Soldier Mark was ‘months from promotion’

The funeral cortege of Trooper Mark McKeen leaves Carrickfergus Methodist Church. INCT 08-003-PSB
The funeral cortege of Trooper Mark McKeen leaves Carrickfergus Methodist Church. INCT 08-003-PSB

A Carrick-born solider who died in a road accident was only months away from promotion, his commanding officer has said.

Hundreds of mourners attended Carrickfergus Methodist Church on Thursday for the funeral of Trooper Mark McKeen.

The 23-year-old was killed when the car he was travelling in collided with a tree near Catterick in Yorkshire on February 1. His colleague in the Royal Dragoon Guards, 20-year-old Private Codie Richardson from Stockton-on-Tees, also died.

The service of thanksgiving on Thursday saw family members, military personnel and local residents gather at the church where Mark was baptised in 1990.

The service was led by Army chaplain Rev Kevin Jones, assisted by Carrick Methodist minister Rev Aian Ferguson.

Members of Mark’s family paid emotional tributes to the young solider, who had conducted two tours of Afghanistan.

A statement from the family read: “Mark was a caring, thoughtful young man who was an amazing brother and son, totally dedicated to his family. The great loves in Mark’s life were his family, cars and food.

“He lightened every room with his cheeky contagious smile and there was never a dull moment when he was present. We have all taken great comfort in learning how many lives Mark has touched and the wonderful memories that have been shared with us.”

Speaking at the service, commanding officer of the Royal Dragoon Guards, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bateman said: “In just a few short years of service Mark had packed in the experiences.

“He was a Challenger 2 tank driver, a Warthog Commander, had trained in Kenya, was a scout and probably coolest of all a sniper.

“As many of you will know, he was a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. He was an accomplished dismounted soldier and a thoroughly reliable member of a crew with all the professional pride expected of the Royal Armoured Corps.

“He had also proved his courage on numerous occasions. In one example early in his second tour in Afghanistan he was part of a dismounted team.

“After nearly three days of reasonably heavy fighting with the Taliban he was the lead man responsible for the recovery of a stricken vehicle which had been blown up and was being shot at.

“Keeping a level head under intense pressure, he found a number of other substantial-sized bombs. His cool professional example steadied all those around him. His, and his comrades’, collective actions saved the crew of that vehicle that day.

“He had recently completed a potential non-commissioned officer cadre to see if he was ready for promotion to Lance Corporal. He clearly was; as he came second out of the whole course. I have no doubt I would have promoted him in October this year. A first class soldier and a good friend to so many, Mark had a shining future with the regiment. He served his country proudly and with honour. His memory will always be cherished by the Royal Dragoon Guards and those of us fortunate enough to have known him.”

Trooper McKeen was buried with full military honours at Victoria Cemetery.