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Gympie remembers Ashley Birt

Cpl Ashley Birt's funeral at the Pavilion in Gympie. An escort stands guard at the casket.
Cpl Ashley Birt's funeral at the Pavilion in Gympie. An escort stands guard at the casket. Craig Warhurst

PREMIER Anna Bligh and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan brought the kind thoughts of many Queenslanders, and Australians, with them at yesterday's funeral of Gympie's fallen hero, Corporal Ashley Birt.

A large contingent of hockey players from Maryborough and up to 300 soldiers, camped at the Cooloola Comets Stadium, joined Gympie mates and family friends to farewell a young man they knew and will miss.

A huge crowd of about 2000 quickly occupied all 750 seats set at the Pavilion, while the rest stood along walls and in the foyer.

Plain clothed police and dark-suited security people mixed, watchfully, with the crowd.

An Army honour guard and escort, led by a piper and drummer, guided the funeral vehicle as it towed the ceremonial gun carriage bearing Cpl Birt's casket.

Army chaplain Isaac Khan said the 23rd Psalm had for thousands of years provided comfort to people who find themselves, as the people of Gympie did yesterday, in "the valley of the shadow of death".

He asked God to help Cpl Birt's friends and loved ones to cope with their feelings of "loss, grief, anger and confusion" and gave thanks "for the gift of Ashley's life".

Eulogies from Gympie's Dean Walker and Kayden Dickfos were supported by those of the Army's Lance Corporal Matthew Evans and Sapper Mitchell McKean, speaking of a young man who had been committed to making the most of every hour, proving it from birth when it was discovered that he only slept an hour or two out of every 24.

The gathering was told that Ashley and his brother and fellow soldier Corporal Dale Birt "loved each other and hated each other, but no one could say anything bad about them because they were always there for each other".

When Dale tried to explain to Ashley that there was no Santa, the response was: "Don't tell Mum, she still believes in him!"

The eulogies also remembered a young man, brilliant in all sports involving the use of a ball, and recalled a troublesome peacock that was relocated after Ashley knocked it unconscious with one hurl of a handy passionfruit.

Dale's dirty trick, involving hiring his brother left handed golf clubs, backfired when Ashley hit a hole in one with them straight off.

"No one could ask for a better mate than Ashley," his army colleagues said.

Chaplain Khan said the grief in the community would enable us to help others.

"We will grow from this loss and pain," he said.

"Our experience of pain equips us to empathise. Only those who have been deeply wounded can understand the pain of others.

"With God's help we can become wounded healers," he said.

Topics:  afghanistan army funeral service showgrounds soldier

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