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Afghanistan Soldiers' Families Grieve As Death Toll Climbs

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Christine Bonner, 55, from Gedney in Lincolnshire, lost her son Corporal Darren Bonner, from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, on May 28, 2007
Christine Bonner, 55, from Gedney in Lincolnshire, lost her son Corporal Darren Bonner, from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, on May 28, 2007

After 10 years and more than 400 servicemen dead, relatives of those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan have spoken of their enduring grief.

The announcement of the latest lives to be lost after a decade of fighting will no doubt bring back distressing memories for each family which has received the news that a relative has died.

Christine Bonner, 55, from Gedney in Lincolnshire, lost her son Corporal Darren Bonner, from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, on May 28, 2007, when an explosion hit a British convoy in the Gereshk region of Helmand province.

Each year since his death she has organised a 10-day, 150-mile sponsored walk, dubbed All the 4s, through four of The Royal Anglian Regiment's counties, to raise money for the Royal Anglian Regiment Benevolent Charity.

For Bonner, the latest deaths bring back the memory of the day she was told her son had died.

"It will be five years this year since I lost Darren and it just brings everything back," she said.

"The thought of another soldier losing his life and another family going through what we're going through makes me feel sick.

"Darren was something like the 50th. I didn't think I'd be looking at 400 down the line."

Bonner said the loss of her son had not got any easier.

"There's days when I just want to sit in the corner, or I can be doing something silly like dusting, then all of a sudden it hits me like a smack in the face, 'oh my God, Darren's never coming back'.

"It just gets you when it wants to get you. That's just how it is, it's never going to change."

She is already planning this year's All the 4s walk, and wants to up the mileage from 150 to 200.

"It's probably the thing that keeps me going because I'm keeping Darren's memory alive, people who don't know him feel they know him. I feel so helpless otherwise, it's me doing something but at the same time helping others."

Bonner has "mixed feelings" on the planned withdrawal of British troops by the end of 2014.

"If we can pull out and know our boys had played a part in turning it into a reasonably safe country ... then that would be fine but I can't see that being the case, so does that mean it's going to go back to how it was, and in that case, why did our boys die?

"I don't want other people to die, but I don't want my son and all these 400 soldiers to have died in vain either."

But 71-year-old Tony Philippson, from St Albans in Hertfordshire, is more scathing over the situation in Afghanistan.

He lost his son, Captain James Philippson, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, to a fight with Taliban troops on June 11, 2006.

Philippson said a main priority should be reducing the number of "useless" patrols which have seen a number of troops lose their lives at the hands of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

"What they need to do to stop such casualties is stop these useless patrols. They go looking for the Taliban, who disappear and then they get blown up," he said.

"The whole thing is senseless, but they have got to get out. Meanwhile I think they could do something to prevent the casualties."

He said little did he know when he was told of his son's death that the toll would rise over 400.

"It came as a shock at the time, we all thought he had just been very unlucky, but in a few months it became very obvious that it wasn't that at all."

Philippson said Britain had "walked into a cauldron", and the objectives of the invasion of Afghanistan had changed to justify the huge losses.

"We are taking part effectively in a civil war. We never went there to build schools and see women get votes. We have altered the objectives to justify the loss of life - mission creep they call it.

"The deceit makes me angry, but I can't blame it on James's death, because he wanted to go there.

"He knew what the risks were, and he knew it was effectively a pointless task, but he joined the commandos and the paras to see some action, and that's how a lot of young men see it."