Servicemen killed in Afghanistan repatriated

 

The families of three British servicemen killed in Afghanistan stood together in their grief today as they watched their loved ones' bodies repatriated to the UK.

Lieutenant Andrew Robert Chesterman, of 3rd Battalion The Rifles, was shot by enemy forces on August 9.

Lance Corporal Matthew Smith, of the Corps of Royal Engineers, died the following day and Guardsman Jamie Shadrake, of the Reconnaissance Platoon, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was killed on Friday.

Their three families stood side by side in the memorial garden in Carterton as they watched the cortege of three hearses approach them as they made their way to Oxford.

The men's bodies were earlier flown into RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, where the Union flag-draped coffins were carried off the plane.

At the side of the road in Carterton 26 Royal British Legion standard-bearers slowly lowered their flags as family members started to sob.

They clutched bunches of flowers including red, white and yellow roses and sunflowers. Some family members also held onto small wooden crosses.

Friends of Guardsman Shadrake wore navy blue t-shirts with the words "Our hero, Jamie" printed on the back. Others wore white t-shirts showing his photograph and the words "RIP Jamie, True Hero".

A group of L/Cpl Smith's friends chose to wear West Ham United t-shirts with "L/Cpl Matt Smith, RIP Our Hero" on the back.

The families were supported by more than 100 friends and well-wishers - many with tears in their eyes as they shook their heads when the coffins passed by.

The cortege was escorted at walking pace past the memorial garden, where it paused briefly next to a Union flag hung at half mast.

Family members and friends stepped forward to place their flowers on top of the hearses, with some also placing their hands against the glass and bowing their heads.

A uniformed serviceman stood quietly and saluted Guardsman Shadrake's coffin before moving back into the crowd of family and friends.

As the cars pulled away there was a spontaneous round of applause by members of the public who came to pay their respects.

After the cortege left on its journey to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, wooden crosses were placed in the garden.

The father of Lt Chesterman, who was killed in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province, said in a statement at the time of his son's death that his family had lost "a fine young man".

Paul Chesterman added that the serviceman's relatives, including his sisters Anna and Olivia, were "immensely proud" of him.

The 26-year-old, from Bristol, was commanding a vehicle patrol when the lead vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.

As Lt Chesterman moved forward to take control of the situation, insurgents opened fire and he was shot. He was taken to hospital in Camp Bastion but could not be saved.

A day later father-of-four L/Cpl Smith, 26, died after being shot while trying to build a checkpoint in the same district.

He was part of a troop tasked to build a new checkpoint next the Nahr-e-Bughra Canal when he was hit by small arms fire. Despite efforts to save him, he died from his wounds.

The soldier, who had four children - Lainie, Ella, Tilli and Jai - aged between one and seven, and a fiancee, Laura, was said to be devoted to his family and "talked about them endlessly".

His mother Caroline Smith described her son, who was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Aldershot, as a "hero".

Guardsman Shadrake, who had just turned 20, was killed when insurgents launched an attack in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.

The guardsman, who was brought up in Pontyclun, near Cardiff, before his family moved to Wrexham last year, joined the Army as a 17-year-old in 2009.

He leaves his parents, Cathryn and Philip, brothers Carl, Kieran and Shane, and sister Kerry-Anne.

His devastated family said: "He was proud to be a soldier and died doing a job that he loved."

In a statement issued at the time of his death, they added: "We are all devastated by the loss of Jamie, who was such a loving son and brother.

"We are very proud of the fact that Jamie was prepared to do his duty in helping the people of Afghanistan."

Guardsman Shadrake's death takes to 425 the number of British forces personnel or Ministry of Defence (MoD) civilians who have died serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001.

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