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Remembrance Day on the front line

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Media captionCorporal Kirk Buck planned a vigil for three men from his regiment who died

Under the hot Afghan winter sun, a bugler sounded the Last Post, ahead of a profound two-minute silence at the British headquarters in Lashkar Gah.

The servicemen and women here stood lost in thought, before the bugler sounded the reveille.

For those working and fighting here, this Remembrance Day is a very personal act of remembering the sacrifices made in war.

Though many of those gathered here are only in their twenties, many have already lost friends and comrades in Afghanistan, and before that in Iraq, giving the silence here a deeper resonance.

British servicemen and women on operations in Helmand work a seven-day week, and Sunday is no different. But most will be able to attend a service at even the remotest patrol bases or checkpoints across the province at different times of day, or if on guard, stand in silence as they watch over their colleagues.

So far this year, 43 British troops have died in Afghanistan - five of them from the current brigade.

The men and women of the Royal Marines' group have lost four of their comrades on this tour to insider attacks in the past month: Corporal Dave O'Connor, Corporal Channing Day, Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter and Lance Corporal Siddhanta Kunwar.

Lieutenant Colonel Matt Jackson, Commanding Officer of 40 Commando Royal Marines, says that for himself and his men, this Sunday is both a personal and a collective act of remembrance.

"Overall, the Royal Marines have taken a number of fatalities in Afghanistan: 61 since the campaign began, a number of friends among them," he said.

"For the personal part, I lost a lot of good friends on Operation Telic 1 in Iraq, as well as on Operation Herrick in Afghanistan. The important part is that it hasn't been done in vain, and the progress that has been made in central Helmand is testament to their efforts."

But the Royal Marines will only have time to mourn properly when they return home, at the end of their tour. Here in Helmand, Lt Col Jackson said there was still a job to be done working closely alongside the Afghan police and Army to mentor them - and continuing to trust them, despite the insider attacks.

"It is hard. I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't," he said. "And obviously, the last few weeks have been ones in which emotions have been quite raw. But 40 Commando are driving forward with the mission, and we'll do the mourning when we get home to Norton Manor."

At the age of 27, Corporal Kirk Buck from The Royal Dragoon Guards will be thinking of the three men from his regiment who died on their previous tour here.

Image caption Trooper Thomas Kingston will be thinking about friends he lost on Operation Herrick 12

"We'll be having a vigil, and it means a lot for me to mark it out here. I think it's nice to do it with family and friends, but out here it's with colleagues from the Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF. It is everyone combined together like a family," he says.

"I think it's really important for people to remember what sacrifices people have made for this country."

His comrade, 21-year old Trooper Thomas Kingston, agrees. "It matters a lot, knowing people in the UK are remembering. It shows you that people at home care, and they're grateful for people laying down their lives out here.

"I'll be thinking about friends I lost on Operation Herrick 12. They're the ones that'll be in my mind."

He continues: "I suppose you don't deal with it on operations, and it doesn't sink in straight away - you're so busy. It's only afterwards. You have got to carry on with the job and deal with it together. You don't get over it, though - you get through it. "

At another of the main bases, Padre Paul Andrew, the Naval Chaplain, is holding a service during which the roll of honour will be read. For him, marking Remembrance Day in Helmand brings an added immediacy.

"I think it is different out here. The sad reality is that there will be people coming together who have lost friends and comrades weeks or maybe even days ago and that sharpens that sense of remembrance," he admits.

"If you'd asked me a few years ago, this Sunday would have been about remembering the people we lost years and years ago, but now it is about remembering people I have served with. It means so many things - primarily about the fact that people are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for their friends and for their country. "

At the British headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the senior chaplain Padre Dowell Conning conducted the main service of remembrance. In his small, tented chapel is a prayer wall, onto which soldiers can pin their individual thoughts and prayers. Many of those prayers on it are in memory of Corporal Channing Day and Corporal David O'Connor, killed here in October in a suspected insider attack.

"I think being here makes today very poignant," says Mr Conning.

"We think back to the people who fought and who have died and suffered sacrifices in times past and we think of what's going on today here in Helmand, and the sacrifices which, unfortunately, we're still making. And we think of our friends, families and loved ones at home, standing and waiting for our safe return. "

'Soldiers' morale'

Representatives from five nations, including Afghan generals and others, joined British troops in Lashkar Gah for Sunday's service.

They were also joined by the deputy commander of Nato's Isaf mission in Afghanistan, Lt General Nick Carter, and from London by the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Mark Francois.

The Commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier Bob Bruce, gave one of the readings from the Book of Wisdom.

"Remembrance Day is always very important to us in the military anyway, but I think it's particularly poignant when we're deployed on operations," he says.

"Knowing those in the UK are also remembering is enormously important for us, and a fundamental part of soldiers' morale is the understanding that there is support for us back home. "

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