Remembrance Day: A searing silence

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As soldiers from across the generations gathered at the Cenotaph to remember the fallen, Terri Judd reports on a unit that has suffered losses in Afghanistan

On the black granite memorial bearing the names of generations of soldiers who laid down their life for their country, the latest inscription was freshly carved. Like many of his forefathers, who perished in the great wars, Trooper James Munday was only 21. But his death was just three weeks ago.

Around the country yesterday, soldiers from across the generations gathered for Remembrance Day, bound by the grief that some have carried for decades. But at Combermere Barracks, Windsor, the pain was fresh and searing.

Four days after they returned from Afghanistan, the soldiers of D Squadron, the Household Cavalry Regiment, gathered on a blustery, dull morning for a small ceremony to commemorate their dead. Uppermost in their minds were Trooper Ratu Sakeasi Babakobau, 29, who was killed in May on D Squadron's first patrol of their tour in Helmand, and Trooper Munday, who lost his life on one of their last. Beside the more ornate regimental wreaths, a smaller, simpler ring of poppies bore their two names beneath the words "We will remember you and the sacrifice you have made."

As the roll of honour was read out, young men – their sun tans visible evidence that they were fighting little more than a week ago – stared stoically ahead, refusing to betray their emotions. But many conceded that Remembrance Sunday would have a much more personal relevance.

"It was a lot harder this time, more emotional because it was all about him," explained one of Tpr Munday's closest friends, Tpr Zak Smith, 19. "As they read out his name I was trying to think about all the stuff he did that made me laugh. He would have said stop moping about and go and get a drink."

"It was emotional because it is so recent in our minds. The hardest bit was coming back for his funeral and seeing his family," added Lance Corporal of the Horse James Shaw.

D Squadron was deployed during the initial invasion of Iraq, the first move into Helmand and now the latest summer fighting. They have lost eight men in combat in five years and most present yesterday had a particular friend to mourn. As the men lined up to have their Operation Herrick medals pinned to their chests in front of their families, small toddlers squirmed on their mothers' laps as Chelsea Pensioners watched proudly. Amid the crowd of relatives who cheered their homecoming men, Tpr Babakobau's widow, Camari, the mother of his two sons, sat quietly.

"It just means so much to remember the boys that didn't come home. It is their day as much as ours," said L/cpl James Hawley.

"It makes you realise that Remembrance Day is not just for the old. Although they would be very careful not to show it, I am sure a lot of them have had quite a few private moments today," said Major Will Davies, the officer commanding D Squadron. "Now we have done the formal act of remembrance and they are going on leave, they will really reflect on a tragic loss."

At a service at the garrison church, the Holy Trinity, yesterday, into which Prince Harry – a Household Cavalry lieutenant – slipped quietly, Major Davies read out the names of all 30 soldiers to have lost their lives during this latest summer tour. "I didn't think it would be quite so hard to keep my voice from cracking," acknowledged the Major.

He also mentioned Rifleman Yubraj Rai, a Gurkha who six days ago became the first soldier of the new brigade in Helmand to die.

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