7:00am Saturday 28th May 2011
By Ben Wilkinson
AFTER paying their respects at every repatriation of a dead serviceman, killed in the war in Afghanistan, those who gather along the A420 to pay their respects pray that it will be the last.
But it never is. The group of residents and former servicemen and women return to the roadside near Faringdon, to honour the next fallen soldier.
On Thursday they marked a solemn milestone as they gathered to pay tribute, for the 100th time, as the body of the latest British victim of the war – Colour Sergeant Kevin Fortuna – was taken to Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.
The crowd has been meeting at Folly Hill lay-by since December 2008 and has seen about 220 servicemen repatriated – many in convoy.
Hundreds also gather in Headley Way, Headington, Oxford, at the end of the cortege’s 47-mile journey from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.
Faringdon repatriation organiser, Joy Blake, from Tower View, said it was terrible to think they had seen so many repatriations in such a short period.
“We can at least show our respects.”
The retired secretary added: “I always feel sadder when it is one soldier, rather than when it is three or four, as I think that poor soldier is going home on his own.”
She added: “They have given their lives saving our country. I show my respects but also thank them for what they have done.”
Sgt Fortuna, 36, a member of 1st Battalion The Rifles, from Portsmouth, was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan on Monday.
In a statement, his family said: “Kevin was a true professional who loved his job and lived life to the full. He gave 19 loyal years to the Army and will be sadly missed by his wife, mother, family and friends.”
Faringdon town mayor Mike Wise said: “We give a small amount of our time to those who have given all the time they have ever had. That is the least we can do to honour these people.
“It is always very sad. We have all got to know each other and we all say ‘I hope we don’t see you again’ – but we always do. But we feel it is a privilege to give a little to these men and women.”
He said the people of Faringdon would travel to pay their respects when the route moves from RAF Lyneham
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