On Christmas Eve, Wednesday, 24th December 2008 Ben Whatley was taking part in an operation with Lima Company in the Nad-E-Ali District, central Helmand, Afghanistan to clear enemy forces from the north of the district. Leading the men of his Section from the front, Ben Whatley was killed by enemy fire during a prolonged and fierce battle with insurgents.
Ben Whatley, 20, was a Lance Corporal serving with Lima Company, 42 Commando, Royal Marines.
Benjamin Whatley, whose home town was King's Lynn, was born on 29 July 1988. He joined 42 Commando Royal Marines as a rifleman in Mike Company. It was during this formative stage of his career that he deployed to Afghanistan for the first time on Operation HERRICK 5. A hugely successful tour, it saw Ben realise his potential as an infantryman and he began to grow into a junior commander, relishing any opportunity to step into the breach and provide an example for others to follow.
A brief respite after that tour saw Ben deploy to the Indian Himalayas on Ex HIMALAYAN WARRIOR, a test of physical endurance, determination and soldiering at high altitude in the harshest and most unforgiving environments. This change of scenery was short-lived as Pre-Deployment Training started in earnest for this current tour of Afghanistan, yet this time Ben had a clutch of junior marines looking to him for sage counsel, guidance and inspiration – a role that he assumed naturally.
Ben's family have made the following statement:
"Ben was a vibrant, happy person who had an unbridled enthusiasm for life. He was so proud to be a Royal Marine; his death creates an irreplaceable loss for all his family and friends."
Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Stickland Royal Marines, Commanding Officer, 42 Commando Royal Marines said:
"Another 'Smiley Boy' from 42 Commando lost whilst doing the job he loved, in an environment in which he excelled and surrounded by his mates. His loss has rocked the entire Commando, particularly the tight and combat hardened band of warriors that are 'Lightning' Lima Company. Lance Corporal Ben Whatley sat at the heart of a group of comrades bound together through rugged shared experiences, with strength of friendship that many cannot understand.
"He had truly earned his Lance Corporal's stripe and had so much more to give. All he served with knew him as a 'Proper Bootneck' and an uncompromising friend. His loss bonds us tighter and makes us all the more determined to maintain the initiative against our foe. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and other loved ones at this tragic, tragic time."
Major Rich Cantrill Royal Marines, Officer Commanding Lima Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines said:
"Lance Corporal Ben Whatley was a tough, uncompromising Commando and his loss leaves a huge void in the hearts and minds of the men of Lima Company. Promoted just prior to this Afghanistan deployment, his advancement was richly deserved and it was my pleasure to see his calm delight (he almost smiled!) when the Commanding Officer handed him his badge of rank.
"Tall with a booming baritone voice, Ben Whatley had in abundance that magic ingredient of 'Presence'. Every inch a Royal Marine, he was the natural choice to fill a Section Second-in-Command appointment.
"A veteran of Afghanistan, Ben knew how to fight and I saw him with my own eyes during the Battle for Zarghun Kalay, winning the fire fight against tough insurgent opposition; this is
what Ben was doing when he was killed, fighting from the front for his friends, for his team, for his Company.
"We will all miss Ben and the chance to watch him fulfil his tremendous promise, yet I will remember him as an ever-young Commando; a fighter, a man's man, a Royal Marine to the core."
Captain Ollie Truman Royal Marines, Officer Commanding 9 Troop, Lima Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines said:
"Ben was a proper 'Bootneck' and a Commando through and through. The biggest man in the troop, he excelled at relentlessly winding up his Troop Commander, Troop Sergeant and most of the senior ranks in the Company with his jokes and his almost horizontal, laid back attitude.
"He was however, a particularly effective Marine and was the automatic choice for promotion to Lance Corporal. It was in this role that he excelled as a reliable and hardworking Section Second-in-Command, proving himself and his ability to lead his team during his time on HERRICK 9 and during especially fierce fighting recently.
"Ben's loss is a huge blow to the troop for we have lost an extremely promising and successful member of our close-knit team."
Corporal Luke Colman, Section Commander, 9 Troop, Lima Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines said:
"I could not have asked for a better Section Second-in-Command than Ben Whatley. It was a job in which he excelled; I would ask for something to be done only to be told he'd done it twice already, half an hour ago! Ben was a superb soldier which he proved both on exercises and on operations.
"Immensely strong he would think nothing of carrying extra batteries or ammunition for the machine-gun and would still not be seen in anything other than a pukka (correct) fire position, going up and down the line encouraging the other lads when things were getting hard.
"More than all this he was a great friend to all the lads in the Section, me included. Words cannot express what a great loss this has been to all of us."
Marine Nick Knapman, 9 Troop, Lima Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines said:
"Ben knew what was important to him and that was his family and friends. Always trying to stitch someone up with a prank, he was without a doubt the craftiest 20 year old I have ever met. Always the first one to want to go out for a drink, he was always the last one ready because in his own words: "it's not easy being this essence (good-looking)".
"No matter how much it pains me to say it, he was a maverick when it came to the ladies. With his laid back attitude it looked like he was never giving hundred percent but Ben loved his job and being a true Bootneck was all he knew, and he proved just that on the day he was taken away from us.
"See you soon Ben, but hopefully not too soon! You're going to be missed by all, especially those closest to you and I'll never forget you."