THE name of a Portadown soldier killed in Afghanistan was added to the town’s war memorial at a moving dedication ceremony last Saturday.
Lieutenant Neal Turkington of the Royal Gurkha Rifles was 26 when he was shot by a renegade Afghan National Army soldier at a British command post in July 2010.
Hundreds of people, including representatives of his regiment, attended the service on Saturday morning.
Lt Turkington’s name is the first to be added to the town centre memorial since World War Two. His parents laid the first of four wreaths.
Following a welcome address from the Rev Terence Cadden of Seagoe Parish Church, the large congregation stood in silence while a bugler played the Last Post.
Neal’s father, Ivor Turkington, also gave an address in tribute to his son.
The service ended with the singing of the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country and the playing of the national anthem.
A family tribute in the order of service described the young officer as “honourable, loyal and an inspiration” to his family and friends.
“It was an honour to be parents, brother and sister of Neal,” it said.
“We were immensely proud to know that Neal achieved one of his early dreams when he commissioned as an officer into the distinguished Royal Gurkha Rifles.
“In Afghanistan Neal displayed immense courage, compassion and inspirational leadership when facing some of the fiercest fighting in Helmand Province.”
Two other soldiers from the same battalion, Major James Joshua Bowman from Wiltshire, and Corporal Arjun Purja Pun from Nepal, also died in the same incident near Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah.
Lt Turkington had a deep affection for the Gurkhas’ Nepal homeland and was heavily involved in humanitarian work in the region.
His family’s tribute went on to say, “Neal’s spirit will live on through his Nepal School Project, where impoverished children will get a better pathway to prosperity and dignity.
“We salute you — Mum, Dad, brother Gareth and sister Cathy, your wider devoted family and loyal friends — Rest in peace.”
Mr Cadden said it was “a moving occasion” and a “very dignified and fitting tribute”.
“It was also a very important occasion in the life of the town — for the remembrance of Neal’s life and his sacrifice,” Mr Cadden added.
Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said she was “proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with the people of Portadown at the service, describing it as “a deeply moving and fitting tribute to the service and sacrifice of Lt Turkington and a powerful display of solidarity with the servicemen and women of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
“This is the first addition to this symbol of remembrance in Portadown since the end of the Second World War with Lt Turkington’s name proudly displayed alongside those who made the ultimate sacrifice in previous conflicts.”
Craigavon Mayor, Councillor Carla Lockhart said, “As First Citizen of Craigavon it was an honour to stand with Mr and Mrs Turkington, Cathy and Gareth, the wider family circle, his friends and military colleagues to remember a very brave, courageous and valiant young man.
“Lt Neal Turkington paid the ultimate sacrifice on July 13, 2010 whilst serving with the 1 Royal Gurkha Rifles in Afghanistan. As a borough we are proud that council acceded to the request made by Portadown British Legion to have Neal’s name added to the war memorial and to participate in what was a very solemn and moving service. Lt Neal Turkington when he was killed was aged 26, he was young but yet in his short life he offered so much to society but he died serving crown and country trying to restore peace in country marred with conflict and for that we are indebted to him. I believe this act of placing his name on the war memorial will ensure that Lt Neal Turkington will be remembered in the right and proper manner both now and evermore. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family as they face each day with an aching void. I trust that this act of dedication will in some way demonstrate to the family how proud we as a Borough are of their son.”
Upper Bann MP David Simpson spoke of the great debt owed by society to military personnel such as Lt Turkington. He said, “I was honoured to attend the ceremony for Lt Neal Turkington and as Member of Parliament to express my thanks for his courage and sacrifice.
“Many local people will feel a sense of immense pride at the gallantry one of our young men who made the supreme sacrifice on our behalf. But I know too that for his family this will be tempered with a sense of loss that will never go away but which will be felt every day of their lives. As a community we cannot enter into the depths of loss and mourning that Neal’s loved ones will be feeling. What we can do is to express our sincere thanks for their selflessness and to continue to keep the Turkington family and the family of other military personnel in their thoughts and prayers.”