A NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD soldier paid silent tribute alongside a crowd of hundreds as one of his own battalion passed through Wootton Bassett.

Rifleman Richard Robinson watched as Stuart Nash, 21, of the 1st Battalion The Rifles, who was killed by enemy gunfire in Afghanistan, was repatriated.

Veterans, shoppers and children lined the town’s High Street and as the slow procession with a flag draped over the coffin stopped, a hush fell and only the toll of a church bell could be heard.

Rifleman Nash, an Australian national whose family lives in Australia, had only joined the army in March, but was fatally wounded by enemy gunfire while taking part in an operation against enemy forces in an area north west of Lashkar Gah in Helmand on Wednesday.

Rifleman Robinson, of Limes Avenue, Pinehurst, who is home on leave for Christmas, wanted to be at the repatriation ceremony.

“I didn’t really know him that well, he was fresh out of training,” he said.

“Just before I left to go he helped me out with a few boxes and I just got talking to him.

“He seemed like a good lad.

“They said he was really switched on, a good soldier.

“I feel most for his parents at this time.

“It must be really hard for them because he’s just joined the army and they would never think that’s going to happen to him.

“Families don’t ever think that way otherwise they would be upset all the time so for that to happen is just a killer.”

With Christmas just around the corner people still took the time to attend the repatriation. For some it was their first opportunity.

Wootton Bassett resident Mark Mitchell, 39, had brought along daughter Britney, eight, and would normally be at work.

“I don’t normally get the chance to pay my respects,” he said.

“I should imagine there’s quite a few people here today who wouldn’t normally make it.

“It’s quite an eerie sort of feeling, but it brings it back to the reality.

“It’s one thing reading it in the paper, but when you are here and see it going on that’s the reality of it.”

Marilyn Gray, 62, of Wootton Bassett, was at the repatriation with her daughter and two grandchildren.

She said: “They’re not alive, but we wish to welcome them home.

“They died for us. What else can we do for them?”

Veterans were also there in force to salute a fallen comrade along with members of the police and fire services.

Colin Pearson, of the Purton Royal British Legion, said: “I think it’s important that we show our support and if they can give their lives to this country the least we can do is spend a few minutes paying our respects.

“It doesn’t matter whether we believe in the cause or not; these people are still dying in our name.

“It’s always sad, but it’s obviously more sad this time of year because the family will be reminded every Christmas.”

Ex RAF and fire association member Dan Gurney said: “These lads are a long from home and they’re coming back, never really having had an adult life.”