A soldier who served in the Corps of Royal Engineers and graduated from University College with a first-class degree in Engineering and Computer Science was repatriated to RAF Brize Norton last Thursday following his death at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, on Friday 21st September.
Captain James Anthony Townley, who died the day before his 30th birthday, was brought back with Sergeant Jonathan Kups, of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who died on the same day. Townley was on his third tour of Afghanistan, which he had volunteered for.
He is reported to have died from gunshot wounds to the head in what appears to have been an ‘individual act’. Investigations into their deaths are still continuing and the MoD has said that neither death is believed to be due to hostile action.
Townley, who rowed for University College during his time at Oxford, was described as “an exceptional officer, a great character and unbelievably clever” by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Chas Story. He leaves behind his parents, brother and girlfriend.
Lieutenant Colonel Jack Nicholson said, “His tragic loss has stunned the Regiment, and we are all trying to come to terms with this awful event.’
The plane bringing back the two bodies landed at 1.30pm at RAF Brize Norton, where a small chapel service for the family was held. The cortège then travelled through the village of Brize Norton, where a Royal Marines parade took place, on to the Memorial Garden at Carterton where family members paid their respects.
It then made its way to the ‘Final Turn’, the junction of Headley Way and the John Radcliffe hospital, before finishing at the hospital’s special Armed Forces Department of Pathology.
Approximately 145 members of the public and over 45 army veterans and their families were present at the ‘Final Turn’, with many more lining the rest of the route. John Walker, a veteran of the Royal Dragoon Guards told Cherwell, “A large group of servicemen there were thinking of Townley’s connection with Oxford during the ceremony.’
Walker also told Cherwell that the cortège was permitted to drive much slower than normal at the Final Turn in order to allow a young girl related to Sergeant Kups to place roses on it. “It was very, very sad and awful to see,” he said.
He added, “The Final Turn has been happening here for four years now, but not many people seem to be aware of what goes on there.’
Stephanie Jenkins, a local resident, commented, “The hearses seem so unreal. We have become used recently to associating the Union flag with the Olympics and joy, so it is weird seeing it draped over the coffins of young men.”