TODAY marked the 10th anniversary of the death of two RAF servicemen from Swindon, who were on board a Hercules shot down in Iraq.

Gary Nicholson and Mark Gibson died in the incident which saw the Hercules shot down by insurgents on January 30, 2005.

Friends of master engineer Gary, 42, of Stratton, gathered at St Andrew’s Church in Wanborough for 2.30pm, when RAF Brize Norton dispatched a Hercules for a flyover.

More than 30 people raised a glass of champagne to Gary’s memory as the plane flew over the graveyard and the serviceman’s grave twice.

Gary and Mark, 34, of Sparcells, were two of the 10 servicemen killed when the plane was shot down, 20 miles north-west of Baghdad.

Gary’s best friend, Mark Blatch, 50, of Faringdon, organised the ceremony, which was heralded by a rainbow at one stage with the mix of weather.

“We had been working together at that time, though I was in the UK when the plane came down,” said Gary, himself a former serviceman.

“Every year, on this anniversary, we make an effort to remember them in some way. There has been a flyover here for the first time because it’s the tenth anniversary. I also go over to Gibbo’s (Mark Gibson’s) grave in Hook too.

“Remembering them like this brings it home to us all.”

Five years ago, at the last landmark anniversary, Grahame Kyte, a friend of several of the men killed, said: “The men killed on that day were fathers, brothers and sons but also some of the best service personnel this country had.

“Even with all the time that has passed it has not got easier to accept and their memory will never fade.

“I think it was nice on Wednesday to be around the people who have an understanding of what has happened and to support each other as we always have.”

Speaking shortly before his time as station commander at RAF Lyneham came to an end in late 2009, group captain Mike Neville recalled the moment he first heard about the tragedy.

He said: “I was at home preparing to go on a trip and my father-in-law called me and asked if I’d seen the news on the TV.

“I switched it on and saw, to my disbelief, that they were reporting a Hercules had been lost or had crashed in Iraq.

“Within about two seconds I got the dreaded phone call, that every commander really doesn’t want to receive, saying that it was one of our Hercules.

“There was a lot of fear amongst the families. This was the first time we’d lost a Herc on operations, ever.

“Selfishly I just wanted it not to be any of my men. I really didn’t want it to be anyone from the air force at all. I wanted it to be some other nation.

“But when I found out that it was an aircraft from Lyneham, from 47 Squadron, and that they were my friends on board I knew I just had to get to camp.

“I just knew I had to do my best for the families and for the men and women of RAF Lyneham.”