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India-origin pilot’s body returns to UK

London, May 7: Rakesh Chauhan came home yesterday on an idyllic spring day.

The sentiments of his proud but devastated mother Jyoti, father Kishor, elder brother Kesh and other members of his family, who run a sari shop in Leicester, were reflected by Alfred Tennyson’s poem written over 200 years ago, Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead:

She nor swooned, nor uttered cry:

All her maidens, watching, said,

‘She must weep or she will die.’

A Royal Air Force transport plane landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire bringing back the bodies of 29-year-old Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan and the four other British servicemen who were killed just before midnight on April 26 when their Lynx helicopter crashed in Kandahar province, 48km from the Pakistan border. There was a private ceremony for close relatives after the plane landed at 1.30pm (BST).

Rakesh (“Rak” to his compatriots), who was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer, was due back home this week. He was regarded by his superiors as a rising star in the RAF.

Also in the ill-fated helicopter were Captain Thomas Ellis Clarke of the Army Air Corps, Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner of the Army Air Corps, Lance Corporal Oliver Matthew Thomas of 3 Military Intelligence Battalion and Corporal James Walters of the Army Air Corps.

Their deaths bring to 453 the number of British servicemen and women who have been lost in Afghanistan since the start of UK deployment in 2001. The British are now in the process of withdrawing all combat troops from Afghanistan, raising concern among many that this will once again allow the ISI in Pakistan to back the Taliban across the border.

As five hearses bearing the coffins draped in Union flags made their way to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, more than 1,000 mourners, including Rakesh’s family and friends, stood in silence on Norton Way in Carterton to pay their respects for one of the largest repatriations the small town has ever seen.

Red and white roses, lilies, brightly coloured tulips and yellow daffodils were tossed as the hearses made their slow progress.

The street fell silent at 4.52pm (BST), when the bell tolled to mark the arrival of the servicemen’s families at the local Memorial Garden. Flag bearers from military organisations from across the country raised their banners and lowered them as the bell tolled again at 5.15pm, when the hearses drew up.

All five families threw flowers on top of the hearses, with some weeping relatives touching the vehicles.

Speaking after the dignified service, Lynn Little, mayor of Carterton, who also acts as a liaison officer for the bereaved families, said: “It was a very sad occasion but then it always is. We are proud of our service families and serving personnel; when something tragic like this happens the least we can do is support them on a day like today. There are a tremendous amount of people here today.”

“As mayor, I am very proud so many have come out to offer their support,” she added. “It is something we don’t want, we wish it didn’t happen but when it does we get out here for these families.”

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “My thoughts go out to the friends and families of the five servicemen being repatriated at RAF Brize Norton.”

 
 
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