THE Royal British Legion is urging people to turn out to honour fallen soldier Sapper Richard Walker as the first repatriation of the year takes place today. Sapper Walker, from 28 Engineer Regiment, was killed on Monday, January 7, in an apparent ‘insider’ attack.
The 23-year-old father-of-one, had been in Afghanistan since the start of September last year.
Chairman of the Oxfordshire branch of the Royal British Legion Jim Lewendon hopes hundreds will head out on to the streets to pay tribute.
Mr Lewendon, 84, inset right, from Headington, said: “We would urge people to make an effort. These soldiers are putting their lives on the line in the fight against terrorism.
“We get tremendous support on these occasions and it is the public that make these things successful.
“We have had these occasions in Headley Way since 2008 unfortunately. But we normally get hundreds of people there.”
The plane carrying Sapper Walker’s body is due to land at RAF Brize Norton at 1.30pm and the cortege will pass the memorial garden on the edge of Carterton at about 4.15pm. It will arrive at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where a post-mortem examination is due to be conducted, at about 5.15pm.
Sapper Walker, who was serving as part of the Task Force Helmand Engineer Group, was killed by a member of the Afghan National Army.
Lieutenant Colonel Chas Story RE, Commanding Officer with 28 Engineer Regiment, said: “Sapper Walker was the epitome of a true Sapper, one who would roll up his sleeves and get on with the task in hand no matter what. He was hugely respected as a fit, professional soldier with a massive character.
“This was his first tour of Afghanistan but anyone would have thought he was a seasoned expert, such was his ability and professionalism.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, including his young daughter, at this very difficult time.”
An avid football fan, Sapper Walker played soccer for his regiment and spent hours training in the gym.
He leaves a daughter, Lilly-Faith, who is 18 months old.
In a statement, his family said: “Richard held two things close to his heart – his daughter and his colleagues in the Army.
“A proud, patriotic man, he died doing a job he loved, supporting his friends.”
Born in Leeds on February 7, 1989, he worked as a technician for Vauxhall before joining the Army in July, 2008. He completed his basic training with the Royal Engineers at the Army Training Regiment, at Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire.
He then completed further training at Gibraltar Barracks in Surrey, and the Defence School of Transport in Yorkshire.
He joined 28 Engineer Regiment in September 2009, deploying with them to Canada and then Kenya on major exercises.
Sapper Walker was killed when he was working on a construction task with other military engineers from his troop. It was part of preparations to hand an Army camp over to Afghan security forces.
Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, said: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Sapper Richard Walker.
“The tributes of his colleagues speak of a popular, committed soldier who was devoted to his unit and a dedicated family man. I send my deepest condolences to his family and loved ones at this sad time.”
The total number of UK deaths in the war is now 439. Last year saw 18 repatriations through RAF Brize Norton.
For updated timings, see oxfordmail.co.uk