Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 18:46 UK

Funeral for 'big heart' soldier

Sgt Maj Michael Williams
A colleague said Sergeant Major Williams 'leaves really big shoes to fill'

A soldier killed in a firefight with the Taleban in Afghanistan has been laid to rest with full military honours after a funeral attended by hundreds.

Sergeant Major Michael Williams, of 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, was killed in Helmand province on 24 June.

Mourners gathered at St Martin's Church Caerphilly for the service for the 40-year-old, who was from Bedwas.

A colleague who had known him for most of his 22 years in the Army said he was "small in stature, big in heart".

Sgt Maj Williams was one of his battalion's most senior soldiers.

His friends took his coffin, draped in the Union Flag, with his beret resting on top, to the church in silence from his home town. Dozens of mourners stood outside.

Giving his tribute inside the church, Jamie Hall broke down in tears as spoke about "such a loved and respected man".

We took the mick out of his height, because he was small - but he leaves really big shoes to fill, even though they were only a size eight
Sgt Maj Darren Bartlett

He described how Sgt Maj Williams's love of Cardiff City football club had led him to secure leave to watch the team play in this year's FA Cup Final.

Mr Hall said it would have made his friend "very happy indeed" to learn a plaque in his memory is planned at the club's new stadium, currently under construction.

He added Sgt Maj Williams "came close to being capped by Wales at rugby", sparking laughter when he said his determined nature had led to arguments on the pitch.

Sergeant Lee Payne, who had known Sgt Maj Williams for 14 years, said was "respected throughout the Army for what he knew about machine guns".

Sgt Major Williams's coffin
Sgt Major Williams was described as "big in heart"

Members of the public lined the road in Bedwas as the hearse drove past. A firing party sounded their guns at the hillside cemetery, where more than 100 relatives, colleagues and close friends attended.

Before the service, Sgt Maj Darren Bartlett, who had known Sgt Maj Williams for 21 years, said he was "an excellent soldier".

He said: "He loved his Welsh background, and he loved his family.

"He was a proud Welshman, and a proud parachutist. He will be greatly missed, by everyone from the most junior ranks to the commanding officer.

He added: "There were a few tears shed when we found out he had died.

"We took the mick out of his height, because he was small. But he leaves really big shoes to fill, even though they were only a size eight."

'True professional' Para tributes
26 Jun 08 |  South East Wales

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