Tributes as soldier repatriated

The 100th British member of the armed forces to die this year after being deployed to Afghanistan was remembered as a "cracking lad" with an "invincible personality" as his body was returned to the UK.

Guardsman Christopher Davies, 22, from St Helens, Merseyside, who served in the same battalion as his brother, died after being shot during an ambush last Wednesday in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.

The father-of-one served alongside his younger brother John, 21, in 1st Battalion Irish Guards.

His family and friends fell silent as the cortege passed through Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire.

Family and friends placed red roses on top of the hearse carrying the flag-draped coffin and as the town bell tolled they observed a two-minute silence.

As has become tradition, local people, shopkeepers and members of the Royal British Legion joined Guardsman Davies's family to pay their respects.

His body was flown into RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire, today where a private ceremony for his family was held before the cortege travelled through Wootton Bassett on route to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

David Shea, 21, from St Helens, a schoolfriend of Guardsman Davies, said: "Chris was a top bloke, you could always have a good time with him, he never did wrong by anyone.

"He loved his friends, loved his family, but most of all his daughter, he always talked about his daughter, he always loved coming home to see her, to spend time with her.

"He could always make you laugh, he was just a really top lad."

Speaking of this latest milestone, Wootton Bassett British Legion secretary Anne Bevis said: "It's an enormous number to lose in one year, but every one is important; it doesn't matter who they are, what rank or what unit they belonged to, they are all important."

President of the Wootton Bassett Royal British Legion Maurice Baker, 80, has been the parade marshal for all but five of the repatriations since they started.

He said: "This is another mark, but of course not all of those one hundred have come through here, there are also the ones who have died of their injuries - so it's another mark on the road to the end of the war, but when that will be we don't know.

"It's a privilege and an honour for us to be able to come out here and pay our respects to the lads and lasses that have given their lives for our freedom.

"We will be here until the last coffin goes through the high street."

Following Guardsman Davies's death, his family said: "He was a loving son to Catherine and Gary; stepson to Nick; brother to Bernie, Matt and John; stepbrother to Mark, Emma and Jack; loving boyfriend to Emma; and father to Lucy.

"We are very proud of Christopher and all that he achieved. One of the last things that he told us was that he wanted to specialise within the Army - he was very focused on his job and enjoyed the work, his comrades and the lifestyle.

"Christopher was a cracking lad. His friends in the Army have told us that whenever they felt down he would cheer them up, often by singing.

"We will always love Christopher. He had an invincible personality and we will miss him so much. There is a big hole in our lives."

In all, some 345 UK military personnel have died since operations in Afghanistan began in 2001.