Families pay tribute to British aid worker ‘heroes’ killed in Gaza

<span>The three Britons (left to right): John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby.</span><span>Photograph: PA</span>
The three Britons (left to right): John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby.Photograph: PA

The British citizens killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza will be remembered as “heroes”, their families have said.

James Kirby, a 47-year-old former Army sniper, and John Chapman, 57, were among seven World Central Kitchen aid workers killed in strikes by the Israel Defense Forces on Monday.

The pair worked in the charity’s security team and died alongside fellow British military veteran James Henderson, 33.

Kirby’s family described him as a “genuine gentleman” who lost his life trying to help others.

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In a statement to the BBC, they said: “As a family, we are utterly heartbroken by the loss of our beloved James Kirby. Alongside the other six individuals who tragically lost their lives, he will be remembered as a hero.

“James understood the dangers of venturing into Gaza, drawing from his experiences in the British Armed Forces, where he bravely served tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Despite the risks, his compassionate nature drove him to offer assistance to those in dire need.

“A genuine gentleman, James was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone, even in the face of senseless violence. James lost his life trying to save others, he will never know what a void he has left, our family will never be the same.”

They added that they were “incredibly proud” of Kirby and his achievements.

Kirby, who was born in Bristol, reportedly worked as a private security contractor for UK-based company Solace Global, according to his LinkedIn. His cousin, Amy Roxburgh-Barry, told Sky News it was devastating that he had fought in wars and returned without “a scratch” and “he goes out to do something helpful, and that’s what happened”.

Adam McGuire, her brother, added: “He was selfless, he would help anybody, and this is one of the reasons he felt he had to go and work with World Central Kitchen. He knew he had to go. His friends were telling him this is probably a bad place to go but he knew he had to go and help people. That was James all over, he didn’t think of himself.”

He said that he was “disappointed” by Benjamin Netanyahu’s response on Tuesday, adding: “I think this should be a turning point now where aid needs to flow into those areas and he needs to recognise that you can’t just indiscriminately hit people who are trying to save people. Make a safe passage.”

The family of Chapman, who is understood to be a former special forces member living in Poole, Dorset, said they were devastated by his death.

In a statement issued through the Foreign Office, they said: “We are devastated to have lost John, who was killed in Gaza. He died trying to help people and was subject to an inhumane act. He was an incredible father, husband, son and brother.

“We request we be given space and time to grieve appropriately. He was loved by many and will forever be a hero. He will be missed dearly.”

Henderson, from Penryn, Cornwall, served in the Royal Marines for six years before working for private security firms, according to his LinkedIn.

Tributes were also paid to Zomi Frankcom, 43, an Australian national; Jacob Flickinger, 33, an American-Canadian dual citizen; Damian Sobol, 35, a Polish national, and Saif Issam Abu Taha, a 25-year-old Palestinian, who were also killed in the strike.

Frankcom’s family said she left behind a legacy of compassion, bravery and love. In a statement, they described her as an “outstanding human being” who was “killed doing the work she loves delivering food to the people of Gaza”.

Sobol, a relief worker who lived in the city of Przemyśl, in south-east Poland, had been on aid missions in Ukraine, Morocco and Turkey. Wojciech Bakun, the mayor of Przemyśl, wrote in a Facebook post: “There are no words to describe the feelings of people who knew this amazing young man right now.”

Abu Taha’s brothers described him as a dedicated young man eager to help fellow Palestinians.

On Wednesday, the British foreign secretary, David Cameron, described the killings as “dreadful” and added: “We should mourn the loss of these brave humanitarian workers.”