Defence Secretary Des Browne last night praised the 500 people who lined Oxford streets to pay their respects to five dead British soldiers.

On Monday, the bodies of the five paratroopers killed in Afghanistan were flown into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire for a repatriation ceremony attended by their loved ones.

The men, all from 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, based at Colchester in Essex, died last week. Their bodies were brought back to the John Radcliffe Hospital with a police escort for post mortem examinations and members of the Royal British Legion and hundreds of other members of the public turned out.

Some of the crowd along Headley Way wore military uniforms while others waved Union flags and clutched flowers.

Mr Browne last night thanked the Oxford Mail's readers. He said: "These five men made the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives in pursuit of the goals of peace and security for the Afghan people.

"All our armed forces personnel demonstrate great bravery, dedication and professionalism daily and there is a huge amount of public admiration for their efforts.

"On such a sad day, this outstanding demonstration of dignified respect and recognition from the people of Oxfordshire further highlights the public support for our armed forces and the compassion for the families and loved ones of those who have fallen in the line of duty."

Craig Treeby, county manager for the Royal British Legion, welcomed the "tremendous show of support for the fallen comrades".

He said: "Members of the local branch of the Royal British Legion rallied superbly to organise this tribute and were joined by many ordinary members of the public who wanted to pay their respects in this way.

"There were seven or eight standard bearers in total, including a representative of the Parachute Regiment. I think there has been an overwhelming swell of support towards the armed forces as a whole during the past year and I think that was demonstrated by the turnout.

"And on Remembrance Sunday, churches reported that their congregations were about two to three times the normal size, and funding from the Poppy Appeal increased quite dramatically."

Privates Nathan Cuthbertson and David Murray, both 19, and Daniel Gamble, 22, were blown up by a suicide bomber last Sunday.

On Thursday, Lance Corporal James Bateman, 29, and Private Jeff Doherty, 20, were killed. Their deaths took the number of British service personnel killed in Afghanistan since November 2001 to 102.

The repatriation came on the day 230 engineers, logistical staff and military training experts began a tour of duty. The move brings the overall UK strength in Afghanistan to more than 8,000 troops.