Hundreds of mourners lined the streets to pay tribute to seven soldiers killed in Afghanistan in the bloodiest week since the conflict began.
Lance Corporal David Ramsden, Colour Sergeant Martyn Horton, Private Alex Isaac and Private Douglas Halliday were killed when their vehicle rolled into a waterway near Gereshk, Helmand province, on June 23.
Their bodies were brought home alongside Sergeant Steven Darbyshire, who was killed by small arms fire on a security patrol in the Sangin district of Helmand on the same day.
The body of Lance Corporal Michael Taylor, killed during an exchange with enemy forces in Sangin on June 22, was also brought home.
Marine Paul Warren, killed in an explosion when his patrol base airport lounge was attacked by insurgents on June 21, was the seventh body.
Their deaths brought the total number of British servicemen and woman killed in Afghanistan to 307.
Yesterday evening their bodies were flown back to a private ceremony at RAF Lyneham, Wilts., before being driven past tearful mourners in Wootton Bassett.
Colour Sgt Horton, Pte Isaac and Pte Halliday, all of the 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, and L/Cpl Ramsden, of 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, drowned when their 18-tonne Ridgeback overturned into the fastflowing water of the Nahr-e Bughra canal.
The soldiers were part of a special Police Advisory Team on their way to help troops deal with trouble at a checkpoint near Gereshk when their vehicle rolled into the waterway.
It is thought they were travelling without headlights to avoid being attacked. They were dead before colleagues in a following vehicle could reach them.
Their deaths on June 23 concluded the bloodiest week for British Forces since the conflict in Afghanistan began – after nine soldiers died in seven days.
Speaking after the death of Pte Isaac, 20, from Wirral, Merseyside, mum Annette Isaac said: ”My beautiful darling son who was a fighter, and so brave, you will always be in my heart, my soul and my thoughts. God bless.”
Colour Sgt Horton, 34, from Runcorn, Cheshire, left behind his partner Gemma Jones and their children Ethan and Bethany.
His sister, Caroline Horton, said: ”Martyn lived for three things – family, Army and Liverpool. He loved fighting for his friends and family.
”He was a loving dad, brother and son; he touched everyone he met. We will miss his cheeky grin. He will be fondly missed by everyone he knew and sadly died doing the job he loved. Once met, never forgotten.”
The family of L/Cpl Ramsden, 26, from Leeds, said he lived life at ”1,000mph”.
Twin sister Emma, sister Zoey, brothers Matthew and Jeremy and parents Shirley and Eddie, said: ”Although we didn’t see much of him due to Army life, when he arrived back his personality lit up a room and we knew he was home and we will miss him so much.”
The family of Pte Halliday, 20, from Wallasey, Merseyside said in a joint statement: ”Dougie was always the life and soul of the party and will be missed by all. We are all extremely privileged to have shared his short life.”
Sgt Darbyshire, known as ‘Darbs’, was killed by small arms fire during a fight with insurgent forces on patrol in Sangin on the same day.
The 35-year-old from Wigan, Lancs, leaves behind his partner Kate and their two young sons Ryan and Callum.
Kate said: ”He was strong, vibrant, generous, passionate, full of life and he certainly lived life to the full.
”Our world will be a bleaker place without him, his infectious laughter and fantastic sense of humour. Mere words do not begin to convey the deep grief and painful heartbreak his untimely death has brought to his shattered family and friends.”
L/Cpl Taylor was killed during an exchange of fire with insurgent forces in Sangin while manning one of the sangars in the patrol base on June 22.
The 30-year-old from Rhyl, Clwyd, leaves behind his partner Sonia Fleming and their three children Ethan, Wesley and Charlton.
Ms Fleming said: ”You lived to be a hero and died a hero. We are all extremely proud of you and always will be. Your legacy will live on through your three wonderful boys who will aspire to be just like you.”
Mne Warren, 23 from Leyland, Lancs, died in an explosion when the patrol base airport lounge was attacked by insurgents on June 21.
The seven bodies were flown into RAF Lyneham, Wilts, at 3pm yesterday where private ceremonies were held for families and loved ones.
They were then taken in a procession of hearses along the A3102, the road now dubbed the ‘Highway for Heroes,’ through Wootton Bassett.
The cortege stopped in front of the town’s war memorial where family and friends laid flowers on the hearses while regimental banners were lowered in respect.
After a minute’s silence their coffins, draped in Union flags, carried on up the High Street en route to John Radcliffe Hospital.