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Friday, March 28

U.K. communities mourn soldiers lost in Iraq war


Communities across the United Kingdom mourned their war dead this week, honoring soldiers lost during ``Operation Iraqi Freedom'' to both enemy fire and wartime accidents.

Seven of the dead came from the community of Helston, in Cornwall in southwest England, home to Culdrose Naval Air Station. The six British servicemen and one American on detachment to the Royal Navy died when two Sea Kings helicopters collided in mid-air over international waters in the Persian Gulf last Saturday. The collision is being considered an accident.

``Helston is so integrated with Culdrose that people can relate to the loss, whether they knew the men or not,'' said the city's mayor, Nick Martin, a veteran of the Falklands Islands War who works at Culdrose as a civilian. ''As someone who lost 12 shipmates in the Falklands I can directly relate to it, but I think the whole town is hurting.''

Outside St. Michael's Church in Helston, a white flag given to the church by Culdrose has been flying at half-staff. The Duke of York, who as Prince Andrew trained at Culdrose and flew Sea Kings in the Falklands War, sent condolences to the families.

A message on one of the bouquets piling up in tribute at Culdrose's memorial garden said simply: ``To the boys of A flight. The best at what they do.''

Margaret Fitter, whose son, Ian, is currently serving in the Gulf, set up a special commemorative window display at a local store. ``I just wanted to do something to show the families we are thinking of them,'' she said. ``For a couple of hours when we first heard about the crash we thought it could be our son. We were lucky, but you feel so sorry for the families who weren't.''

Another eight Royal Marines, along with four U.S. servicemen, died when a U.S. Army CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed accidentally in Kuwait on March 21. And Sgt. Steven Roberts, 33, of Shipley, in West Yorkshire in England was the first British combat death; he was shot last Sunday during a riot by civilians in the town of Az Zubayr, southwest of Basra.

Roberts' widow, Samantha, was a familiar voice to British radio listeners as a regular contributor to radio discussion programs on BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Radio Leeds since the conflict began.

"For him to be confirmed as the first confirmed death in combat makes it all the more difficult,'' said Member of Parliament Chris Leslie of the Labor Party, who represents Shipley.

But at the Stonehouse Barracks in Plymouth, on England's southwestern tip, where the Royal Marines were based, floral tributes had been placed along with family photographs in memory of Marine Ian Seymour, 28, of Hamworthy.

One note said: "Daddy, I love you loads. We will miss you always. God Bless you. Baby Bear and Tinkler Bell."

Tinkler Bell was Seymour's nickname for his son, Beck, 3.

"This is just dreadful,'' said Geoffrey Granville of Devon, Seymour's father-in-law. "He really believed he had an important job to do and he wanted to do it. It is so sad that he died in an accident rather than in the heat of battle. The Royal Marines was his dream job. He wanted to be a commando and he loved it. We're devastated."

"My world has fallen apart,'' said Helen Guy, whose husband Philip, 29, also died in that crash. The couple has a 20-month-old son, and she is due to have their second child in the next few weeks. Capt. Guy recently served in Afghanistan, searching caves for weapons.

``He would not have been afraid to go in that helicopter,'' Helen Guy said. ``He had been in helicopters countless times before. This would have been just another drop off for him. I know he died a true hero.''

(Written by Gannett News Service, based on contributions from U.K. papers The Helston Packet, The Bradford Telegraph & Argus, and the Bournemouth Daily Echo.)