The first of the fallen - remembering St Albans soldier James Philippson

James Philippson photos from book

James Philippson photos from book - Credit: Archant

The terrible tragedy that was the death of Captain James Philippson in Afghanistan in 2006 has been captured in a new book which pays tribute to 20 of the British servicemen and women who died in the conflict.

James was brought up in St Albans where he was a student at St Columba’s College. He had completed tours of Iraq and The Falklands before being posted to Afghanistan.

It was there on June 11, 2006, that he became the first British solider to be killed in the conflict.

He was shot dead on a desperate mission to rescue other stricken British troops - and he was only 29 years old.

Family, friends and colleagues have been interviewed for the chapter on Jim Philippson in the book called At The Going Down Of The Sun including his late father Tony who campaigned tirelessly to establish exactly what led to his son’s death.

Tony, who was interviewed by author Graham Bound before his death earlier this year, said his son was nicknamed Action Man and recalled: “The first Army he joined was his own. I didn’t know it then but when he was about 12, he and his little band of friends, all dressed in camouflage, would pinch my air rifle and head off for the naturist camps in Bricket Wood.

“They’d load the gun with some hard little berries, sneak up on the nudists, fire these berries at their bottoms and then escape on their bikes.

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“So those were his first military exercises. He and his band were straight out of the Just William books.”

His mother Tricia Quinlan recalled how she had no worries at the time her son joined the armed forces because there were no wars.

She said: “It just sounded like a terrifically exciting option. James was very bright but I couldn’t imagine him sitting in an office. His physical side dominated his persona.”

Shortly before that fateful night in June 2006, Sandhurst-trained James had been sitting on a compound roof in the late afternoon sun enjoying an iced tea and a chat with a couple of fellow officers in what a colleague described as ‘a rare moment of downtime’.

Hours later his body was being carried out of a firefight.

Both Tony and Tricia, who were divorced, were abroad when their son died. Their younger son David broke the news to his mother in Portugal.

It was in the early hours of the morning and she had been asleep when the phone rang.

Despite the dreadful shock, she got on to the internet to book flights back to the UK the next day. She said: “When the sun still came up, I just couldn’t believe that the world was continuing as it had the day before.”

After his death, James’s parents set up The Captain James Philippson Trust Fund which raises money for a range of charities but Tricia adits that event eight years on, she is struggling to come to terms with his death.

”Last year, somebody asked me how old James would be if he was still with us and I really had to think about it. Because he’s 29. That’s when he ended.”

A total of 453 British men and women died during the Afghanistan conflict and author Graham Bound said ti had been an absolute privilege to tell the stories of 20 of them.

“I found them very humbling and moving. Some families lost their only child and in all cases the loss of a son or daughter has left an enormous hole in their lives.”

At The Going Down Of The Sun is published by Monday Books and is available from bookshops and online retailers.