DALE Gostick, the Royal Marine killed in Afghanistan just days short of his 23rd birthday, was laid to rest in his village churchyard yesterday with full military honours.

A Union flag-draped coffin topped with his Royal Marines helmet was driven through Great Haseley, near Thame, in a glass-sided hearse pulled by four black-plumed black horses.

It was followed into the church by more than 300 people - nearly the whole village, as well as family, friends and colleagues.

The tiny church of St Peter was packed and the churchyard full of people listening to the service via a loudspeaker system.

At the end of the service, Marine Gostick - the 97th British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan - was buried with rifles fired over the grave and a bugler sounding Last Post.

There were few dry eyes, even among his uniformed colleagues.

Royal Marines lined the route on both sides of the road as the hearse passed along the street and by the war memorial where scores of floral tributes had been laid in his memory.

His colleagues from the Armoured Support Unit, who served with him in Afghanistan, were at the service.

The village was sealed off by police so that the cortege and the people following it could proceed uninterrupted through the centre of the village to the church.

The service was conducted by the Rev Victor Storey and the Royal Marines Roman Catholic chaplain Fr Michael Sharkey.

Mr Storey said Mr Gostick, who was killed on May 25, was "a good person who got on well with people and had many good qualities. He was a respectable lad and was always there for his comrades.

"He was a beautiful human being in every way."

Family and friends paid tribute inside the church.

Brigadier Mark Noble, director of the Royal Marines, said: "The funeral was very much a family occasion which we, as military, are supporting.

"Dale was a fine young man with a big heart and generous nature. He had courage and cheerfulness and was always first to lend a hand.

"The turn-out for his funeral from both the village and his colleagues is a testament to his popularity."

Mr Gostick's death shocked the village where he was born and brought up.

Mary Smith, a resident of Great Haseley for 40 years, said: "What a waste of a young life. We should never have been out there."

John Wright, 23, who went to Wheatley Park School with Mr Gostick, said: "What a bloody waste of a smashing bloke."

George Wilson, 85, a veteran of the Second World War, said: "My war was justified because of what Hitler was doing to the world, but I can't see the justification for our being in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Dale was a fine young man, but sadly he is in a growing number of young men who are both the dead and the seriously wounded in these two conflicts."