OXFORDSHIRE united yesterday to pay its respects to six fallen heroes and support the grief-stricken families they leave behind.

Thousands of people, including 2,500 in Carterton alone, stood shoulder to shoulder in silence at the repatriation of the soldiers.

Those gathered at Carterton’s Memorial Garden included about 500 family members and friends, and 48 Royal British Legion standard bearers.

Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, from 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, Private Anthony Frampton, 20, Private Christopher Kershaw, 19, Private Daniel Wade, 20, and Private Daniel Wilford, 21, all from 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s), were killed in Afghanistan on March 6.

At the repatriation ceremony, their families and friends paid tribute to the overwhelming support shown by the people of Oxfordshire.

Pte Kershaw’s uncle, Fred Kershaw, 64, of Scunthorpe, said: “Christopher’s dad has really appreciated how many people turned out.

“It has been very difficult for his parents. It has just brought it all back again and they are living with it day after day.

“I am proud of what Christopher has done. He always wanted to be a soldier, from a little boy, and unfortunately he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Sergeant Major Chris Stansfield, who supported the family of Cpl Hartley, said: “The family have been overwhelmed by the turnout today.

“It has been quite humbling and they very much appreciated it.

“It was of great benefit to them.”

For Wendy Fulthorpe, 43, from Leeds, the day was another reminder of the death of her son, Rifleman Sheldon Steel, who was repatriated in December.

He was a close friend of Pt Kershaw and many of Rfn Steel’s family and friends visited Carterton for the second time yesterday.

Mrs Fulthorpe said: “It is terrible to be back – it is just like déjà vu – but it is nice of so many people to come out. It shows they had a lot of friends.”

Rfn Steel’s friend Ashleigh Craig, 20, of Leeds, said: “It is devastating to be here again.”

The family of Senior Aircraftman Ryan Tomlin, who was repatriated in February, also attended to pay their respects.

His sister, Michelle Whittle, 33, from Hemel Hempstead, said: “We know how it feels, and it is mixed emotions to be here again.”

Pip Ridout, mayor of Warminster, Wiltshire, where 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment is based, said: “We are here on behalf of all the people of Warminster.

“As a mother of two sons I cannot imagine how the families must be feeling.”

Standard bearer Donald Tough, 64, of Richmond (North Yorkshire) RBL, said: “I have done too many of these. It is sad but I am honoured that I can do something for them.”

As the hearses carrying the six bodies left the Memorial Garden on the journey to Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, a respectful applause broke out. At Headley Way in Oxford, more than 400 people and 26 standard bearers gathered to pay their silent tribute.

Among those marking the sad occasion was Bob Coupe, chairman of the Veterans’ Association (Liverpool Branch), who travels from his home in Blackpool to honour the fallen at each repatriation.

Also at Headley Way was Terry Young from Littlemore, an Irish Guard veteran.

He said: “As soon as I asked the boss for the day off he said ‘absolutely’.

“I wanted to be here.”

Staff Sgt Wayne Robinson and three cadets from the Donnington Bridge Army Cadet Force stood in silence as the cortege passed.

He said: “I always come down – I’m ex-RAF, but it’s the first time for two of these cadets.”