THE bodies of two British soldiers killed in an explosion in Afghanistan six days before they were due to return home will be flown back to the UK today.

Major Matthew Collins, 38, from Backwell in Somerset, and Lance Sergeant Mark Burgan, 28, from Liverpool, were killed on Wednesday when their vehicle was caught in a blast from an improvised explosive device.

The men both served with 1st Battalion The Irish Guards.

Their commanding officer said their loss was "a devastating blow" and that "they epitomised what it meant to be a member of this family regiment".

The men will be flown into RAF Lyneham where private ceremonies will be held for their families before a cortege passes through Wootton Bassett.

Hundreds of people are expected to join their families and members of the Royal British Legion as they line the high street to pay tribute to the soldiers.

The two men were returning to base from an operation aimed at disrupting insurgent groups in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb.

On Friday their families paid tribute to their loved ones.

Major Collins' family said: "Not only a soldier but a caring husband, devoted father to Freya and Charlie, caring son, wonderful brother and friend to many. We will all miss him and remember him always."

L/Sgt Burgan's wife Leanne said: "I am so honoured to be Mark's wife. I will always love my hero.

"Mark was an extremely proud Irish Guardsman, dad, husband, brother and son. He will forever be in our hearts."

Major Collins was deployed as the commander to a team advising the 3rd Kandak of the UK's partnered Afghan Brigade.

As well as his wife Lucy, his daughter Freya and his son Charlie, he leaves behind his father Derek, mother Tricia and brothers, Mark, Nick and Chris.

L/Sgt Burgan, the signals detachment commander for the advisory team, leaves behind his wife Leanne as well as his parents Terry and Rita and sisters Laura, Kate and Jayne.

His father said: "Mark was our beloved son. One in a million, proud isn't a good enough word to show how we feel about him.

"You were loving, considerate, protective and thoughtful towards everyone, sometimes a wind-up merchant and a pain in the backside.

"During your childhood you were my little soldier; as your sisters came along, that's when your protective side started; giving your orders out to them and having play fights and giving them a slight dig."

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Ghika, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, said last week: "The loss of Major Matt Collins and Lance Sergeant Mark Burgan yesterday has been a devastating blow to the Irish Guards.

"Two more committed and professional soldiers it would be hard to meet; they epitomised what it meant to be a member of this family regiment."

Maj Collins, who also served in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Iraq, was described by colleagues as an "exceptional soldier" who "led from the front".

The deaths took the total number of UK military personnel to have died since operations in Afghanistan began in 2001 to 362.