County unites as Bicester-based soldiers are repatriated

Bicester Advertiser: Private Craig Winspear, 29, a double amputee who lost his legs in an IED explosion looks on as Cpl Andrew Roberts body is driven by Private Craig Winspear, 29, a double amputee who lost his legs in an IED explosion looks on as Cpl Andrew Roberts body is driven by

MEMBERS of a close-knit regiment were united in grief yesterday to honour two fallen comrades.

Corporal Andrew Roberts, 32, and Private Ratu Silibaravi, 32, were both serving with Bicester-based 23 Pioneer Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps.

They were killed in a mortar attack on their Afghanistan military base on Friday and were both repatriated to RAF Brize Norton yesterday.

Members of the regiment, friends and family were joined by hundreds of people from Carterton to pay tribute at the memorial garden.

Pte Silibaravi was born in Fiji and the Fijian community sang hymns as the cortege came to a rest in front of the families.

As the cortege resumed its journey to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, the choral singing was joined by a respectful round of applause.

The colleagues of Cpl Roberts, nicknamed Ginge, and Pte Silibaravi, who was known as Sili, said it had felt like losing two family members.

Private Kieron Betteridge, who had known both servicemen, said: “Cpl Roberts was warm and whenever you spoke to him you would feel very comfortable.

“He was always someone you could approach and he would always do his best to help you.

“You got that warm, welcoming feeling from Sili as well and you could ask him for a favour on anything. He was a lovely person, but his jokes were terrible.

“I am feeling absolutely gutted but, when the doors are shut and lights are off, it is their families that have got to cope with this.”

Private Christopher Ball, who had known both men for four years, said: “Cpl Roberts was always happy.

“It could be the worst weather or job but he would still always be smiling.

“Pte Silibaravi would take time out of his day to stop and talk to you.

“If he ever saw you on your own he would sit with you, even if he was busy.

“They were both extremely well liked by the regiment, which is why they will be missed so much. It is like losing a family member.”

Corporal Simon Leech, who was a friend of Cpl Roberts’, added: “He was a larger than life character and was always up for a laugh.

“He was also caring, would help anyone out at any time and was always there for you.”

He added: “I think I am still in shock today. It still has not sunk in and I cannot believe it.”

Private Craig Winspear, who lost both his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in December, was a close friend of Cpl Roberts.

He said: “He was a good lad and was always up for a laugh. He was always joking and carrying on.

“It is like losing a family member today. It is good to see a good turnout but I do not want to be here for this.”

Private Akuila Uluiviti, who had known Pte Silibaravi for 10 years, said: “He was very cheerful and used to do a lot of stupid jokes.

“Everything now just reminds me of him and all the moments we shared together in camp. Losing him feels is just like losing a brother.”

Private Timoci Saurara added: “Pte Silibaravi was a quiet lad but the moment he opened his mouth everyone laughed.

“He always cracked jokes.

“It is just a big loss, especially among the Fijian community.”

'The support is overwhelming'

THE families of two servicemen repatriated yesterday spoke of their devastating loss.

And they thanked the people of Oxfordshire for their “overwhelming support” at a ceremony attended by more than 700 people.

Corporal Andrew Roberts, 32, and Private Ratu Silibaravi, 32, were killed in a mortar attack on their Afghanistan military base on Friday. They were both members of Bicester-based 23 Pioneer Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps, and were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton.

Cpl Roberts’s father Stephen Roberts, 56, of Middlesborough, described his son as a “fantastic” man who would always try to make light of difficult situations.

He added: “He used to love to torment his mum, who is a bit OCD, whenever he was on leave.

“He would put all the pictures slightly out and would watch his mother come in and just giggled away as she put everything back in place.

“But he could always appease the situation by giving her a kiss and a cuddle. That was Andrew.”

He said his son had always wanted to join the army and had tried to sign up when he was 16 but was turned down because he was too small.

Mr Roberts said: “From that point on he was on the protein shakes and a year and a half later he got in. He loved his job. We knew it was a high-risk job he was doing and we did not want him to do it, but he wanted to go.”

Mr Roberts added: “I just feel lost today, devastated. The support today has been overwhelming and we did not expect it at all.

“It really does help, more than people would think.”

Cpl Roberts was a father of three children, Jessica, Kayla and Kyle, and leaves his wife Lindsey, from whom he was separated, and partner Paula.

He had served for 14 years in the army and had been based at St David’s Barracks in Bicester since 2008. It was his second tour of Afghanistan.

Pte Silibaravi’s sister Mereoni Silibaravi, 26, said her brother was a quiet and caring man with a sense of humour that would light up a room.

He was born in Fiji and took up post in Bicester in 2003, a year after joining the army. He had served in Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2006 and 2009.

She said: “He would avail himself to anyone whenever they were in need of help. He would never say no when you asked him to do something.

“It had always been a passion of his since he was a youngster to be a soldier and he was proud to have achieved it.”

She added: “We are really touched with the repatriation ceremony. It shows what kind of person he is because of how many people are here.

His aunt, Tokasa Turu, 30, said: “He was quiet but when he said something it would crack a smile on everyone’s faces. Everyone loved him.

“It feels terrible to be here for this reason. I cannot explain it. But with everyone supporting we have managed to cope with this very sad day. It makes us so proud to see so many here.”

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