Wednesday, May 13, 2009
It was a day that underlined the debt Britain owes to its Gurkha warriors.
One of the four fallen heroes driven through the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett yesterday was Gurkha Corporal Kumar Pun, cut down by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
Other Gurkhas joined the hundreds of people lining the street to pay tribute to Corporal Pun, military police Sergeant Ben Ross, 34, Rifleman Adrian Sheldon, 25, and Corporal Sean Binnie, 22.
They died in three separate attacks on the same day last week.
Their bodies were flown back to RAF Lyneham, where families attended a private service, then driven in procession to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, along a road now known as the 'Highway for Heroes'.
The hearses carrying the Union Flag-draped coffins stopped at the town's war memorial, where regimental banners were lowered and only the tolling of the bells from St Bartholomew and All Saints church broke a minute's silence.
Corporal Pun, 31, from the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, died alongside Sergeant Ross when a suicide bomber attacked their patrol in Helmand province.
Rifleman Sheldon, from 2nd Battalion The Rifles, was killed by a roadside bomb and Corporal Binnie, from the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, died in a fight with insurgents.
Corporal Pun, who was married with daughters aged 18 months and six, was the third Gurkha to die in Afghanistan.
His wife Parbati, who in her 20s, lives in Dover and has been told by the UK Border Agency that she can stay here.
Corporal Pun's commander, Colonel David Haye, said: 'Kumar was a very distinguished man who was quiet yet extremely competent. He was a very self-assured leader and I'm sure he'll be sorely missed by all those who knew him.
'This is a very important ceremony and it shows the British public that the Gurkhas fight alongside British troops and, like them, are making the ultimate sacrifice.' The new Mayor of Wootton Bassett, Steve Bucknell, took the opportunity to question Government policy on the Gurkhas.
He said: 'It is all very, very sad. I said in my inaugural speech that I hoped we wouldn't have to do this again. It is also galling that here we are welcoming a Gurkha back while a lot of us don't understand the Government's attitude to Gurkhas who served this country.'
But Rajan Chhetri, a former Gurkha soldier among the mourners, said Corporal Pun's memory should not be marred by the row about Gurkhas settling in Britain. He added: 'What I want to say today is that equality is right. Everybody knows about this, especially the British people.'
Gurkha campaigner Joanna Lumley has said Corporal Pun's death 'shows Gurkhas are at the centre of the Army and willing to give up their lives for this country.'
The Afghan death toll grew again yesterday. The Ministry of Defence announced that a Welsh Guards officer, shot in Helmand on Saturday, had died in Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital.