The mother of a British man killed while clearing mines in the liberated Syrian city of Raqqa has paid tribute to her âfun-loving, cheeky, mischievousâ son.
Oliver Hall, 24, from Portsmouth, died on 25 November while clearing mines with the Kurdish Peopleâs Protection Units (YPG) to allow displaced residents to return to the city previously held by Islamic State (Isis).
According to a YPG source, Hall was trying to save a boy who had strayed into a building rigged with Isis bombs when one exploded near him.
âTwo little boys among the civilians entered a building which was known to have been [booby-]trapped before,â the source told the Guardian. âOliver entered the building to take the children out. He led one of the boys out and ran back to save the other. Thatâs when the booby-trap detonated, killing Oliver.â
Both children survived, the source said.
On Tuesday, Jane Lyndon described her son as a hero whose âgreatest attribute was his caring nature, particularly towards children and animalsâ.
In a statement given to the Guardian, she said the former telecommunications engineer â who had no military background â left for Syria in August, saying only that he was going abroad to do charity work.
âI had no idea he was planning his trip away,â she said. âThe first I knew about it was when I received a message from him saying he was abroad doing charity work. Ollie asked me not to be disappointed or angry with him and, in his own words, said: âI am away for a couple of months doing voluntary work, this is something I have to do. I have never known what to do with my life but after a lot of time thinking and planning I have decided to come and do some charity work.â
Two weeks later, she found out he was in northern Syria.
âThis was the most devastating news I could ever receive,â she said. âI pleaded with him to come back home, as did friends and family, but he stated he was an adult and he had finally found his purpose in life and was making an impact on the world.
âI would never want another family to go through this but at the same time Ollie is my hero, I am so proud of my son and miss him greatly.â
She asked that her family be left alone to grieve.
Itâs understood Hall joined the YPGâs mandatory month-long training programme, in which new recruits learn basic Kurdish, weaponry and battlefield tactics, on top of a crash course in the socialist and feminist ideology of the YPG.
He was then assigned to an infantry division, comprising about 15 international fighters, given the nom de guerre CanÅÃªr Zagros and sent into battle zones.
They went first to the now liberated eastern city of Deir ez-Zor, then to Raqqa, which the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces â of which the YPG is the majority component â declared fully liberated last month. The divisionâs job was to clear mines to make way for displaced civilians to return to their homes.
In a letter to Hallâs parents, seen by the Guardian, the YPGâs general command said: âWe are engaged in an intensive fight against Daesh [Isis] gangs in what is the final battle in eradicating them. YPG and YPJ (the all-female affiliate army of the YPG) fighters have been at the forefront …
âComrade Oliver, like all his other comrades, joined the fight to end Daeshâs barbarity and sacrificed themselves for a common and free life for all peoples. Oliver will always be remembered by our people and all peace-loving people around the world as a hero who sacrificed his life for the sake of protecting the values of the free world.â
Hall is believed to be the seventh British citizen serving with the YPG in Syria to have died since the first foreign volunteers joined the fight against Isis in the autumn of 2014, and the second since the liberation of Raqqa.
On 23 October, the former IT worker Jac Holmes, 24, one of the longest-serving volunteers with the YPG, died when an improvised explosive device blew up as the sniper unit he commanded cleared mines to allow freed civilians to leave Raqqa.
Other Britons killed fighting Isis in the past year include Mehmet Aksoy, 32, a press officer from London, Luke Rutter, 22, from Birkenhead, and Ryan Lock, 20, who shot himself to avoid capture on 21 December 2016.
In July 2016, Dean Evans, 22, a dairy farmer from Reading, died in the city of Manbij, while Konstandinos Scurfield, 25, an ex-Royal Marine from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was killed fighting in the northern village of Tel Khuzela in 2015.