28, was a member of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards who was killed in April 1994 along with 25 others when the Black Hawk helicopters they were travelling in were accidentally shot down by a US F15 jet.

The medal was introduced in 2009 to recognise the families of armed forces personnel who have died in conflict or as a result of acts of terrorism while serving their country.

Mrs Shapland, who still lives in South Oxfordshire, attended the ceremony at the battalion’s Hounslow Cavalry Barracks in West London with her three daughters, Lucy, Kate and Emily, and their partners.

The Duke of Cambridge, who is the first British Royal Colonel of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, spoke to the family.

Mrs Shapland said: “We met Prince William and he presented us with the medal and we had a talk with him for about 20 minutes. He was charming.

“I was very proud. It was absolutely amazing, a fantastic experience. It was marvellous really.

“I think the Elizabeth Cross only came out a few years ago and they decided it was time Harry had it. It was very emotional. I’m glad he’s received it.”

After the ceremony, the Duke watched a parade of the Irish Guards as part of the annual St Patrick’s Day celebration.

He then presented sprigs of shamrock to the 450 serving soldiers on parade, the 150 regimental association members, army cadets and the regiment’s mascot, a four-year-old Irish wolfhound called Domhnall. This was followed by a reception and lunch.

At the time of their son’s death Mrs Shapland and her husband Roger, who died nine years ago, lived in  Peppard.

Maj Shapland grew up at Slaters Farm and then Peppard Cottage, known as the picturesque setting for the film Howards End.

The late Mr Shapland had described his son, who attended the former Highlands School in Peppard, as “tremendously gregarious and always grinning”.

His commanding officer Lt Col Sebastian Roberts said he was an “exceptional brother, officer, leader and friend”. Maj Shapland joined the Irish Guards in 1985 and served in Germany, Belize, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, Berlin and Northern Ireland.

He was platoon commander of the close observation platoon in the Irish Guards’ inaugural tour of Northern Ireland in 1992-3 and was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for brave conduct for his outstanding efforts during that deployment.

Sadly, he would never know his contribution had been recognised as he was killed in action soon afterwards.

The operational honours list for his Northern Ireland tour was announced in May 1994, three weeks later.

Having learnt Arabic, Maj Shapland had volunteered for selection as a United Nations observer in his last operation to Iraq, where he liaised with and assisted the Kurds in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

Lt Col Bill Blakey, who served with Maj Shapland in the same company of the Irish Guards from 1986 to 1989, said: “Harry was a character, a very personable man with a ready smile, a quick wit and a great sense of humour.

“He was noted for his professional attitude as well as for his personal attention to the welfare of those under his command. A good soldier and a good friend, he is not forgotten.”

Lt Col Blakey, who was present at the ceremony, said: “It was only through the eagle eye of quartermaster Simon Nicholl who spotted that actually Caroline had not received the Elizabeth Cross.”

He said a family usually had to apply for the medal but in this case the quartermaster was given permission to apply for it on Mrs Shapland’s behalf.

Lt Col Blakey added: “I think it’s wonderful they have been recognised and to have a small personal audience with our colonel is extremely touching.”

Formed in April 1900 by order of Queen Victoria, the Irish Guards played a major part in both world wars, winning a total of six Victoria Crosses.

They are presented with shamrock every St Patrick’s Day in a tradition dating back to 1901 when Princess Alexandra first did the honours.

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