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Spixworth vicar says troubled soldier was ‘let down by society’

PUBLISHED: 23:18 16 February 2011 | UPDATED: 23:18 16 February 2011

The funeral of David Phillips at Horsham St Faith Crematorium.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The funeral of David Phillips at Horsham St Faith Crematorium. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2011

A vicar has told mourners at a funeral how a troubled former soldier who spent 14 years serving his country was a “hero who was let down by society”.

David Phillips, 54, of The Warren, Horsham St Faith, died after being hit by a Peugeot 106 on Manor Road, close to his home, last month.

His death came just days before he was due to appear at Norwich Magistrates’ Court to be sentenced after pleading guilty to harassment - a charge relating to making threats to kill his ex-partner.

Family and friends of Mr Phillips packed St Faith’s Crematorium yesterday for a service and celebration of his troubled life much of which was blighted by the mental illness, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by his time serving in Northern Ireland.

Reverend Andrew Beane, rector of Horsham St Faith, Spixworth and Crostwick, led the service and spoke of the hidden illness that caused him so much anguish and of the help he sought to suppress it.

He said: “His death was a tragedy in so many ways and it was a desperate cry for help, ‘Can you help me?’. “David should be remembered for being a hero, a hero that in many ways was let down by society; not a bad man but someone who was ill and needed to be cared for and carried.”

Rev Beane added: “All of us have had times in our life when we needed to be carried, when life seemed so tough we just wanted to stop.

“David was ill when he died. His illness may not have been seen - his illness was in the mind - but just as we need help when we’re ill in bed so he needed help too.

“Some of you that knew him that knew him tried to offer it to him. Sometimes he would accept, sometimes he was too proud. But deep down I’m sure he appreciated it and it helped him keep going in dark days.”

More than 100 people attended the service for the former soldier whose coffin was draped in a union flag.

The coffin was carried into the church as The Hollies’ track, He Ain’t Heavy, he’s my Brother, played out through the crematorium.

Rev Beane told mourners that the curtain would remain open throughout the service as Mr Phillips would have wanted to have been the “centre of attention”.

He added: “Today is a difficult day for each of you here, a sad day as we say goodbye to David. But I don’t think he would have wanted it to be a sad day. He would have been delighted you were all here and that he was the centre of attention. He would have just been frustrated he couldn’t join you in the party afterwards.”

Mourners sang the Lord is My Shepherd before a time for further quiet reflection when the Dire Straits hit Brothers in Arms was played.

The track followed an emotional tribute from his brother Mark and friend Jeff Gibson.

Their personal tributes and memories were interspersed with extracts from a life story that Mr Phillips had himself embarked on, but never completed.

Mr Gibson told how since leaving the army in 1986 he had suffered from mental health problems which blighted his life and stemmed from “past traumas and the anguish resulting from these”.

But Mr Gibson said that in the days before his death he had been in good spirits and was even planned to visit his home town of Arundel, West Sussex, in April to spend time with his family. He was also hoping to take his nephew Jamie on a trip to Ireland in July.

Mr Gibson also referred to a letter found at Mr Phillips’s home from the chief superintendent of Sussex Police which praised the then 14-year-old for rescuing a young boy from the River Arun.

His brother Mark said: “I would ask all of you here today to remember Dave for his humour and practical jokes, his loyalty to his friends, his great interest and knowledge of 20th century history and finally his selflessness towards his comrades during his 14 years with the British army. If we do this, he will not be dead as he will continue to live on in our hearts and minds.”

Mr Phillips’s nephew Jamie read Footprints and He is Gone before the Last Post was played. Family and friends left the crematorium to celebrate his life at the St Faith Centre Social Club with Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life ringing out.

Many mourners gave money to the Help for Heroes charity as they left the emotional service.

Ambulance crews, including the Norwich Critical Care Car, attended after Mr Phillips was struck by the car, at about 7.25pm on Saturday, January 22, but he died at the scene as a result of his injuries.

As well as brother Mark and sister Lynn Sole, who lives in Horsham St Faith with her son, Mr Phillips also leaves another sister Diane Norton, two nephews, and two elderly parents Joan and Peter.

He was also father to a girl, now 22, living in Canterbury, and saw himself as a father to his ex-partner’s young child.

Anyone with any information about the incident should contact police on 0845 456 4567.

Would you like to pay tribute to a lost loved one? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma.

And while fatalities and injuries on the frontline dominate the public consciousness it is becoming more and more apparent that the psychological affects of war are as just as devastating as the physical ones suffered by soldiers.

One in 20 men and women in our armed forces suffer from a range of mental illnesses from post traumatic stress to depression and anxiety disorders while serving their country.

Many more develop problems years after service. This is despite the fact that basic training includes “healthy warrior” tests designed to ensure those who are most vulnerable to such conditions do not join up.

In April last year Chanice Ward, 29, who had served six years in the Royal Medical Corps as a combat medic and ambulance technician in Bosnia and Kosovo, died after taking a cocktail of painkillers and antidepressants in her Barford caravan.

Norfolk coroner William Armstrong said he could not be certain she committed suicide but her father, Ivor, maintains a belief that Miss Ward took her own life because she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder bought on by her years in the army.

Meanwhile Michael Baldwin has been raising funds to help servicemen and women who suffer from serious mental trauma on active service following the death of his son, Robert, in 2003.

Robert Baldwin, 28, from Norwich took his own life in December 2003 after suffering PTSD - a direct result of his experiences while serving in Bosnia.

His family have since been raising funds for Combat Stress - a British charity which helps those who have been severely psychologically traumatised while on active service.

Since 1919 Combat Stress has supported more than 90,000 veterans suffering from mental health conditions ranging from depression to PTSD incurred or exacerbated in the course of conflict and peacekeeping activities.

For more information on the work of Combat Stress visit the website www.combatstress.org.uk

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