A dignified return home

BACK HOME: The body of Cpl Jake Hartley, 20, is returned to British soil during a repatriation ceremony at RAF Brize Norton. Picture by Sergeant Adrian Harlen.
BACK HOME: The body of Cpl Jake Hartley, 20, is returned to British soil during a repatriation ceremony at RAF Brize Norton. Picture by Sergeant Adrian Harlen.

THE union flags at Dewsbury Town Hall flew at half mast on Tuesday to mark the repatriation of Corporal Jake Hartley.

Around 2,000 people lined the streets of Carterton, Oxfordshire, to pay their respects to the 20-year-old Dewsbury soldier and five others killed in an explosion in Afghanistan earlier this month.

Ministry of Defence undated handout photo of Corporal Jake Hartley, one of the six soldiers who were killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan on Tuesday.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday March 8, 2012. See PA story DEFENCE Afghanistan. Photo credit should read: Iain Hamer/MoD/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Ministry of Defence undated handout photo of Corporal Jake Hartley, one of the six soldiers who were killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan on Tuesday. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday March 8, 2012. See PA story DEFENCE Afghanistan. Photo credit should read: Iain Hamer/MoD/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Veteran David Pinder, a Mirfield town councillor, was among those at the ceremony.

“It’s hard to describe the atmosphere,” he said. “It was all very quiet and respectful, very British in a way, but more emotional than I expected.”

A coach full of Cpl Hartley’s loved ones travelled to the repatriation from Kirklees.

A plane landed at RAF Brize Norton with the soldiers’ bodies, which were taken to chapels of rest on base for private family services. A procession of six hearses then made its way out of the base and past the crowds.

Coun Pinder said: “In the distance we saw the flashing blue light through the trees and everybody new that was the car escorting the hearses. It went very quiet then. The atmosphere, you could feel it welling up. You knew the hearses had come into view because there was a shudder that ran along the front where the families were.”

The hearses were showered with flowers when they stopped and a spontaneous round of applause rippled through the crowd as they left.

Coun Pinder added: “When politicians stand up in parliament that’s important, but when ordinary people turn out in their thousands, that’s much more full of meaning.”

Closer to home floral tributes have been laid at the war memorial in Earlsheaton Park.

On Wednesday, a Kirklees Council meeting heard that a memorial service might be held for Cpl Hartley, and two others from Kirklees killed in the blast, by the Vicar of Huddersfield. The service will be after the soldiers’ funerals if their families supported the idea.

Arrangements for Cpl Hartley’s funeral are yet to be announced, but flags at all the town halls in Kirklees will be kept at half mast until each of the men has been laid to rest.

The council has also drawn up Kirklees Community Covenant to ensure fairer treatment for soldiers and their families. It is hoped it will be signed on Armed Forces Day, June 30.