The families and friends of six soldiers killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan paid poignant public tribute to their memory today as their bodies were repatriated.
More than 2,000 well-wishers and fellow servicemen lined the streets in Carterton, Oxfordshire, as a convoy of hearses bearing the men’s coffins paused at a memorial garden near RAF Brize Norton.
As the hearses came to a halt at the memorial, relatives of the tragic comrades placed dozens of red and white roses and carnations on top of the vehicles and comforted each other.
Those paying tribute to the six troops lined the roadside in order of the servicemen’s rank, with the lead hearse carrying the body of Sergeant Nigel Coupe.
A party of Royal British Legion standard bearers from various regimental associations also paid their respects to the soldiers as the hearses stopped beside a Union Flag flying at half-mast.
Sgt Coupe, 33, Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, and Privates Anthony Frampton, 20, Christopher Kershaw, 19, Daniel Wade, 20, and Daniel Wilford, 21, were killed near the border between Helmand and Kandahar provinces two weeks ago.
Sgt Coupe, a member of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and his comrades, all members of The Yorkshire Regiment’s 3rd Battalion, were patrolling in a Warrior armoured vehicle when it was hit by an improvised explosive device on March 6.
The deaths of Sgt Coupe, a married father-of-two from Lytham St Annes, Lancashire; Pte Wade, from Warrington, Cheshire; and the other soldiers, all from West Yorkshire, took British armed forces’ total number of deaths since operations began in Afghanistan to 404.
Carterton Town Mayor Norman MacRae was among the crowd, which included service personnel in uniform, many young children, numerous veterans, and local people of all ages.
Councillor MacRae, who lives in the town, said: “Obviously it’s a very sad day that six servicemen have lost their lives but within that it also has been a day for the community to come together to pay their respects to those that have fallen.
“When I say community I mean the whole of the country paying their respects.
“There is a wide cross-section of society here and it is nice to see so many people from different backgrounds coming to this memorial garden.”
Estimating that up to 2,500 had turned out to show their solidarity with the bereaved, the mayor added: “This is of course not a numbers game - the whole point is to allow a facility where the public can come and support the families.”
A respectful silence was maintained after the cortege came to a halt, but spontaneous applause for the soldiers’ sacrifice broke out as the hearses drew away en route to the mortuary at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.
In tributes issued shortly after the soldiers were killed, those who served alongside Sgt Coupe described him “the perfect gentleman” who always put others before himself.
In a statement released by the Ministry of Defence, Cpl Hartley, from Dewsbury, was described by his company commander, Major Edward Colver, as “quite simply one of the best non-commissioned officers I have ever had the privilege of working with”.
Pte Frampton, from Huddersfield, was described by colleagues as an “amazing character” while Pte Kershaw, from Bradford, was said to be an “outstanding friend” with potential as a leader of men.
Pte Wade died as his fiancee, Emma Hickman, was expecting their first child.
Soldiers who served with Pte Wade said he never stopped talking about the forthcoming birth of his daughter and believed he would have made a “brilliant dad”.
Pte Wilford, also from Huddersfield, was described by his Company Sergeant Major, Eric Whitehouse, as an “honest, quiet soldier” who excelled at his job.
The tragedy represented the biggest single loss of life for British forces in Afghanistan since an RAF Nimrod crash killed 14 people in September 2006.