Sarah Bryant's body returned from Afghanistan

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The body of the first female soldier to be killed in Afghanistan was returned to British soil poignantly draped in a Union flag.

In a moving repatriation ceremony six members of Corporal Sarah Bryant's unit struggled to contain their emotions as they slowly shouldered her coffin from a Hercules transport aircraft on to the sun lit runway at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.

The bodies of three SAS reservists, who died with the 26-year-old last week, also made their final journey home.

The coffins of Corporal Sean Reeve, 28, Lance Corporal Richard Larkin, 39, and Paul Stout, 31, were shielded from view because their pall bearers were fellow members of the Special Forces.

Even in death an air of secrecy surrounded their brave service.

Their coffins were taken to a chapel at the air base where a private service was held for the families of the four soldiers.

They then left RAF Lyneham in a convoy of hearses which was met by hundreds of mourners as it passed through the small market town of Wootton Bassett.

A floral tribute at the town's memorial read: "To an English rose and her comrades. Rest in peace."

Relatives of the soldiers joined local people who turned out to line the streets in silent tribute, many with their heads bowed, as each hearse passed by.

Among the crowd were veterans in uniform who saluted sombrely while the convoy made its way to John Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford for post-mortem examinations to be carried out.

Cumbrian-born Cpl Bryant, 26, who served with the Intelligence Corps, and the three SAS reservists, died when their lightly protected Snatch Land Rover was hit by a mine near Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province on June 17.

In what her family described as an "amazing life" she had also served in Iraq and learned Pashtu so she could help train the Afghan security forces.

Soldiers on the ground say the death of the first British woman soldier in Afghanistan has had a deep impact on them.

A soldier friend of Cpl Bryant said: "I knew Sarah long before she joined up and she always wanted to join the Army. She was mad keen on the Intelligence Corps and wanted to be a hands on soldier.

"She was a truly lovely girl that always had a smile for everyone. I am absolutely gutted."

Her Army officer husband, Cpl Carl Bryant, who she married only two years ago, said he was left "devastated beyond words" by her death.

And her father, Des Feely, chose the words of Winston Churchill to sum up his feelings, saying: 'Never have so many owed so much to so few'.

The four deaths brought the total number of British fatalities in Afghanistan to 106 since operations began in 2001, including nine in a 10-day period this month.

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