Town pays tribute to fallen troops

HUNDREDS of people gathered yesterday to remember the lives of five soldiers from the town who were killed in Afghanistan over the past week. Afghanistan this week.

Elliot Furniss

THE Union flag above Colchester Town Hall was flying at half mast today as hundreds of people stopped to remember the lives of five soldiers from the town killed in Afghanistan this week.

A moving and impeccably observed two-minute silence was held at 11am as traffic stood still on the High Street and shoppers bowed their heads in respect.

Five red roses were leant against a pillar and tearful friends and family of the five members of the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment stood alongside veterans and councillors as a bugler played The Last Post.

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Colonel Tony Phillips, deputy commander of the Colchester garrison, and Major Aidan Coogan, the Parachute Regiment's adjutant, were among those paying tribute.

Speaking after the silence, Major Coogan praised the “dedication and commitment” of the battalion and thanked the town for its ongoing support.

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He said: “It is again with great sadness and regret that I make the following announcement regarding the two soldiers from 2 Para who were killed whilst conducting operations in Afghanistan yesterday.

“At this time our fullest thoughts and prayers are with the families and colleagues of those killed.

“As previously stated, 2 PARA are a professional, highly-motivated, well-trained battalion who continue to show dedication and commitment.

“Their response to the events at the weekend, when three paratroopers were killed, has been to continue operations and show determination in the completion of their mission.

“That determination remains in the light of events of yesterday, which led to the deaths of two more paratroopers.

“It has come as no surprise at the amount of support that has been received from the regimental family, both past and present, throughout the United Kingdom.

“It is therefore with immense pride that I am able to pay tribute to all members of the regiment whose courage, selflessness and steadfastness is a credit to the Army and this country.

“I would like to finish by taking this opportunity to say that, on behalf of the regiment, we thank the members of the public who have sent their kind messages of support and in particular the people of Colchester, whose kindness and compassion has been demonstrated today in this formal recognition of two minutes silence outside the Town Hall.

“This is greatly appreciated by those in Colchester and Afghanistan.”

A group of soldiers from the battalion was applauded by the crowds as they marched down the High Street before arriving at the Town Hall.

Colchester mayor Peter Crowe also addressed the crowd and afterwards said it was a “grievous” day for the town.

He said: “I thought initially we should have the silence to mark the 100 soldiers being killed - now we have two more and five from the regiment this week.

“The mayoress and I, together with the councillors and officers, extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of all the bereaved and to the regiment.”

He said everyone should admire the courage and dedication of the troops in Afghanistan and wished them “every possible success” and a speedy return to Colchester.

He added: “The loss of the five men has gripped every resident in the borough. Whether they are urban or rural, it makes no difference - they're all aware of what is going on and are saddened.”

Also at the ceremony was town MP Bob Russell, who said it was a “sad day” but their lives had not been lost in vain.

He said: “It was going to be a sad day anyway, but hearing that two more Colchester-based soldiers had died gives it even greater significance.

“What I can say is that I actually met the chairman of the Helmand Province Council at the House of Commons on Wednesday and he gave a very uplifting speech in which he praised the British troops and gave his condolences to families, friends an colleagues of those that had died.

“He said they died trying to help them rebuild a country that for 30 years has been systematically destroyed.”

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