Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Sunday, 8 November 2009

Tribute resonates with soldiers

By Adam Mynott
BBC News, Camp Bastion, Afghanistan


Key moments from the Camp Bastion Remembrance ceremony

The traditional Remembrance Sunday service carried extra significance for the 2,000 men and women gathered at Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan.

Those from the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, plus support personnel, stood in the swirling wind and dust at the British military headquarters in Helmand Province to listen to their padre, the Reverend Richard Downes, who lead them in prayer for fallen comrades.

"Greater love has no-one than this," he said, "that he lays down his life for his friends".

For many in the congregation these words could not have rung more true.

As the Remembrance Service took place it was announced that another British soldier, an infantryman from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, had been killed. He died in an explosion near Sangin in Helmand on Saturday.

For a lot of young people Remembrance Sunday used to be about what happened to granddad did
Padre Richard Downes

His death, and another death announced subsequently took the number of British personnel killed since military operation began in Afghanistan in 2001 to 232, and 95 have died this year, making 2009 the worst year for British military fatalities since the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982.

The religious ceremony at Camp Bastion took place in front a rough wooden cross which had been sunk into the sand of Afghanistan.

A group of Fijian soldiers serving with the British Army sang the first verse of the hymn Amazing Grace before the remainder of the congregation joined in.

A single cannon shot marked the start of a minute's silence for fallen soldiers and two buglers played the traditional Last Post.

It was exactly that, a traditional service of commemoration observed every year on a Sunday at the beginning of November, to pay tribute to members of the armed services who have been killed or injured.

'Constant risk'

But I could see etched on the faces of the young men and women who bowed their heads in prayer the realisation that the sentiments expressed at the religious service came very close to home.

Many of the officers and men standing in the congregation have lost friends and colleagues in the past few weeks and months, and they know that more will die in the campaign to free Afghanistan of the threat of the Taliban.

Soldiers at a base in Kandahar
These British soldiers held a service at a base in Kandahar

Corporal Roy Paddon from Portsmouth, a member of the Royal Air Force Regiment, could not go to the service this morning. He was on standby as part of a rapid reaction force, ready to respond to an emergency.

His unit either provides protection to medical recovery teams which are sent out to find soldiers who have been injured, or they are ready to respond within a few minutes to a specific threat particularly if it is targeted at an aircraft or the Camp Bastion airfield.

One of his colleagues was killed when he stepped on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device).

These remain one of the most potent threats - home made explosives planted by the Taliban to maim or kill.

"They're a constant risk," Corporal Paddon told me, "and you can't be too careful where you tread because the enemy might have planted a device."

Many others who were able to go to the Remembrance Service will have stopped to reflect on friends and colleagues who have been killed recently.

Padre Downes, who had led the service at Camp Bastion, said: "For a lot of young people Remembrance Sunday used to be about what happened to granddad.

"But now it's about what's happening to us."

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