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NZ in mourning over soldiers' deaths

BURNHAM Military Camp near Christchurch is in mourning after the loss of five soldiers in little more than a fortnight.

The New Zealand flag hung at half-mast for Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, Private Richard Harris, 21, and Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, killed in Bamiyan on Sunday.

For the 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (2/1 RNZIR), based in Burnham, 25km south of Christchurch, it is five deaths in two weeks.

Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone, both 26 and also from 2/1 RNZIR, were killed when their patrols went to the aid of ambushed Afghan police in Bamiyan province on August 4.

"We never really recovered from the last lot - everyone is just so sad," one local shop worker said yesterday, summing up the feelings of many.

Karen Anand, who works at the local service station just outside the barbed wire perimeter of the camp, said the deaths affected everybody who lived and worked in the area.

"We serve these guys every day," she said.

"They are all lovely - just down-to-earth, normal kids. My heart goes out to their families. How many kids are left without dads?

"A couple of women I spoke to think it's going to get even worse over there - and one of them was a soldier's wife. It must affect her more than anyone."

Burnham is the medical training centre for all NZDF medics enlisted in the army, navy or air force, including local recruit Lance Corporal Baker.

It is also home to the Southern HQ of New Zealand Cadet Forces, and the base is used as a launching point for many overseas missions.

But locals feel it has received more than its share of tragedy in recent weeks.

The military actively encourages soldiers to live locally and buy houses in the area.

As a result, any deaths come as a major blow for everybody.

"The first time I hear news of a soldier's death, I wonder do I know them directly?" said Mark Alexander, a Selwyn District councillor.

"Or do I know someone affected by it, and it's almost a certainty.

"They live, work and play in our community. Their kids play in my son's sports teams. So it touches us all. We all feel for those families who've suffered the loss."

Topics:  afghanistan, deaths, new zealand, soldiers




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