FOUR of the six British soldiers killed in the deadliest single enemy attack on UK forces in Afghanistan since 2001 were aged just 20 or below, the Ministry of Defence revealed today.
The men were named as Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, Private Anthony Frampton, 20, Private Christopher Kershaw, 19, Private Daniel Wade, 20, and Private Daniel Wilford, 21, all of 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment.
They died when their Warrior armoured vehicle was hit by an apparent improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province on Tuesday evening.
The soldiers, who had only been in Afghanistan for a few weeks, were hit by a blast about 25 miles north of Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah, at 6.30pm local time (2pm UK time).
Ammunition on board the Warrior ignited, causing a fierce fire to burn for many hours.
The intensity of the blaze meant rescuers could not get near the vehicle, and its charred shell was only taken back to the main British base in Helmand, Camp Bastion, at 7.30pm last night local time.
The MoD said it did not plan to release further information about the six soldiers until they have been formally identified.
It is understood that this could take several days because experts are having to use DNA techniques to confirm their identities.
The tragedy took the number of British troops who have died since the Afghan campaign began in 2001 to 404.
The Taliban told the BBC they carried out the attack and were “very proud of it”.
Pte Frampton went to Royds Hall High School in Huddersfield, and signed up to the Army in 2009 at the age of 18.
Melanie Williams, head of the school, paid tribute to Pte Frampton.
She said: “Anthony left Royds Hall in 2007 and is fondly remembered by staff as a memorable young man with a strong character and a real sense of humour.
“Friendly and polite, he was also caring and compassionate towards other students.
“Anthony will always be remembered by the school community with pride and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”
Pte Wilford was just 16 when he joined the Army and Cpl Hartley, a former student at Earlsheaton High School in Dewsbury, was 17 when he enlisted.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond insisted today that morale among British troops serving in Afghanistan remained “extremely high” because they know they have an important job to do.
He told ITV’s Daybreak programme: “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.
“Morale on the ground in Afghanistan is extremely high, and it’s high because the servicemen and women there know that they are doing a job and and are doing it well and that is their professional commitment to get that job done.”
Mr Hammond defended the level of protection offered by the vehicle the six soldiers were travelling in when they died.
He said: “The Warrior is the most heavily armoured vehicle that we have. It has been very heavily upgraded following some criticism that was made of the level of protection by a coroner. That programme of upgrading has been completed.
“In fighting a war you can never be 100% protected. We don’t know what happened in this incident - it looks like a massive IED that had a catastrophic impact on the vehicle.
“Obviously we will look at any lessons that can be learnt but talk to soldiers on the ground - they will tell you that there is a trade-off between level of armour and manoeuvrability.
“You can put more armour on a vehicle but then you make it slower and less manoeuvrable and that in itself creates risk.”
General Sir David Richards, the head of the Armed Forces, insisted that Britain’s military strategy in Afghanistan would not change despite the deaths, adding: “We will hold our nerve.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said the news marked a “desperately sad day for our country”, while Labour leader Ed Miliband saluted “all of our fallen and those who continue to serve in the face of the gravest danger”.
Floral tributes continued to be left at Battlesbury Barracks in Warminster, Wiltshire, the home of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment.
More than a dozen children from the local school, St George’s Catholic Primary, walked with their teacher to the barracks entrance.
One girl placed a bunch of flowers next to the other tributes and then rejoined her classmates as they stood quietly and prayed.
The children’s tribute read: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. God bless. From the staff and pupils of St George’s Catholic Primary School, Warminster.”
Earlier, 13 civilian staff, who work at the barracks as cleaners, paid their respects to the dead soldiers.
They each left flowers and then held hands in a semi-circle as they stood in reflection for a minute’s silence.
One woman fought back tears and was comforted by a colleague.
Floral tributes were being left by both service families and those with no connection to military life but who were touched by the tragic loss.
One bouquet said: “From one regimental family to another. Our thoughts are with you at this sad time. Rest in peace. The Warminster branch of the Royal Irish Rangers.”
Another card said: “RIP to the soldiers. Our sympathy is with you. Miss you guys.”
Another said: “We do not come from an Armed Forces family and are just local residents. However, we consider each and everyone of you as family and see you as ‘our boys’.
“Deepest sympathy to your family and friends at this very sad time. RIP. Love always Bryers and Dancer family, Westbury xxxxxx.”
Another tribute said simply: “Stand easy - your duty is done. The world is safer.”
Tuesday’s deaths were the biggest single loss of life for British forces in Afghanistan since an RAF Nimrod crash killed 14 people in September 2006.
Among those laying tributes outside Battlesbury Barracks was Amy Hawley and her three-year-old daughter, Lucie.
Miss Hawley, 34, who lives in Warminster, said: “I’m local to the town and it’s just hit everyone as very sad.
“My father works in the camp and he said how shocked everyone was, how sad it was and how it’s hit all the lads due to go out.
“My brother-in-law is going out in three weeks and it hits home quite harshly.
“It’s just shaken everyone up. The reality of it just hits everyone.”
Miss Hawley said seeing the pictures of the soldiers who died made it even more poignant.
“It was more seeing the faces and seeing how young they were,” she said.
“It’s just so, so harsh that six young lads, everything in front of them - just gone in one day.
“It’s just absolutely awful.”
Upgrade after safety fears
A £1bn upgrade of the Warrior armoured vehicles was announced at the end of last year after concerns were raised about their safety.
Under the improvement scheme, hundreds of the vehicles were to be fitted with a new armour mounting system.
The announcement came after fears about the safety of the Warrior were raised when one was involved in an incident in Iraq in April 2007 in which four soldiers were killed when a bomb ripped through the unprotected underside of their vehicle.