WATCH: Community salute to fallen RAF gunner on 10th anniversary of his death
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Tributes have been paid to a young RAF gunner from Bury St Edmunds on the 10th anniversary of his death in Afghanistan.
Wreaths were laid and the Last Post sounded in honour of Senior Aircraftsman (SAC) Luke Southgate, who was killed serving with the RAF Regiment.
The ceremony was attended by Luke's family and friends, plus members of the community at a memorial garden in St Olave's Road on the estate where he grew up.
Also attending were former RAF comrades, and serving members of 2 Squadron RAF Regiment based at RAF Honington in which Luke served.
A short service was conducted by Reverend (Wing Commander) Adrien Dyer followed by tributes from a senior officer and former colleagues.
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Luke died after an improvised explosive device exploded under his WMIK Land Rover while conducting a patrol to protect Kandahar airfield.
Flight Lieutenant Steve Kingdom served with Luke and was one of the first at the scene after the explosion.
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He told the gathering that he was part of a group being protected by Luke and his colleagues.
"We were always very exposed on our own. This was where I first met Luke. He was the driver of the vehicle behind us. He always knew exactly what to do and was professional at all times. I never had to look behind to check he was there. I just knew he was always there.
"What happened that day will stay with us, and leave so many questions unanswered. Luke was a brave, tough, fit, strong gunner.
"Losing Luke deprived the flight of a young, courageous and likeable man. When we lost him it hit us hard but we knew one thing. He would not have sat around and felt sorry for himself, a testament to his drive and passion to protect people.
"Luke and I spent some time playing acoustic guitar. I know for sure that Luke will be up there teaching those angels to play guitar.
"We will never forget Luke and I can vouch for many of the people on 2 Squadron that there is not a day goes by without a thought of what happened to Luke 10 years ago today. "
Group Captain Paul Weaver-Smith of RAF Honington said Luke was killed "tragically early."
"He showed great potential, was a supreme soldier and a loyal comrade," he said.
"We take some small comfort from this tragedy that he was serving his country protecting a key strategic asset in NATO and Afghanistan's struggle to beat the insurgency.
"We will now not see his promise develop, but his memory will last. Our thoughts and prayers are as always with his family."
Luke lived in St Olaves Road and attended County Upper School before joining the RAF.
The memorial is in the shopping precinct in St Olaves Road and was erected in 2016 by friends of the Howard Estate, St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Bury St Edmunds Town Council, Bury in Bloom, West Suffolk College and RAF Honington.
Ernie Broom, chairman of the Howard Estate Association of Residents and Tenants, said the memorial had been erected by a community that was very proud of Luke and would never forget him.
Trainee RAF gunners from Honington helped the community get the memorial ready for the ceremony.
"We wanted to do something to just mark the occasion," he said.
"It's been a real community effort. Luke was one of our lads, a member of the community and I like to think that we look after each other on this estate.
"This is our chance to pay tribute to him and get people to remember. He gave his life, you can't do more than that can you?"
Mayor of Bury St Edmunds Peter Thompson said the ceremony was poignant for him as his son had just joined the RAF.
"The important thing to remember is the sacrifice these guys made defending the country," he said.
"It's nice for us in our town to recognise our citizens, our friends and our family members who went to hellish conditions to defend us.
"To remember people like Luke is the very least that we can do."