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Last Updated:  Saturday, 29 March, 2003, 15:57 GMT
Sombre service to receive the dead

By Jon Kay
BBC correspondent at RAF Brize Norton

The bodies will be released for burial by the Oxfordshire coroner
This is the homecoming that their families had always dreaded.

It was just after midday when the first British casualties were flown into RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Each of the ten caskets were carried from the giant C-17 transport into the hazy spring sunshine draped in a Union flag.

Teams of pall-bearers from each of the three armed services carried the coffins as bands from the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force played a sombre lament.

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

Families of the ten dead servicemen stood in silence as three senior chaplains, their cloaks blowing on the runway, said prayers for the first British casualties of war.

Among the crowd the British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, his Royal Highness Prince Andrew Duke of York, and senior military and defence officials including 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.

They stood to salute while family members bowed their heads as each coffin was carried into a waiting hearse.

After the final coffin was driven away, the band stopped playing and marched slowly and solemnly away.

Private burial

After the ceremony, the families filed back into the main passenger terminal, where the RAF flag was flying at half mast. They then met in private with Prince Andrew and the other guests.

Relatives were accompanied by family liaison officers who are offering them counselling and emotional support in the days and weeks after their bereavement.

Meanwhile the caskets were then taken to a temporary mortuary at the airbase, where the dead servicemen will be formally identified before being released for burial by the coroner.

Each family has been offered a funeral with full military honours.

Flights in and out of Brize Norton have now resumed but bouquets of flowers laid by local people at the perimeter fence remain as reminder of the loss. There is also an acknowledgement here that more casualties will follow in the days and maybe weeks to come.

UK war dead flown home
29 Mar 03 |  UK

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