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Castlemartin: Commanding officer pays tribute to soldiers killed on range

THE TWO soldiers who died after ammunition is believed to have exploded inside their tank have been described as ‘exceptionally talented’ by their commanding officer.

Cpl Matthew Hatfield and Cpl Darren Neilson, of the Royal Tank Regiment, died after an explosion inside their vehicle during a live firing exercise at Castlemartin on Wednesday (Jun 14).

Lt Col Simon Ridgway said the soldiers ‘really loved what they did’ and the unit had ‘lost two real characters and feels truly honoured to have served with them’.

The four-man crew of the Challenger 2 main battle tank was firing 120mm practice shells at targets on the Castlemartin Ranges in Pembrokeshire when the explosion occurred.

A spokesman for the MoD told The Herald: “A ban on tank live firing training has been put in place until the findings of the investigation are known. Further action will follow as appropriate.”

Corporal ‘Daz’ Neilson 

Corporal ‘Daz’ Neilson joined the Army in 2004 serving with both the 1st and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments before they amalgamated into the Royal Tank Regiment. He was a real character within his crew, troop, squadron and the regiment and he had the respect of all those he worked with due to his professionalism, easy going nature and natural leadership style.

While happy in any crew position, Daz had a real talent for gunnery and this was the area he specialised in, becoming a Challenger 2 gunnery instructor and commander. He recently returned to the regiment and joined BADGER, a Challenger 2 squadron, as a Troop Corporal and gunnery instructor. His passion for his career in general, and gunnery in particular, was obvious and many of our soldiers have improved their skills as a result of his dedication and experience.

Because of his character Daz was selected to be part of the Army Recruiting Team in Preston where a combination of his dry sense of humour and clear enthusiasm for being in the military played a key part in helping recruit soldiers. Being a real family man this was also a chance to spend quality time with them.

During his time as a soldier Daz deployed on operations to Iraq and Afghanistan and spent a huge amount of time on exercise on Salisbury Plain helping train future tank commanders or conducting low level training. Always at the centre of the action he could be counted on to make people laugh whatever the circumstances and we all feel incredibly privileged to have known him. His sudden loss is devastating and his family are in our thoughts and prayers at this incredibly difficult time.

Corporal Matthew ‘Hattie’ Hatfield 

From a very early age Corporal Matthew ‘Hattie’ Hatfield wanted to join the Army and as soon as he was old enough he started basic training at the Army Training Regiment in Harrogate. Having finished the Challenger 2 drivers’ course in Bovington he joined the Queen’s Royal Hussars and while doing a job at the Armoured Trials and Development Unit he transferred into the Royal Tank Regiment to be closer to his mother, sister, fiancée and daughter.

Hattie was an utterly professional, incredibly hard working and exceptionally well liked soldier. Whether as a tank driver, gunner, operator or commander, Hattie was in his element. He was a man who loved soldiering, loved being part of a crew and loved having a laugh with everyone he worked with. He was an excellent role model and mentor for junior soldiers and he always put others before himself. He spent his evenings and weekends volunteering with the local Army Cadet Force inspiring the next generation of soldiers using his wealth of experience.

During his career he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and took part in numerous exercises in Germany, the UK, Oman, Brunei and Canada. He was identified as having all the skills necessary to be a very effective tank commander and having completed the course he was then selected to be a Challenger 2 gunnery instructor. He was a natural teacher and everyone benefitted from his enthusiasm, knowledge and desire to help others be the best they could be.

Hattie had recently started a new job as a Troop Corporal and gunnery instructor in BADGER, one of the Challenger 2 squadrons, and had already made his mark as a real team player and his significant potential was obvious. A genuine wind-up merchant, he would have a laugh and a joke at every opportunity and everyone enjoyed being in his company. He was an enthusiastic and fiercely competitive rugby and cricket player who enjoyed being on the pitch but also enjoyed the banter in the bar after a game.

Hattie was an excellent soldier who we are honoured to have served with and we are devastated by his untimely death and his family’s loss. All our thoughts and prayers are with them at this incredibly difficult time.

The MoD, Dyfed-Powys Police and Health and Safety Executive are investigating.

Tank live firing exercises by British military have also been suspended at the site as a precaution.

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