From todays Express.

GURKHA veterans stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the great British public yesterday to pay a moving tribute to the latest soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of mourners honoured the return of four brave soldiers who lost their lives in a single day of bloodshed – one of them a Gurkha.

The bodies of the men were flown into RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire, where their families paid respects at a private ceremony, before the cortege drove through Wootton Bassett.

As has become tradition at each repatriation, well-wishers formed a guard of honour on the three-mile route dubbed Highway of Heroes.

Sergeant Ben Ross, 34, from 173 Provost Company, 3rd Regiment, Royal Military Police, and Corporal Kumar Pun, 31, from the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, were killed by a suicide bomber in Helmand Province on May 7.

Rifleman Adrian Sheldon, 25, from 2nd Battalion The Rifles, died in an explosion when travelling in a Jackal vehicle near Sangin that evening.
BRAVE HEROES: Ben Ross, Kumar Pun, Adrian Sheldon and Sean Binnie

Corporal Sean Binnie, 22, from the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, was killed in a fire fight on the same day. Their deaths brought the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 157.

The quartet of coffins made stately progress through the high street, where the crowd of shoppers, shopkeepers, local dignitaries and veterans paid silent tribute.

Only the tolling of the bells from St Bartholomew and All Saints Church broke the silence. Each fallen soldier’s hearse must pass through Wootton on the way to the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxfordshire.

The new mayor of Wootton Bassett, Steve Bucknell, questioned Government policy on Gurkhas as the town honoured Corporal Pun’s service.

He said: “It is all very, very sad. I said in my inaugural speech that I hoped we wouldn’t have to do this again. It is also galling that here we are welcoming a Gurkha back while a lot of us don’t understand the Government’s attitude to Gurkhas who have served this country.

“The Government lets others live here, but not Gurkhas. We would rather have Gurkhas than shirkers.”

But former Royal Gurkha Rifleman Maita Limbu, 44, said: “It’s not about politics here. We are just saying thank you and welcome home.”

Corporal Pun’s widow Parbati, 28, and her two young daughters were in the middle of an ugly political row last week after it emerged they could be booted out of Britain when their visas expire.

But a UK Border Agency spokesman denied this was the case. Details emerged in the wake of the Government’s shameless handling of Gurkha veterans settlement rights.

Retired veteran James Archer, 57, who served in the Scots Guards and air dispatch, had come from working a night shift to be on the streets to watch yesterday’s procession.

Mr Archer, from Swindon, went without sleep to wash, shave and don his uniform ready to stand in the rain alongside his comrades. He estimated it was the 16th time he had attended a repatriation in Wootton Bassett.

He said: “It is important we respect these soldiers. All we had to face was bombs and a few snipers, but these guys are losing limbs and going out and doing marathons. They will not be defeated.

“There’s not enough respect for soldiers. If only you could take the spirit here in Wootton Bassett and connect it with the rest of the country.”

The town council and local Royal British Legion officials have been co-ordinating the turn-out ever since dead troops started arriving at Lyneham in 2007.

Actress Joanna Lumley, who heads the Gurkha Justice Campaign, said: “On this saddest of days for the families of these brave men, the involvement of the Gurkhas is underlined heavily. They are, and always have been, part of our Armed Forces.

“The sympathy the country extends includes the bereaved Gurkha families. I send my sincerest commiserations, and gratitude to their men, who are all the bravest of the brave.”

An officer with the 1st Battalion, The Welsh Guards, died in Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital yesterday after being shot in Helmand Province on Saturday.

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