Minister slams Blair and Bush at funeral of Scottish soldier
A CHURCH minister has used the funeral of a teenage Scots soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq to launch an embittered attack on the politicians who called the country to war.
The Rev Dr John Mann spoke of his anger toward Tony Blair and George Bush as Fusilier Gordon Gentle, 19, was buried with full military honours at St James’ Parish Church in Pollok, Glasgow.
The teenager was killed while on a routine patrol in Basra on 28 June, three months after joining the regiment.
At yesterday’s funeral service the minister, who is American, sent a message to the Prime Minister and the US president, declaring: "Shame on you."
His words, endorsed by Fusilier Gentle’s family, were echoed by about 1,000 mourners who heard Dr Mann insist that the teenager, who lived 500 yards from the church, was killed in an "unjust war".
"I want to believe that if there’s a God in heaven then there will be justice because I want someone to pay for Gordon’s death," Dr Mann told a hushed congregation.
"But only God may judge who is ultimately responsible and I can only admonish - I’m just a preacher. And if I were to point them out, I would say to president George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, I have only three words of admonishment.
"I pray that they may some day be inscribed on the tablets of your hearts - and those three words are ‘shame on you’."
Before the service, members of the Royal Highland Fusiliers had stood guard as mourners filed inside, with many more listening as loudspeakers relayed the service outside.
A six-strong bearer party removed the coffin, draped in the Union Flag, as Euan Loudon, General Officer of 2nd Division, Edinburgh, and Fusilier Gentle’s company commander, Major Sandy Fitzpatrick, gave the salute.
Pipe Major Michael Gray played the Highland Cradle lament as the coffin was carried into the church, but failed to compete with the strains of the rock anthem I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, by Aerosmith - a favourite of the young soldier.
George McNeilage, a community campaigner and family friend, said that the teenager was an "economic conscript", forced into the army because of a lack of prospects on the impoverished Pollok estate.
The teenager had simply hoped to get a driving licence and a trade from a career in the service, he said.
The soldier’s mother, Rose, 40, was supported by her husband, George, 45, and daughters, Pamela, 21, and Maxine, 14. Mrs Gentle has insisted her son was just a "bit of meat" to the government which sent him to war and denounced the conflict in Iraq as a "war over oil".
Her conviction was reflected in the words of the minister, who was at pains to clarify that the criticism was not directed at Fusilier Gentle’s comrades, many of whom attended the service, but at their political masters.
Dr Mann added: "I am angry at the political leaders who created this war. I am angry at the politicians who themselves have never experienced the horror of war yet easily send others to war."
He said the case for war was based on "misinformation and lies", adding: "Those who are ultimately responsible for Gordon’s death will in all likelihood never face justice in this life."
He added: "Gordon now joins the ranks of fallen soldiers. He will forever remain 19 years old. One way that his sacrifice will not be in vain is if we, the living, live with hope - hope that someday we might just catch a glimmer of the promise of peace."
After the church service, Mr McNeilage, spoke on behalf of the family and expressed fear for another five sons of Pollok still serving in Iraq.
He described Fusilier Gentle as "a young man in the prime of his life who joined up as an economic conscript and who is now no longer with us".
Mr McNeilage added that Fusilier Gentle’s mother "was not finished" in her campaign against the politicians she blamed for her son’s death.
He added: "People in this community are angry, the family are angry and I think that the minister summed up the feelings of the family and the community when he talked about the politicians and how we don’t see their sons and daughters in places like Iraq.
"She is extremely angry about what has happened and her son being sent over there."
The Scottish Socialist Party leader, Tommy Sheridan, a close family friend, backed the minister, describing his words as "courageous".
Morag Mylne, the convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Nation Committee, said it was up to Dr Mann to choose the words used during the funeral service.
However, she added: "We didn’t believe that it was right to go to war and we maintain our opposition to the war."
A spokeswoman for the MoD said that Fusilier Gentle had received "adequate" training before being sent to Iraq.
However, she refused to be drawn on Dr Mann’s criticism, adding: "The minister is entitled to make his own comments and express his own personal opinion and we would express our deepest sympathies to Fusilier Gentle’s family. However, as far as we are concerned, he received adequate training."
At a private burial service, Fusilier Gentle’s comrades provided the last salute, firing a volley of shots over his grave.
Mr Blair faces a fresh blow over the credibility of the case he made for war as Lord Butler’s inquiry into pre-war intelligence is set to rubbish his claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction ready to use at 45 minutes’ notice.
Lord Butler will next week report on the assessment and production of intelligence on Iraq, and ministers are braced for criticism. The Butler report was handed over for printing yesterday, and it was reported last night that it will say that the 45-minute claim was not properly supported by credible intelligence.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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