Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Soldiers' bodies are repatriated


A private service for families was held at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire

The bodies of six UK soldiers - five of whom were shot by a "rogue" Afghan policeman - have passed through the streets of Wootton Bassett in Wilts.

Guardsman Jimmy Major, Warrant Officer Darren Chant, Sgt Matthew Telford, Cpl Steven Boote and Cpl Nicholas Webster-Smith died in last Tuesday's incident.

The coffins arrived at nearby RAF Lyneham, along with that of Sjt Phillip Scott, who died in a blast on Thursday.

A private chapel ceremony for families took place at the RAF base.

Hundreds of people lined the streets to pay silent respects, as has become customary when fallen service personnel are returned.

Paul Deal, BBC News

A grey mist hung over the market town of Wootton Bassett and seemed to match the mood of the hundreds of people huddled against the November chill and drizzle beneath umbrellas.

The veterans who make up the town's 114-strong branch of the Royal British Legion could have been excused if they had stayed at home by the fire on such a miserable afternoon.

But they had a solemn duty to perform - to salute the latest victims of the conflict in Afghanistan on their final journey.

It was three members of the Legion who saw a hearse pass through the town without ceremony a couple of years back. The branch decided that the return of the nation's fallen service people should be solemnly marked.

Today, the 98th such repatriation is taking place. People have come from across the country, old soldiers and civilians alike, shocked and saddened by the circumstances of the men's deaths.

Meanwhile, a senior army commander has said mentoring Afghan police is the "right strategy".

Six other British personnel and two Afghan police officers were injured when the five men were shot dead at a national police checkpoint in the Nad Ali district of Helmand province.

The gunman fled the compound afterwards and remains at large.

WO1 Chant, 40, from east London; Sgt Telford, 37, from Grimsby, Lincolnshire; and Guardsman Major, 18, from Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, were from the Grenadier Guards.

Territorial Army volunteer Cpl Boote, 22, from Birkenhead, Merseyside, and Cpl Webster-Smith, 24, of Brackley, Northamptonshire - formerly of Pembrokeshire - were from the Royal Military Police.

Sjt Scott, 30, of 3 Battalion The Rifles, was born in Malton, North Yorkshire, and lived in Edinburgh. He died during an explosives clearance operation in Sangin, Helmand.

Maj-Gen William Cubitt, commander of the Household Division, attended the repatriation ceremony. He said there were "cold blooded" aspects to the case.

He said: "In Afghanistan we're now doing a very important and very difficult task of training Afghan police and this is obviously absolutely crucial to the strategy and training the Afghan Army.

"So troops are working closely with the army and police and there are risks attached to that."

David Smith, 83, travelled to Wootton Bassett from South Ham near Basingstoke in Hampshire, and has done so for 14 previous repatriations.

From top left: Warrant Officer Darren Chant, Sgt Matthew Telford and Guardsman Jimmy Major. From bottom left: Cpl Steven Boote, Cpl Nicholas Webster-Smith and Sgt Phillip Scott.
Hundreds of people gathered in Wootton Bassett to pay respects to the six men

His wife Joyce said: "It is a 100-mile round trip but David served in the Army during the Second World War and in Singapore with the RAF so he feels he needs to be here.

"He just decided one morning that he was going to come for the repatriation of eight soldiers and has been here ever since to respect them coming through for all that they have done.

"We are here to support the families. If someone needs a shoulder to lean on, we are there for them and to recognise what is going on in the world."

Brian Freeth, 72, standard bearer for the South Staffordshire 4 Group of the Royal British Legion, served in Suez between 1955 and 1957.

He said: "It hits you more today because there are so many coming back.

"What happened to those five lads was sheer murder. When I am standing over the road with my standard high and I see all those families I cannot begin to imagine what they feel."

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