Hundreds of tearful mourners applauded yesterday as the bodies of three hero soldiers – including two killed in a ‘green on blue’ attack – returned home.
Brave Sergeant Gareth Thursby, 29, Private Thomas Wroe, 18, and Lance Corporal Duane Groom, 32, were repatriated in front of hundreds of weeping friends, families and well-wishers.
Sergeant Thursby and Private Wroe, both of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, were shot by a rogue Afghan local policeman on Saturday.
Lance Corporal Duane Groom, of The Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was killed when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED) on Friday.
The soldiers’ Union Jack-draped coffins were flown into RAF Brize Norton yesterday before being taken along the ‘Highway for Heroes’ in Carterton, West Oxon.
Families of the brave trio – many holding flowers and wearing black – wept, laid flowers and applauded the funeral cortege as it passed them at 4.45pm.
Standard bearers Cadet Sergeant Cassie North, 18, Cadet Cpl Mike Holmes, 16, and Cadet Cpl Adrian Lewis, 16, from Yorkshire North and West Army Cadet Force, were friends with Private Wroe.
Cdt Sgt North paid tribute to him, calling him a “brave soldier”.
She said: “It still hasn’t sunk in. I was out shopping when I heard and I had to sit down in the shop and cry.
“Being a soldier was all he wanted to do and he was born to do it. He was always there to support people.
“Mostly everything we know is because of him. He was very funny, he had a good sense of humour, but he knew when to be serious and get down to work.”
She added: “The repatriation is important because it’s their homecoming for their families and the public.”
Yesterday a transporter plane carrying the bodies landed at RAF Brize Norton, in West Oxon, at around 1.30pm.
The solemn procession left the #2.8 million repatriation centre through Britannia Gate and headed to the village of Carterton.
Residents and mourners held a poignant silence as the coffins – draped in Union Jack flags – passed slowly through the streets.
Up to 300 mourners watched as the cortege made its way northwards up Station Road, before turning on to Carterton Road and arriving at the purpose built memorial garden, where a choir sang Amazing Grace.
More than 20 proud standard bearers, holding flags from the British Armed Forces, stood in silence as three regimental banners held by Royal British Legion members were lowered.
Family members draped the hearses in flowers before hugging and comforting each other.
A group of more than 50 members of the Royal British Legion Remembrance Riders also attended on their bikes.
It was the 130th repatriation for co-ordinator Steve Blundell
He said: “It never gets any easier but that’s a good thing. If it did then it would mean it would bs commonplace and we don’t want that.”
Mayor of Carterton Adrian Coomber said: “It’s a year since we took on the responsibility of repatriations and I’m proud that the community has responded in the way they have.
“There are a lot of service people in the area so it’s pretty close to home.”
Married father-of-two Sgt Thursby, 29 and Pte Wroe, 18, were shot dead in the south of the Nahr-e Saraj district in Helmand Province.
They were killed at a checkpoint in a so called ‘Green on Blue’ attack, when a man dressed as a local Afghan policeman pretended to be injured so they would help him.
Sgt Thursby, from Skipton, North Yorks., is survived by his wife Louise and two children, Joshua and Ruby.
Louise said: “Gareth was the love of my life. He was an amazing husband and father, happy, full of life and kind hearted with a passion for his work and family.
“He was brave, hardworking, a loving husband who was a devoted father to his children. Our Hero.”
Pte Wroe was deployed to Afghanistan on July 1, shortly after he turned 18. He leaves his parents, Michael and Claire and sister Demi, from Holmfirth, West Yorks.
His parents said in a statement: “Our son Thomas was a brave young soldier, who is loved by his family, girlfriend and friends.
“We can’t believe you have been taken so soon from us. You will always be in our hearts for ever and ever.
“You would light up the room with your smile and bubbly personality. Our world will be a duller place without you.
“We are so proud of you son, on all you achieved and we are grateful for every special thing you gave us. We will always love you Tom.”
The shooting happened just one day after Lance Corporal Groom was killed protecting his Afghan and British colleagues as they left a successful operation in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province.
Lieutenant Colonel James Bowder, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, paid tribute to the brave soldier.
He said: “Lance Corporal Groom was an outstanding soldier in every respect. Tough, keen and unflappable, he was utterly committed to his fellows and the cause.
“We are all tremendously proud of what he achieved during his time in the regiment, and particularly out here in Afghanistan where he contributed so much.
“His many friends and the broader battle group will never forget this most talented of men.
“Moreover, we are determined to finish the mission that he so bravely helped to start. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends outside the regiment at this most difficult of times.”