Widow has ‘to do right by’ soldier

Published: Monday 1st June 2015 by The News Editor

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The widow of an Army reservist who collapsed during an SAS training exercise has told an inquest he was “handsome”, “charming” and “good at everything”.

Bryher Dunsby said Afghan veteran Corporal James Dunsby was extremely fit, a trained combat medic and had first joined the British Army as a reserve in 2005.

Cpl Dunsby died, along with two others, after taking part in the military exercise on Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales on July 13 2013.

His widow said today that he had been “a delightful eccentric mix between Flashman, a PG Wodehouse novel, and a Noel Coward play”.

She said: “He loved the British Army.”

Mrs Dunsby, who was at times emotional as she gave evidence on the first day of the inquest, said: “I do have to say James always maintained an exceptionally high level of fitness.”

She said her husband, at the time an intelligence analyst for the Ministry of Defence, had increased the already high tempo of his training regime when he decided to join the special force.

“When he decided to put himself forward for this, everything ramped up considerably and starting in early autumn of 2012.”

The university graduate was an “all-rounder”, she said, who was “very passionate about history and the military”.

He served with the Household Cavalry in Helmand province, Afghanistan, during Operation Herrick 7 in 2007-8, where he was on operations around Musa Qala.

She said that as a qualified medic Cpl Dunsby knew well how to approach a training exercise, and the importance of drinking enough water.

The inquest is also being attended by the families of the two other soldiers who died as a result of the exercise, Lance Corporal Edward Maher and Lance Corporal Craig Roberts.

At its opening, senior coroner for Birmingham and Solihull Louise Hunt said the hearing would ensure the “full facts are brought to light” over what happened.

She added that any “factual failings” could feature in the coroner’s conclusion, if uncovered.

The coroner said: “It’s important this inquest is both prompt, effective and independent and involves the families.

“It’s also important that the full facts are brought to light, culpability and discreditable conduct exposed and suspicion of deliberate wrongdoing is allayed.”

She added that any changes or lessons learned as a result of the soldiers’ deaths would also be examined.

L/Cpl Roberts, 24, from Penrhyn Bay, Conwy, was pronounced dead on the mountainside, while L/Cpl Maher and Corporal Dunsby, both 31, were taken to hospital.

L/Cpl Maher died three hours later in Merthyr Tydfil’s Prince Charles Hospital, while Cpl Dunsby, from Bath, Somerset, was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where he died on July 30.

Cpl Dunsby’s widow described her husband as an “incredibly handsome, 6ft 4in, broad, dark, and incredibly good-looking”.

“He was very charming, he was sort of a delightful eccentric mix between Flashman, a PG Wodehouse novel and a Noel Coward play,” she said.

“He was so likeable, James was very popular and never had any problems making friends.

“He was academic and an exceptional all-rounder

“He was good at sport, highly academic – he was just good at everything.”

At one point she paused in her evidence and, turning to the coroner Ms Hunt, said: “I have to do right by him.”

Setting out the circumstances of the training exercise, Ms Hunt said 78 soldiers carrying backpacks weighing at least 49lb (22kg) – not including their food and water – had set out on the march on July 13 2013.

Of those, 37 were Army reservists like those who subsequently died.

The march was taking place on what was forecast to be the hottest day of the year, with temperatures forecast to reach 27C, added the coroner.

Ms Hunt said: “We’re going to hear evidence that a number of soldiers became unwell during this march.

“Later on in the test there was concern raised for all three of the deceased.”

She said the inquest, at Solihull Council House and set to last four weeks, will hear evidence about the exercise’s planning, risk assessments, preparation and how the reservists were handled when it became clear they were in trouble.

Published: Monday 1st June 2015 by The News Editor

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