A sombre and reflective gathering took place at sunset yesterday amid a swirling, dusty wind. It was to update the names of British troops who had lost their lives in Afghanistan.
The '"re-dedication" of the memorial to the fallen at the UK base in Camp Bastion took place as four more soldiers died in this ferocious and unrelenting conflict, and preparations continued to meet a feared escalation of violence in the run-up to next week's elections.
The updated brass plaques, on a simple stone plinth with a cross, ended with the name of Major Sean Birchell, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who died on 19 June. Another plaque had been ordered with 23 further names, which will cover the dead from last month's Operation Panther's Claw.
Yet another one will follow, to include others killed since then. "It is rather an ongoing process, I'm afraid." said Colonel Rob Peacock, the commander of Camp Bastion. "But it is something we must keep up because it is important that we mark what these people have done, the sacrifices they have made. People turn up here to look, to think."
The latest fatality was a member of the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, killed in an explosion while on foot patrol outside the town of Gereshk. And on Friday three members of the Special Forces Support Group were killed when their Jackal armoured vehicle was blown up near Lashkar Gar, the Helmand provincial capital. The total British death toll in the conflict now stands at 196.
The Mercians have lost three from their ranks on this deployment. Another six were killed on their last tour, two years ago. The regiment has its own memorial at the Derbyshire village of Crich, set up in 1923 in homage to members of the Sherwood Foresters, a predecessor of the current regiment, who perished in the First World War. New names will be added to the plaque there too, and there will also be a gathering there in the memory of the fallen.
Lieutenant Colonel Simon Banton, of the Mercians, reflected on the two tours in which his troops have been in the centre of fierce combat and paid the price. "I have now had nine people killed under my command and each time this happens you feel profound sadness.
"I was back home on leave recently and went to the funeral of one of my men and met his family," he said at Camp Tombstone, adjacent to Bastion, where he is training the Afghan army.
"I think the country now realises we are actually at war and this is one of the very unfortunate things that happen in war. But it is never easy having to face such bad news."
Captain Neil Cresswell was the battalion's career management officer, also at Camp Tombstone. He said: "You got to know the names ... and you took an interest on how they were getting on. But then, of course, you lose track and then suddenly one of these names pop up as someone who has been killed. We are a regiment and we are a family, and we feel this loss."
The defence equipment minister, Quentin Davis, on a visit to Helmand, also attended the ceremony yesterday.Reuse content