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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 March, 2003, 17:31 GMT
UK war dead arrive home
Royal Navy servicemen acted as pallbearers for their fallen comrade
The deceased were repatriated in a solemn ceremony

The bodies of the first UK servicemen to die in the Iraq conflict have arrived back in Britain.

Ten coffins draped in flags were flown into RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where their families and senior military officials had gathered for a repatriation ceremony.

It comes as anti-war protesters again prepare to take to the streets across the UK, and the first march in support of troops is staged by armed forces families.

At Brize Norton, each coffin, draped with either the Union flag or one chosen by the families, was carried off a C-17 transport aircraft by six pall-bearers.

British casualties returned
Captain Philip Guy
Warrant Officer Mark Stratford
Major Jason Ward
Marine Sholto Hedenskog
Sergeant John Cecil
Lance Bombardier Llywelyn Evans
Sergeant Les Hehir
Operator Mechanic Ian Seymour
Flight Lt Kevin Main
Flight Lt Dave Williams

Eight of the dead were killed when the US Sea Knight helicopter they were aboard crashed south of the Kuwait border.

The other two bodies are those of the crew of the RAF GR4 Tornado aircraft from RAF Marham, Norfolk, shot down near the Kuwaiti border by a Patriot missile battery.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, attended the ceremony along with senior military officials.

As the aircraft came to a standstill, rear cargo doors opened and a member of the Welsh Guards took position behind the plane.

Three senior armed forces chaplains were then led across to the rear of the aircraft to await the coffins.

A band from the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade, marched out from behind the terminal, leading the coffin-bearing party.

Sombre tone

As the band began playing a sombre composition by Handel, the first of the coffins was brought out - that of Royal Navy mechanic Ian Seymour.

The six pall-bearers, from HMS Collingwood in Portsmouth, marched with the coffin on their shoulders to a waiting hearse, escorted by a senior naval officer.

Among the senior military officials in attendance were the Commandant General of the Royal Marines, Major General Tony Milton, the Commander-in-Chief Land Command General Sir Timothy Granville-Chapman, the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet Admiral Jonathon Band and Air Marshall Sir John Day.

Relatives of the deceased and senior military officials

The ceremony was deliberately low key with a sombre tone, to reflect the fact that war is still continuing.

As each coffin was brought from the aircraft the chaplains said quiet prayers for the servicemen.

The coffins of the Royal Marines were being carried by members of 3 Commando Brigade, those from the Royal Artillery by members of 29 Commando Regiment and those from the RAF by members of the Queens Colour Squadron and instructors from RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire.

Opening inquests into the deaths, Oxford coroner Nicholas Gardiner said the bodies would be released to the families once the necessary examinations had been performed.

"I shall be releasing the bodies I hope fairly soon, but there are examinations and it is not yet clear how long they are going to take," he said.

One inquest is expected to consider the Tornado crew's deaths, while a second will concern the servicemen killed in the helicopter crash.

Relatives are being offered a burial with full military honours, which the MoD says is a break with the past when British troops killed abroad were usually buried where they fell.

Family support

Elsewhere in the UK, armed forces families are planning a march on Saturday in support of their relatives' role in Iraq.

Ex-serviceman Ken Hill is organising the Patriot Rally through Exeter as he believes the anti-war protests have given the impression that the forces are not being supported.

He said many wives felt isolated because their husbands were in Iraq doing their jobs and all families were hearing about was anti-war protests and marches.

"No one wants war," he said. "There is nothing positive about war but no one is supporting the wives and their families."

Meanwhile, the Stop The War Coalition is continuing its campaign of marches and rallies around the country.

Protests would target several Labour MPs who supported military action after earlier arguing for a second United Nations resolution, the coalition said.

Rallies will be held outside BBC television offices in London as part of the group's campaign to increase coverage of deaths and injuries to civilians.

The BBC's Jon Kay
"This was the homecoming their families had always dreaded"

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