Proud friends and relatives of Rifleman Peter Aldridge led a colourful tribute to the fallen soldier on Friday night.

Well wishers released a stream of helium balloons in memory of the 19-year-old, complete with tags bearing personal messages, during the celebration of his life at the Goose on the Market pub.

The “swift and bold” soldier was the 250th to die in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001, after getting caught in a blast while on foot patrol in the deadly town of Sangin in Helmand Province.

Heather Osbourne, who has known Rifleman Aldridge since their time together at Purley Oaks Primary School, was one of the group to leave a message for her friend.

She said: “We were sitting there all laughing about Peter and how he used to make us all laugh.

“When I met him at primary school he used to say to me he couldn’t wait to grow up so he could be in the army.

“On mufti days he used to come in dressed in camouflage - he always wanted to be a soldier.”

More than 1,100 people have joined a Facebook group RIP Peter Aldridge since the soldier’s death on January 22.

One from his mother Caroline thanked group members for their heartfelt words of kindness, calling Peter her “sweetpea” and “hero”.

Another from Janette Hall described him as the “brightest star in heaven”, “swift and bold” and forever a soldier.

Rifleman Aldridge joined the army as a member of the Royal Green Jackets after spending his youth in the 148 Signals Cadets, Old Coulsdon.

His regiment, the fourth battalion The Rifles, suffered numerous casualties in the same area last year, including Rifleman Danny Simpson from Shirley.

They take their history from regiments who fought in conflicts such as the Battle of Waterloo and the Somme, and saw more deaths than any other regiment last year.

The hardened soldiers have been deployed to the most volatile places in the region, providing close support and training for the Afghan National Army as well as keeping areas free of the Taliban.