THE heartbroken families of six soldiers killed in the deadliest single attack on British forces in Afghanistan since 2001 last night spoke of their anguish.
The men – five of them aged between 19 and 21 – died when their Warrior armoured vehicle was blown up by a massive improvised explosive device.
They have been named as Sgt Nigel Coupe, 33, of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, who was killed alongside Cpl Jake Hartley, 20, Pte Anthony Frampton, 20, Pte Christopher Kershaw, 19, Pte Daniel Wade, 20, and Pte Daniel Wilford, 21, all of 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.
In a moving tribute to his soldiers, their commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Zac Stenning, said: “Six of our brothers have fallen. It has been a sad day.”
The soldiers, who had only been in Afghanistan for a few weeks, were hit by the blast in Helmand Province on Tuesday.
It emerged yesterday that the force of the explosion turned the Warrior upside down and blew off its gun turret.
Ammunition on board the vehicle ignited, causing a fierce blaze that burned for many hours and severely hampered rescuers.
Last night, the mother of Pte Frampton, from Huddersfield, broke down in tears as she described her devastation at losing her son. Margaret Charlesworth said: “He was a legend to us and all who knew him. We are heartbroken.”
Pte Kershaw, of Bradford, was the youngest of the men killed but had been determined to serve with his comrades in Afghanistan.
Cpl Hartley, of Dewsbury, was due to turn 21 tomorrow. His stepfather Mark Taylor said the family was “devastated” by their “massive, massive loss”.
“He was kind, generous, heart of gold, an absolutely wicked sense of humour,” he said.
Pte Wilford, of Huddersfield, was described by his commanding officer as having “bags of character”. His aunt Susan Clarke said: “He’s a hero in our eyes.”
Pte Wade, of Warrington, was to become a father in June. Sgt Coupe lived with his wife and child close to the home where he grew up in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire.
Lt Col Stenning said: “As their commanding officer of a tight knit family regiment, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my incredibly brave men, and to offer my deepest condolences to their families, and to their many friends.
“It has been a sad day, but as their brothers-in-arms we remain committed in our duty to continue with our mission. They would want nothing less.”
Coun Mehboob Khan, leader of Kirklees Council, said: “This is a desperately sad day for our town.
“These deaths bring it very close to home in Huddersfield and Dewsbury the bravery of our troops and it is something we must never forget.
“My heart goes out to the families and friends of those killed. They were young men doing an enormously brave job. It is tragic beyond belief that so many have died in one incident.”
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) David O’Kelly, regimental secretary of The Yorkshire Regiment, said: “It is a dark day in the regiment’s short history but the regiment is doing all it can to help and support the families during this difficult period. The remainder of the 3rd Battalion is concentrating on preparing to deploy in the knowledge that the wider regiment and the local communities from which we recruit are being fully supportive.”
The Ministry of Defence has not formally confirmed the deaths. It is understood this process could take several days because experts are having to use DNA techniques to identify the bodies.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, telling the BBC they were “very proud of it”.
Morale remains high says Minister
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday insisted that morale among British forces in Afghanistan remained “extremely high” because they knew they had an important job to do. He said: “The people on the ground are acutely conscious of the risks that they are running but they are also incredibly proud of the job that they are doing – and rightly so – and hugely satisfied by the level of public support that they have back home.”
The tragedy was the biggest single loss of life for British forces in Afghanistan since an RAF Nimrod crash killed 14 people in September 2006. It took the number of UK troops who have died since the Afghan campaign began in 2001 to 404.