Town grieves for early losses in Afghanistan

By Terri Judd

The town of Warminster hadn't even had a chance to say goodbye. The parcels they had been preparing were unwrapped and the regiment's farewell parade was set for next Saturday.

But before they were able to steel themselves for the deployment of their local regiment, residents learned that five of the first unit of soldiers to head out had been killed.

The men of the 3rd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, died alongside a soldier from the 1st Battalion, the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, when their Warrior armoured vehicle was blown up near Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan.

Bathed in sunshine yesterday, the idyllic Wiltshire market town of Warminster looked more like a setting for a period drama than a tragedy.

Only the flags at half-mast and the emotional paralysis of local people offered a clue to what had happened.

The Mayor, Pip Ridout, was waiting to hear from Lieutenant-Colonel Zak Stenning, commanding officer of the 3rd Yorkshires, whether they still wanted to go ahead with the farewell parade for the rest of the armoured infantry regiment.

"There's an awful air of silence and shock around, and everybody is looking lost. The news is devastating for the town. They only left three weeks ago. I don't think it has sunk in yet."

In this garrison town of just over 17,000 people, almost a quarter are in the army or ex-forces. Yesterday, everyone spoken to knew a soldier from the regiment, worked with their wives or taught their children.

At the Minster Church of St Denys, the Rev Harvey Gibbons prepared to gather the grieving for prayer. "There has been a stunned silence in the town. People are struggling to come to terms with the news, the enormity of it. But they're resilient and have a long-term connection with the military, so they will be there for them."

As the rest of the 3rd Battalion prepared to deploy, 90 soldiers from Corunna Company had formed an advance party, leaving on St Valentine's Day.

"My dad's going out and I'm scared and worried. I just want him to come home safe," said Sasha Roarty, 21.

"It's absolutely tragic," said Nancy Rivers, 57. "The people I've spoken to said they think it's a worthwhile cause but not worth loss of lives."

Outside Battlesbury Barracks, the 3rd Battalion flag flew at half-mast as soldiers relit a candle put there when Corunna Company deployed three weeks ago. Beneath it, the text read: "It will be extinguished when the last soldier of the battalion returns safely to this base."Independent

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