Pride and dignity of killed service personnel families

By Peter Biles
BBC world affairs correspondent

Image caption, Families laid wreaths and bouquets of flowers at the base of the memorial

In this peaceful place in the English Midlands, an arboretum with 50,000 trees, families gathered not only to mourn but to voice their pride.

The Armed Forces Memorial is dedicated to all the service personnel killed in the line of duty since 1948.

Of the 119 men who died last year, 108 lost their lives in Afghanistan.

The Chaplain in Chief of the Royal Air Force, the Venerable Ray Pentland, offered words of comfort to the relatives who attended Saturday's special ceremony.

"We're here to remember. Everyone is here as one family. Deaths leave lives shattered but dedicating the names is part of remembering."

'Wonderful recognition'

The 119 names were read out - one by one - from the Royal Navy, from the Army and from the Royal Air Force.

2009 was the worst year for fatalities in the British armed forces for more than 20 years. Not since the Falklands War in 1982 had so many died.

Twenty-four-year-old L/Cpl Richard Brandon was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan last September.

Today his fiancee, Emma Jayne Webster, talked of her nervousness in attending this national event. But the occasion clearly meant a great deal and her dignity shone through.

"I think what I've seen is absolutely spectacular. It's wonderful recognition for what Richard did and what he believed in and for his country," she said.

Also here was Peter Fullarton. He came to honour his son, 24-year-old L/Cpl James Fullarton, who was also killed in Afghanistan by an IED - along with two comrades.

"We saw this as a fantastic honour to fallen soldiers, especially for our son, and we were so so proud of him.

"We'll always be proud of him because he was a fantastic young man. It's very moving to see his name on the wall. It's not a day you want to see but it was very touching."

There are some 16,000 names on these Portland stone walls that form the centre-piece of the memorial.

The list of British military involvement - in both conflict and peacekeeping operations - since the 1940s is extensive.

Image caption, The 119 new names are dominated by those killed in Afghanistan

Palestine, Malaya, Korea, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, the South Atlantic, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan are just a few.

Initially, when the Armed Forces Memorial was unveiled in 2007, the names of those killed were carved by computer but over the last couple of years, the names been painstakingly engraved by hand, by stonemason Nick Hindle.

"You're obviously concentrating very hard on what you're doing but you do know a lot of the names from the paper or the TV. So you can't help but be caught up by them and it's a very emotional time," he said.

After the playing of the national anthem, the families came forward to lay wreaths and bouquets of flowers at the base of the towering white walls. Then they stood quietly - simply comforting one another and remembering.

The Armed Forces Memorial was closed to the general public during the ceremony but when the flow of regular visitors resumes, the one millionth visitor is expected.

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