8 years ago today 8 British Soldiers arrived home on an 'angel flight'.

Top, from left: Private John Brackpool, Rifleman Daniel Hume, Corporal Lee Scott and Rifleman James Backhouse. Bottom from left: Rifleman Joseph Murphy, Rifleman Jonathan Horne, Rifleman Daniel Simpson and Rifleman William Aldridge  

Each fallen soldier was led through the town of Royal Wootton Basset under the watchful eye of former Soldier and Police constable Jarra Brown MBE who pays a truly humbling account of that devastating day below:

"That summer of 2009 was awful, we had escorted cortèges of one, two, three, four and five; now we were to escort eight.  Eight is an easy number to say, but when we escorted Corporal Lee Scott, Corporal Jonathan Horne, Riflemen William Aldridge, James Backhouse, Joseph Murphy, Daniel Hume, Daniel Simpson and Private John Brackpool, it was a devastating sight.  We left RAF Lyneham that afternoon on Tuesday 14 July 2009. The four outriders were leading the way; we turned left onto the A3102 at walking pace. Immediately, as we came out onto the public road, hundreds of people had gathered. Heads bowed in sorrow and to my left the two old boys’ arms were raised in the salute.  Slowly, methodically, I lead the cortège out of the main gates. I looked into my rear-view mirror and started to count the hearses, one by one as they came into my view.  One, two, three, four, another one, then another, seven, the eighth and finally the rear police vehicle. We had the cortège tight stretching the length of a football pitch and crawling along the streets of Lyneham village. 

In the middle of this little village centre is a mini roundabout on one side of which are a couple of stores and on the other the primary school. On the grass banks leading to the school many of the children had gathered with their teachers and parents. Some of the younger ones recognised me from my many visits and waved, such was their innocence; I nodded my head in their direction to acknowledge them.  Then without warning or prompting the children started to clap; the clapping got louder as the adults joined in, following the lead of those aged between six and eleven. I was confused at first but the following day the head teacher told me the children’s clapping was their way of expressing themselves and of recognising that those eight soldiers were heroes. It really caught me off guard and the tears were blurring my vision. Yet, at the same time, I looked in my mirror, at the coffins behind me and realised that inside there were lads only seven years older than these children in primary school uniform. 

The constant flow of radio messages from the Police Bronze Commander let us know that they were ready for our arrival and to prepare for thousands of grieving people lining both sides of the road. The eyes of the nation watched our progress from the images being broadcast from a BBC helicopter hovering directly above us to millions of people in their front rooms. Those images were also being seen by the eight families who remained inside RAF Lyneham and were being supported by their Visiting Officer and the outstanding RAF Repatriation Team. As we entered the built-up area the helicopter peeled off, out of sight and sound, so as not to deflect attention from the eight young men behind us. 

We were warned there would be thousands and they certainly did not exaggerate. We stopped adjacent to St Bartholomew’s Church for that brief moment while the conductor prepared to make his slow, dignified page of the fallen up to the war memorial and I looked around. Ten deep I counted; people on roof tops, looking out of windows, all wanting to share compassion and sympathy towards those families who were hurting with so much pain. Then we made our way through the crowd, slowly squeezing between the 51 standards on parade on the right side of the road, running the entire length of the High Street. On the side of the war memorial it was a mass of people: some wore T-shirts of their loved one; others held banners high; all were heartbroken as those raw emotions broke free. 

We were concerned about how to manage the respects to be shown at the war memorial with such a massive number of people expected. It was decided the most appropriate decision was to stop for one minute and for those involved in the brief ceremony to be forewarned. This would allow respects, be it saluting or indeed laying flowers, and all the extended family members and friends would have been made aware.  Normally, we would have remained until everyone had had the opportunity to place their flowers but it would have taken hours, such was the volume of people in attendance.  After the one minute concluded the conductor raised his hat to acknowledge the respects shown and slowly made his way towards where we were waiting to re-unite the cortège as one.

As he walked and the cortège wheels slowly turned I heard something that sounded like running water. The public, the military and all, were following the actions of the Lyneham pupils, when they spontaneously brought their hands together and applauded.  It really was emotional. As I stood to attention at the bottom of the High Street, I looked around and saw many people openly caught up in their own emotions, not ashamed to shed their tears.  Karen, my wife was standing some ten metres away from me, she looked deep into my eyes and I knew she could see the impact the respects were having on me almost weekly. She mouthed the words I knew so well, ‘Are you alright?’ I nodded my reply and smiled as she said, ‘I LOVE YOU.’ I then focused again on my duties and saluted as the cortège led by the conductor approached me. 

Once the flowers that had fallen on the hearse windscreens were removed and placed inside the vehicles the conductor confirmed we were ready to continue on our journey. Forty miles further on the cortège would travel along the M4 and then down the A419, next onto the A420 from Wiltshire into Oxfordshire where the Thames Valley police assumed their duties all the way to the John Radcliffe Hospital. Thousands stood and waited hours for those eight young men, 46 miles in total, which took three hours to complete, such was the outcry of respect from our proud nation. Our country was hurting not in a manner that can be anything near the trauma the young men’s family and friends were suffering, but the genuine compassion was overwhelming. Eight years on, I promise you all who lost loved ones, their names will forever live on."

Further detailed accounts of his experiences at this time can be read HERE