The pain’s too much to bear as Channing Day returns home
The eyes of the world may have been firmly fixed on the devastating impact of an act of God in America yesterday, but in a quiet corner of Oxfordshire, friends and family of an Ulster soldier were grieving for her and another victim of an act of war in Afghanistan.
The aftermath of hurricane Sandy in the US may have pushed the repatriations of Channing Day and David O’Connor down the news agendas but for their loved ones, and for their colleagues, their homecoming was the tearful ordeal they have been dreading.
As the relatives of Corporal Day from Comber and Corporal O’Connor gathered side by side at RAF Brize Norton, news came through that another two British soldiers had been killed in the same Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province where the two corporals died a week ago.
The bodies of Channing Day who served with the 3 Medical Regiment and Cpl O’Connor from 40 Commando were flown into Brize Norton yesterday afternoon and were carried from the plane with full military honours, in a well-practised ceremony which has become all too common at RAF bases in England since the war started in Afghanistan.
The Last Post and then Reveille were played as each of the Union flag-draped coffins were borne slowly by six pallbearers from the hold of the aircraft.
Less than a month ago, Channing had left the same base for Helmand where she had seen service before.
There and in Iraq. She's only the third servicewoman to have been killed in the Afghan conflict.
At Brize in a new purpose-built £1.9m repatriation centre, relatives gathered for private services before hearses took the coffins to a memorial garden in the small village of Carterton which was designed by local people including members of the Royal British Legion and retired military personnel.
Yesterday, a Union flag flew at half mast at the garden.
It was the same one that used to fly at Royal Wootton Bassett when it was the centrepiece of repatriations.
A former colleague of Channing Day who served with her in Iraq and Germany was waiting near the memorial garden with a group of 200 friends and family.
“She was a good girl who could always put a smile on your face,” said Kevin Baines.
“I will always remember her smile.”
Yesterday however there were tears as relatives watched the cortege go through Carterton.
As a bell broke the silence, members of Channing’s family inched forward to place flowers on her hearse.
One of them kissed the glass of the stationary vehicle a number of times.
The hearses moved away slowly and as they did so people burst into a spontaneous and respectful round of applause.
Twenty standard bearers from the Royal British Legion provided a guard of honour and lowered their standards as the bodies were taken to the John Radcliffe hospital for post mortems.
“It is always very emotional,” said local Legion chairman Jim Lewindon.
“The route from the RAF base to the hospital is always lined by people from this area who want to show their respects for the soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifices.
“When they closed RAF Lyneham and decided to repatriate the fallen through Brize Norton, we decided to continue the practice of honouring the servicemen and women that had been started at Wootton Bassett.”
The announcement that two more soldiers had been killed in Helmand only added to the sombre mood yesterday.
The Gurkhas were shot dead at a checkpoint by an Afghan man dressed in police uniform.
The Taliban said one of their gunmen had infiltrated the Afghan police.
Cpl Day and Cpl O’Connor were overseeing the training of the Afghan police when their patrol came under fire last week and the Ministry of Defence said initial investigations revealed the killing was not caused by so-called friendly fire.
Channing’s parents Leslie and Rosemary and her sisters Lauren and Laken will be bringing her back for a funeral service in Comber where hundreds of people have signed books of condolence.
In a statement, the family said she was “bubbly, sporty, beautiful and lived her life for the Army”.