Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 16:16 UK

Hundreds honour fallen soldiers

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Crowds gather in Wootton Bassett to honour four soldiers

Hundreds of people have attended a memorial procession in honour of four UK soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Rifleman Aminiasi Toge, 26, Cpl Joseph Etchells, 22, Capt Daniel Shepherd, 28, and Guardsman Christopher King, 20, died in separate incidents in Helmand.

Their bodies were returned to RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire, where a service was held for relatives, before a cortege passed through nearby Wootton Bassett.

The soldiers were among 22 from UK forces killed this month.

A total of 191 service personnel have died in the conflict since 2001. The latest victims were two soldiers killed in separate incidents on Monday morning.

Clockwise from top left: Rifleman Aminiasi Toge, Cpl Joseph Etchells, Guardsman Christopher King, Capt Daniel Shepherd
The four soldiers were among 22 to be killed in Afghanistan this month

After the private memorial service at the air base, the coffins of the four men - each adorned with the union jack - were driven slowly through Wootton Bassett.

Hundreds of British Legion veterans, shopkeepers and residents lined the streets to pay their respects - as has become customary after such repatriations.

Flowers

One minute's silence was observed as the cortege passed the town's war memorial, where some onlookers threw flowers at the hearses, before the bodies were taken to Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital for post-mortem examination.

Rifleman Toge, of 2nd Battalion The Rifles, from Suva, Fiji, was killed on July 16 in an explosion while on foot patrol close to Forward Operating Base Keenan, near Gereshk.

Cpl Etchells, of 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, from Mossley, Greater Manchester, was killed on July 19 in an explosion while on foot patrol, near Sangin.

Procession through Wootton Bassett
The people of Wootton Bassett were once more honouring fallen soldiers

Capt Shepherd, of the 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps, from Lincoln, died after an explosion on July 20 as he tried to clear a route in Nad-e-Ali District.

Guardsman King, of 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, from Birkenhead, Merseyside, died on 22 July when he stood on an explosive while on foot patrol in the Nad-e-Ali District.

Among the crowd were six former members of his regiment, including Phil Durkin, 45, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

"Even though we didn't know Guardsman King, he is part of the Coldstream family," said Mr Durkin.

"It's only right that we spend an hour or two of our time to pay respect to him.

"It's sad that a life has been lost, but we all took the Queen's shilling, as it were, and we all knew that at some point it could happen."

Former Royal Engineer Brian Brown came to Wootton Bassett with the Royal Engineers Association of Bath, West and Wiltshire.

'Respect'

The 78-year-old, from Melksham, Wiltshire, said he wanted to pay tribute to the four men, but was concerned the repatriation ceremonies were turning Wootton Bassett into "a circus".

He said: "It's sadly happening too regularly now. When the Wootton Bassett Legion started this, they wanted it to be low-key.

"We just want to quietly show our respect for the victims and their families," he said, adding that he did not believe throwing flowers or clapping was respectful.

The recent increase in the number of deaths has coincided with Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther's Claw, a major British assault against insurgents ahead of next month's Afghan elections.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said the first phase of the operation - an offensive to gain ground from the Taliban - had now drawn to a close. He said their sacrifice had "not been in vain".

Troops are now focusing on the second stage of the operation, to hold ground gained over recent weeks, before trying to maintain security for the elections.



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