Former colleagues erect grave memorial for young NI soldier killed 38 years ago in accident
A YOUNG Belfast soldier tragically killed in a crash in England has been remembered nearly 40 years after his death.
Paul Best died in a motorbike accident at Tidworth barracks in Wiltshire in September 1980 — just two months before his 19th birthday.
His family laid him to rest following a civil service and without a military headstone.
Years passed, the family scattered and the grave became overgrown.
But three years ago it was unearthed by Peter Irwin, who served in the Royal Irish Rangers alongside Paul.
A social media search for others from the squad as well as Paul’s surviving brothers and sisters led to a gravestone being specially commissioned, and yesterday it was placed on Paul’s grave with his sister June Maguire attending.
One of the organisers, Jim Wright, who also served alongside Paul, said: “There was over 50 of us who joined up in 1977 in Ballymena and Paul was part of our platoon, so I knew him from his first day in the forces.
“Paul was more than an Army colleague, he was a good friend and it was a big shock when we heard he had been killed in an accident at Tidworth.
“He was brought home for burial but given the times it was, with the Troubles, the family didn’t want any military trappings so Paul was given a civilian funeral and laid to rest in a family plot.”
Peter Irwin, another former colleague, discovered the grave and put a post on Facebook.
Mr Wright added: “A few of us went up and had a look at the grave and decided that we wanted to do something, so we went about trying to find Paul’s remaining family.
“The headstone that was on Paul’s grave, through the passage of time, had fallen into disrepair and there was nothing on it to say that Paul had been a soldier at any stage.
“We came up with the idea of having a new grave marker which would say that he had been a Lance Corporal in the Royal Irish Rangers.
“We contacted Paul’s sister, June, and she told us the family were happy for us to do that. Through Facebook one of our other colleagues, Andy Shannon, contacted us to say he makes headstones, which was perfect.
“Andy already knew the Regi- mental Badge, of course, so once we told him what to write, he came up with the gravestone.”
The group travelled yesterday,withPaul’sfamily,tolaythe marker. Among the family members attending was Paul’s sister June Maguire, who travelled from her home in Limerick.
Shesaidherbrotherwouldbe proud of his former colleagues for remembering him in this way.
“There were 13 of us in our family and Paul was the third youngest,” June said.
“However as the years have passed another six of us have passed away and the rest of us have scattered.
“Paul was a passenger on a bike which crashed in an accident and he was killed, just two months away from his 19th birthday.
“Paul was always smiling and always got on well with people, he was known as ‘Bestie’ to his friends.
“I am so pleased that his former Army mates wanted to remember him in such a lovely way and that I was able to travel up to the cemetery to see the gravestone being laid.
“I know Paul would be so very proud,” June added.
Jim Wright helped organise a marker for the grave of his former Army colleague and friend Paul Best. Right: Lance Corporal Best (left) and a colleague at Old Sarum Castle in Salisbury