Page last updated at 07:31 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Long serving Royal Irish soldier set to retire

Major Hugh Benson, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment
Major Hugh Benson is retiring after 40 years following the colours

One of the longest-serving soldiers in the Army retires next month, after nearly 40 years in uniform.

Major Hugh Benson from Belfast, of 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, has served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Northern Ireland.

The 54-year-old father-of-four helped organise supplies to 1,800 troops as they invaded Iraq in 2003.

Commanding officer Lt Col Ed Freely said he had been "a superlative servant" to the Army and his regiment.

"His integrity, wisdom and modesty make him an obvious sounding board for everyone from the lowest to the highest rank," he said.

Major Benson, from the Shankill Road, joined the army in 1971 at the age of 16.

In 1990 he was on a tour in Northern Ireland, based in Bessbrook, south Armagh, to collate intelligence.

'Scariest moment'

He saw Royal Irish Ranger Cyril Smith, from Carrickfergus, County Antrim, killed when the IRA carried out a proxy-bomb attack on a vehicle checkpoint and he ran to warn others.

"His selflessness saved many of the rest of us that day," Lt Col Freely added.

In 2003, the major was involved in organising and maintaining supplies to 1,800 troops invading Iraq.

"I remember the night before we went in everyone was very quiet. People were apprehensive. We were just waiting for the button to be pressed to say we could cross over," he said.

He served alongside two of his sons in Iraq and three in Afghanistan in 2008.

His son Sam was injured on a night operation in Sangin, Afghanistan.

"I was sitting in a restaurant in Canterbury when I got the call and it was honestly the scariest moment of my military career," he said.

'Lynchpin'

Other jobs included serving as a unit families' officer when the regiment was struck by infant deaths from meningitis and accidents.

Lt Col Freely said: "It was a very difficult time for the battalion but Major Benson was the lynchpin. He handled bereaved parents and suffering families with tact, discretion and saint-like patience, often accommodating them in his own home."

Major Benson said his wife Jenny was glad he was leaving. He was self-deprecating about his achievements.

"A lot of it happened by default. I just worried about the rank that I was and the rest followed suit," he said.



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