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Monday, 14 November 2011

We Will Remember Them

It has been a very sombre week in Helmand since my last post. 

We had the Vigil Ceremony for Private Matthew James Sean Haseldin, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, among many other tasks.

The occasion, as per normal, brings 90% of Camp Bastion to a stand still. The 21 year old from Yorkshire, was tragically killed in action after suffering a fatal gunshot wound whilst out on patrol.

Private Haseldin had only completed his Combat Infantryman's course in August 2011, before deploying to Helmand in the September. Such a tragic loss for his family, loved ones and comrades of 2 Mercian.

 The cross his family will receive in remembrance of their loved one.

The ceremony was performed on the newly refurbished Vigil Square, where as usual, thousands of troops from the UK, US, Estonia and Denmark gather to pay their final respects.

2 Mercian's Motto 'Stand FIRM, Strike HARD'

For many of 2 Mercian, this was an extremely emotional occasion. Many of the young lads there, trained together, and deployed at the same time. They are a well bonded group of men, several of which were on the patrol in which Pte Haseldin was killed. They were the first point of medical cover and responsible for extracting him to the medical helicopter, for onward movement to Camp Bastion.

The Artillery gun signifies the minutes silence

The ramp ceremony was the last leg of Pte Haseldin's journey home, in which his closest friends carried his Union Flag draped coffin onto an RAF C-17, where hours later, he would be reunited with his family and loved ones at the Repatriation Ceremony in Brize Norton.

A day or so later, the new Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond arrived in Helmand to pay his respects to the fallen at the Remembrance Parade in Camp Bastion. After a whistle-stop tour of Task Force Helmand, in Lashkar Gah, the Defence Secretary was on route to Bastion to meet the troops.

Breakfast in Camp Bastion

During the build up to the Remembrance Parade, the Defence Secretary took time to talk to the troops, enjoy a spot of breakfast, and visit several places around the camp.

Enjoying a fry up

The Remembrance Parade was to be a significant one. It was going to fall on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, of the 11th year. A once in a lifetime occasion, something we will never see in our lifetimes again.

The parade ground was full, but surprisingly quiet. It's not often you can get that many squaddies in one place, without it being horrendously noisy. You could have heard a pin drop.

Looking around the parade, from the youngest Private, to the most senior Brigadier, you could tell this parade would be something that touched everyone's heart. Not only were we in Afghanistan, where the realities of war really hit home, but you could tell that quite a lot of people had a personal connection with the day too. Whether it be a relative from the World War days, or someone from a modern conflict, you would be hard pushed to find anyone who hasn't got a personal connection with Remembrance Day.

Hymns are sung before the Wreaths are laid

The parade was good, and went very well. Their was a lot of media coverage for the day. The Combat Camera Team, BFBS, ITN, United States Public Affairs and the Press Association were all in attendance.

The head Padre, Lt Col Maynard, led the service with the assistance of the Garrison Sergeant Major, WO1 Edkins. After the hymns and prayers, the Wreaths were laid, then the bugle played the Last Post.

The Defence Secretary lays his wreath at the memorial

The padre then gave his final blessings before the parade came to a close.

Padre Maynard at the lectern.

The wreath laid by the Defence Minister

The following day, we had a similar job, but with a twist. We were in Camp Shorabak, which is attached to Camp Bastion, covering the first ever joint Afghan/British Remembrance Ceremony.

This has never happened in the past, and took some planning by the Media Officer of the Brigade Advisory Group (BAG), 2 Rifles, Lt Roz Ashworth ETS (Educational Training Services).

There were several difficulties to overcome. Firstly, all Afghan's were technically on leave celebrating the festival of Eid, but also, it had to remain non religious.

An Afghan Soldier finding amusement in photographing the photographer

The parade ground was full. There were a good few hundred Afghan National Army trainees there. Before the members of 2 Rifles arrived, and it all started, I had the chance to get some photos of the soldiers, most of which were wearing poppies. They loved it, and provided me with some great portraits.

Afghan Soldiers proud to wear their Poppies

When the parade started, again, there was utter silence. Every British and Afghan Soldier, along with the interpreters bowed their heads and remembered those that had fallen in conflict. The Rifles padre read several verses, and prayers, while the Afghan Mullah (religious leader) translated it.

An Afghan Soldier wears his poppy amongst his ammunition

The Brigade Commander, Brigadier Sanders then gave his speech, accompanied by the Afghan Commander, Brigadier General Sheren Shah. Yet again, everything was translated for both parties involved in the parade.

Brigadier General Sheren Shah addresses the parade

The final part of the parade was for the two commanders to lay their wreaths. Brigadier Sanders laid his onto the Afghan flag, while Brigadier Sheren Shah laid his onto the Union flag. The Regimental Sergeant Major then read out the role of honour for all British and Afghan soldiers, as well as interpreters, that had died in Afghanistan in the last 12 months. This was followed by the Bugler sounding the last post, and the Artillery gun signify the start of the two minutes silence.

Brigadier Sanders and Brigadier General Sheren Shah pay their respects

The harsh realities of War have been felt by all in Helmand this week, as well as across the globe.

My final words for this post are:-

They shall not grow old, as we are left to grow old,

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

"When you go home, tell them of us and say: For your tomorrow we gave our today."

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