TRIBUTES have been paid to a ‘tenaciously fit’ British soldier who died during the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France, as his funeral service was held yesterday.

Lance Corporal Darren Jones, a paratrooper and plant operator mechanic of 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, is thought to have got into difficulties while swimming in a canal in Normandy after a night out on June 2.

The 28-year-old, of Esh Winning, near Durham, who was off duty, died in water at Bénouville, near Pegasus Bridge, the first site to be liberated by the allies on June 6, 1944.

His funeral service was held in St Cuthbert’s Chapel, Ushaw College, followed by private cremation yesterday.

L/Cpl Jones joined the Army at 16 years of age and went on to pass the arduous all arms pre-parachute selection (known as ‘Pegasus Company’), earning him the right to wear the maroon beret of the Airborne Forces.

Among his deployments were to the Olympic Stadium in London as part of the venue security force during the London Olympic Games and the Falkland Islands, to support the British Army’s construction of key basing and infrastructure. He also served in Kenya where his team constructed tactical landing zones for C-130 Hercules aircraft.

Lieutenant Barney Grant, Support Troop Commander, said: “L/Cpl Jones was a determined, professional and skilled plant operator mechanic, whose infectious personality and sense of humour quickly made him popular with the whole troop.

“Always willing to help those around him, he was constantly looking for ways he could develop those with less experience or assist his troop management.

“As a physically fit, natural leader he exuded the qualities of a paratrooper and always gave his all in everything he did. Daz had a very bright future ahead of him and will be greatly missed.”

Lieutenant Colonel Jez Robinson, commanding officer 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment said:

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I learned of LCpl Darren Jones’ passing. He was an extremely determined and totally professional soldier who was much loved by all who knew him. The regimental family is now mourning the loss of one of its own and we offer our deepest sympathies to his family and many friends.

He added: "A consummate professional, LCpl Jones was an engaging, intelligent and talented individual who was determined to be the best at all he undertook; he exuded all that is unique in Airborne soldiers.

My most sincere condolences go to his parents, family and friends. My thoughts and prayers are with them at this extremely sad time."

Major Jim Viney, Officer Commanding 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers said: “L/Cpl Jones was an extremely professional and tenaciously fit paratrooper and Royal Engineer.

"He was exceptionally proud of serving in 9 Parachute Squadron and was devoted to serving his country.

"Universally loved and respected, the squadron will sorely miss his humour, humility and airborne spirit."

L/Cpl Jones had recently returned from an exercise in Belize, where he led a team in important route upgrades on military training areas.

Maj Viney added: "On return from Belize, L/Cpl Jones eagerly offered to travel to Normandy to support the UK’s contribution to the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It was typical of his selfless character and unwavering enthusiasm to volunteer for such a task."

L/Cpl Jones leaves his father Michael, mother Julia-Anne, brother Robert, sisters Louise and Sarah and girlfriend Stefanie.