Page last updated at 10:03 GMT, Sunday, 21 June 2009 11:03 UK

Tributes to dead British soldier

Major Sean Birchall
Maj Sean Birchall was described as inspirational

A British soldier killed in a blast in southern Afghanistan has been described as a "devoted father" by his widow.

Maj Sean Birchall, of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards died while on a routine patrol near Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, said the Ministry of Defence.

His wife Joanna said the 33-year-old was a loving father to 18-month-old son Charlie and a "wonderful husband".

His death takes the number of British service personnel killed in Afghanistan since October 2001 to 169.

Another soldier was also injured in the explosion, which was caused by an improvised explosive device as Maj Birchall led a patrol of three armoured vehicles between checkpoints in Basharan.

He was an inspiration to all who knew him
Joanna Birchall

Mrs Birchall said: "Sean was a wonderful husband, a doting father and a much-loved son and brother, who cared deeply for his family and friends.

"It is the excellence he achieved in every facet of his life that defined Sean.

"An athlete, an adventurer and an instinctive leader, he was an inspiration to all who knew him.

"He leaves behind his adoring family, the regiment he loved, and his loyal friends. They will miss him terribly."

Maj Birchall was born in South Africa but moved to the UK as a baby and grew up in Guildford, Surrey.

'Led from front'

He attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where, his commanding officer said, he was marked out as a future star.

"Sean had all the qualities of the outstanding professional soldier - fitness, coolness under pressure and tactical flair," said Lt Col Rupert Thornloe.

"His character was defined by his tremendous and infectious enthusiasm - I do not think he had a negative bone in his body.

"Those under his command greatly admired his military competence and his legendary physical fitness and they warmed to his cheerful, upbeat manner.

"Sean always led from the front and his soldiers would have followed him anywhere."

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said he was deeply saddened to hear the news and his thoughts were with Maj Birchall's relatives, friends and colleagues.

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