SOLDIER Richard Walker was just weeks away from being reunited with the daughter he doted on when he was shot dead.
Today, Sapper Walker’s heartbroken mum paid tribute to her son, killed by a rogue member of the Afghan National Army.
Head in her hands, Kathryn Walker painfully recalled the moment, just 72 hours ago, when she received a knock on the door of her Washington home telling her of the death of the 23-year-old.
“He’d just been here the week before Christmas. All he’d talked about was getting back from his tour and spending time with his little girl.
“We’d arranged to have Christmas a week early so we could all spend it together. He was heading back to Camp Bastion on Christmas Eve.
“Even then, he felt so guilty about being away from the rest of the lads over there – he was devoted to them.
“He died doing what he loved best.”
Richard, of 28 Engineer Regiment, attached to 21 Engineer Regiment, died at Patrol Base Hazrat, in Helmand’s Nahr-e Saraj district on Monday.
The gunman fired at Afghan troops and then Richard and his colleagues before being killed. Afghan officials have disputed Taliban claims the gunman was acting for them.
Richard was briefly a pupil at Pennywell School in Sunderland before moving to Washington School.
Liked by his teachers, he was a popular pupil who enjoyed playing football and socialising. But he only ever wanted to do one thing – become a soldier.
Kathryn, who is being supported at her Blackfell home by other members of the family, said: “He’d wanted to be in the Army from being a little boy, it was all he ever talked about.
“He was such a lovely little lad, full of surprises, he loved going to school and got along with everyone.”
Growing up, Richard was the only boy member of the Muriel Harrison School of Dance on Hylton Road in Sunderland.
“He really enjoyed it and was never bullied for being part of the group,” said Kathryn.
After leaving school, Richard looked towards a career as a mechanic after thinking a hand injury would prevent him joining the services. But, reassured by officers from the Army Careers Office in Vine Place, Sunderland, he signed up in 2008.
Based in Hameln, Germany, he thrived in his job and would regularly return to Washington to see friends and family. But, his main love in life was daughter Lilly-Faith.
“Even though he loved the Army, even though he was a popular lad and had lots of friend, ultimately he was devoted to Lilly-Faith. He adored being a dad – she was his princess.”
Richard, who would have turned 24 next month, had been a keen footballer and had played in goal for Washington Village, as well as being a staunch SAFC fan.
In August last year, Richard’s regiment began a six-month tour of Afghanistan. It was the first time the young soldier had been to the war-torn country, having taken part in tours of Canada and Kenya before.
He had been due to return home next month where he was looking forward to spending time with Lilly-Faith, who turns two in April.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman described his death as a “tragic incident”, sending his best wishes to Kathryn and her family.