THE mother of a fallen serviceman paid tribute to the people of Oxfordshire for their support at yesterday’s repatriation.

Rifleman Sheldon Steel, from 5th Battalion The Rifles, was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday by an improvised explosive device. He was 20.

His mother Wendy Fulthorpe said: “Thank you to everybody, everywhere for all the support.

“It means a lot and it is quite overwhelming. I was not expecting it at all.”

Rifleman Steel was said to be a rising star in the Army and an outstanding marksman, who last year won his company’s annual rifleman competition.

About 40 members of his family and friends travelled from his home in Leeds to be at the memorial garden between Brize Norton and Carterton to pay their respects.

On crucifixes laid next to the garden, they paid tribute to their son, brother, grandson and friend.

One message read: “You made me proud, kiddo,” while another said: “To my friend, my teacher, my brother.”

Carterton Town Council estimated about 700 people gathered at the garden to watch as the cortege made its way from RAF Brize Norton to Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.

As it came to a stop in front of the Union flag at half mast, Rifleman Steel’s tearful family and friends laid flowers on the hearse.

Then, as the cortege drove away, the crowd applauded in tribute to the young serviceman.

Doreen Sweeney, 76, has attended all seven repatriation ceremonies since RAF Brize Norton took back the solemn duty from RAF Lyneham in September.

The Carterton resident said: “It is important to show our respects and thank them for all they have done for us.

“That is the way the British are.

“We honour the fallen and have always been thankful for the young men who have put their lives on the line.”

Carterton mayor Norman MacRae said: “I didn’t think this could get any more moving.

“But with Christmas approaching, which is a time for families to be together, this is a family that has been decimated and whose Christmas will never be the same.

“But I’m very proud of the community, who turn out and support our young men and women and their families.”

The hearse carrying Rifleman Steel on his final journey then continued through Oxfordshire on its way to the JR where a post-mortem examination will be carried out.

About 250 people, along with 20 standard bearers from the Royal British Legion, turned out to pay their respects in Headley Way.

RBL Oxford chairman Jim Lewendon said: “It is quite an emotional experience but it has become important to all of us.

“It is something we need to do but we hope every time that this one will be the last.”