Paul Daniel Mervis, 27, was buried today at the Aldershot Military Cemetery. A British Army LT he was with The 2nd Battalion the Rifles (2 RIFLES). He was killed 12 June 2009 while on patrol in Helmand Province. (notes also here and here).
The Jewish community in the British Military is proportionally even smaller than that of the US services. Paul is the first casualty of the community since the Falklands (1982). Cemetery space is extremely limited in England; a guaranteed funeral plot is not a minor benefit.
A full formal graveside service, it combined military and Jewish traditions. I estimate that there were close to 350 standing on the hillside for the service officiated by the Rabbi of the family’s temple in Wimbledon. Also present, the rabbi emeritus of that schul and the past layleader for the British Armed forces (only one when you have 300 total or less….).
It was a quiet and fitting service, as much as anyone can say about a funeral for a young man of 27. The readings and eulogies from his brother, sister, uncle and best friend gave me the impression of a bright, opinionated, loyal, argumentative young man full of joy, willing to go to the wall for his beliefs and delighting in the chance to serve in the army. He won’t be there for his younger brother and sister, this fall he won’t be the best man in his childhood friend’s wedding. It was obvious the pride in him through the pain of everyone who spoke.
I had not met him as the only way I would have was attendance at Amport – he had been planning on coming Jan 2010. Adding my shovel full of dirt to his grave prior to saluting in full uniform was not how any of us plan to make acquaintances.