FIVE hearses carrying five servicemen killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan were greeted by large crowds yesterday.
More than 1,400 people turned out to pay their respects in one of the biggest repatriations Oxfordshire has hosted.
The Lynx helicopter came down in Kandahar province on April 27, killing Captain Thomas Clarke, of the Army Air Corps, Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, of the Royal Air Force, Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner, of the Army Air Corps, Corporal James Walters, of the Army Air Corps and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, of the Intelligence Corps.
A repatriation aircraft carrying all five men landed at RAF Brize Norton at 2.30pm.
After a ceremony at the base, the cortege of black hearses carrying the coffins draped in Union Flags arrived at the Memorial Garden in Carterton shortly after 5pm.
The Memorial Bell tolled and Royal British Legion standard bearers lowered their flags before the family and friends of the dead put the flowers on top of the hearses.
Mourners pay their respects as the coffins of five service personnel pass the Memorial Garden in Carterton
The estimated 1,000-strong crowd then applauded as the cortege made its way to wards Oxford.
All five of the servicemen were stationed at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, apart from London-based L Cpl Thomas.
Major-General Nick Eeles, the general officer commanding Scotland, knew Captain Clarke. And he said the turnout showed how much people cared.
He said: “It is a fantastic reflection of the esteem the British people hold their Armed Forces.
“I think the families have all drawn enormous strength from the people that have been here today.”
Carterton mayor Lynn Little, also a family liaison officer for forces charity SSAFA, said: “It is a tremendous support for those families.
MOURNED: Left to right: Capt Thomas Clarke of the Army Air Corps, Flt Lt Rakesh Chauhan of the Royal Air Force, WO Class 2 Spencer Faulkner of the Army Air Corps, Lce Corp Oliver Thomas of 3 Military Intelligence Battalion, Intelligence corps and Corp James Walters of the Army Air Corps
“It is such a tragic accident and the loss of five young men. But I am very proud of my community.”
Jim Lewendon, chairman of the Royal British Legion in Oxfordshire, said about 400 people lined the route at Headley Way in Headington, to see the cortege reach its final destination at the John Radcliffe Hospital.
He said: “I was amazed by the amount of the people that were there.
“I hope the families got a bit of comfort from that.”
Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth also said the turnout at Carterton was one of the biggest he had seen.
He said: “It was very moving and humbling to see so many people turn out for the repatriation. We all hope it will be the last and I think the way everyone conducts themselves is very dignifying and shows the true feeling towards the military personnel that do a very difficult job for us.”