Day of deep emotion as Ranger’s body is brought back to UK
Relatives and friends of a Co Down soldier killed in Afghanistan were inconsolable as they watched his remains being driven through the streets of Wootton Bassett.
Lance Corporal Stephen McKee (27) from Banbridge died when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Helmand province last Wednesday. He was just three weeks from finishing his second tour of duty.
His heartbroken wife Carley wept as the cortege carrying her hero husband passed through the Wiltshire market town where hundreds of people, including comrades from the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal British Legion, lined the streets in tribute.
In a moving statement, the young widow said he was “the best husband, father, son and brother anyone could ask for”.
Flowers were thrown onto the hearse as it passed Wootton Bassett’s war memorial. His coffin, draped in a Union flag, was carried from the C-17 aircraft before grieving relatives, including his parents Heather and Bobby and sisters Kelly and Rebecca, took part in a private ceremony.
Comrades from the RIR’s 1st Battalion held their own memorial service at the British military base Camp Bastion before the plane departed.
Earlier this week the McKee family revealed that the young soldier would be laid to rest alongside his baby daughter Keely, who died almost a year ago.
“Stephen was a brilliant son and as parents we are so proud of everything he achieved in his short life,” they said.
“He was a wonderful and loving husband to Carley, and an amazing brother.
“Above all that, Stephen was a soldier and we as a family take great comfort from the fact he died doing a job he loved.
“Stephen’s life was the army and we have been touched by the many tributes people have paid.
“He was a fine soldier, trustworthy and courageous and his memories will live on in our hearts forever.”
The Royal Irish Regiment deployed around 650 soldiers to Afghanistan in October. They have been responsible for security in the Nad-e-Ali region of Helmand province. Lance Corporal Stephen McKee is the third RIR soldier to be killed during the six-month tour of duty.
This week troops from the 1st Battalion took part in a massive air assault against the Taliban. The MoD said it was the biggest operation for the RIR since their Royal Ulster Rifles predecessors crossed the Rhine in 1945.