THE TOWN of Warminster came to a halt to pay its respects to six British soldiers killed in an explosion in Afghanistan and to see off their comrades who were about to be deployed to the war zone.
Hundreds of people waving Union flags lined the streets as 400 soldiers from the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment marched through the Wiltshire town, with the Duke of York, colonel-in-chief of the regiment, taking the salute.
Prince Andrew then joined the soldiers and local dignitaries for a service at The Minster Church of St Denys, which began with a roll of honour of the names of those troops killed being read out and the playing of the Last Post.
Five of the six soldiers killed in Helmand Province 11 days ago were from the same regiment which yesterday received the backing of the public before being sent out to Afghanistan.
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, died alongside Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, when a Taliban roadside bomb destroyed their Warrior armoured vehicle in Helmand province on Tuesday March 6.
The incident was the deadliest single enemy attack on UK forces in Afghanistan since the military operation was launched in the country more than 10 years ago.
The soldiers, who had only been in Afghanistan for a few weeks, were hit by the blast about 25 miles north of the capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah.
Pte Frampton and Pte Wilford were both from Huddersfield, while Pte Kershaw was from Eccleshill, Bradford; Pte Hartley, who was only days away from his 21st birthday, was from Dewsbury.
Pte Wade, from Warrington, who joined the Army in January last year, was to become a father in June. He and his fiancee, Emma Hickman, were expecting a girl – Lexie.
Sgt Coupe, a married father of two, was from Lytham Saint Annes, in Lancashire.
Six red roses were thrown into the road ahead of the marching soldiers yesterday in memory of their colleagues who had fallen.
The parade was the last public appearance before the soldiers fly out to join 12th Mechanized Brigade in Helmand Province on Operation Herrick 16.
It has already been arranged before the tragedy in Afghanistan to give the troops a send off but the loss of the six servicemen made it a more poignant occasion. Nick Pitcher, who has lived his whole life in Warminster, attended the parade with his mother Jean.
Speaking at the event yesterday he said: “The march has been planned for months now because it was going to be a send off and wishing them all the best of luck, and of course it is tinged now with tremendous sadness because of the six deaths last week.
“So it would have been emotional but it is going to be even more emotional now.
“They are very much part of the community, you see them everywhere, we all just mix in. So it has all just brought a cloud over the whole town, it is awful.”
During the church service after the parade the Duke read a passage from the Bible, from the Gospel of St Matthew.
People who could not fit into the church listened to the service on a loudspeaker in the grounds, with many joining in with the prayers and hymns.
The families of the men killed last week did not attend the service, an Army spokeswoman said.
Brian Darvill, vice-chairman of the Warminster branch of the Royal British Legion was among those offering his support.
He said: “We would have been here anyway to see them march off and go to the church service before their tour of Afghanistan but obviously now it is more poignant because of the deaths last week in Afghanistan, so there is even more support being shown.
“I think the town and ex-service community as well is turning out in great strength today.”
Section 1, Comment: Page 16.