Emotional homecoming for RAF Odiham servicemen killed in Afghanistan

Basingstoke Gazette: Mourners pay their respects as the coffins of the five service personnel pass the Memorial Garden in Carterton, Oxfordshire Mourners pay their respects as the coffins of the five service personnel pass the Memorial Garden in Carterton, Oxfordshire

IT WAS always going to be a very sad and emotional homecoming.

On Tuesday afternoon, five British servicemen who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan were repatriated to the UK.

Hundreds of people gathered in the bright sunshine at Carterton, in Oxfordshire, to pay their respects to Captain Thomas Clarke, Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner, and Corporal James Walters, from the Army Air Corps, and Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, from the Royal Air Force.

The four RAF Odiham-based men, together with Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, from the 3rd Battalion, Military Intelligence of the Army Intelligence Corps, who was based in London, died when their Westland Lynx MK 9A helicopter crashed in the Kandahar province in south Afghani-stan on April 26.

More than 1,000 mourners – including serving personnel, schoolchildren and local residents – stood in silence on Norton Way for one of the largest repatriations the small town has seen.

At 1.30pm, the bodies of the five servicemen were flown into RAF Brize Norton, where a private ceremony for close relatives took place.

Family members then lined the road on Norton Way, clutching flowers including red and white roses, lilies, brightly coloured tulips and yellow daffodils.

The street fell silent at 4.52pm, when the bell tolled to mark the arrival of the servicemen's families at the Memorial Garden.

Flag bearers from military organisations from across the country raised their banners and lowered them as the bell tolled again at 5.15pm, when the hearses drew up.

Relatives of the five men placed flowers on top of the hearses, with some mourners touching the glass and hearses as they wept.

Five minutes later, the coffins, draped with Union flags, were driven to the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford. The crowds applauded loudly as the hearses drew away to the peal of bells.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted before the ceremony: “My thoughts go out to the friends and families of the five servicemen being repatriated at RAF Brize Norton.”

Speaking after the moving service, Councillor Lynn Little, Mayor of Carterton, described the large turnout as "tremendous".

Cllr Little, who also acts as a liaison officer for the bereaved families, said: “It was a very sad occasion but then it always is.

“We are proud of our service families and serving personnel. When something tragic like this happens, the least we can do is support them on a day like today.

“There are a tremendous amount of people here today. There are around 300 Army Air Corps and then a lot of local people too. As Mayor, I am very proud so many have come out to offer their support.”

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