THREE families were left devastated and heartbroken as their fallen sons were returned home from Afghanistan.

Private Thomas Wroe, 18, Sergeant Gareth Thursby, 29, and Lance Corporal Duane Groom, 32, were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton yesterday.

Hundreds of Carterton residents gathered at the memorial garden to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the families and friends of the fallen heroes.

Pte Wroe, of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (3YORKS), was just two months into his first posting when he was killed.

His father, Michael Wroe, a former soldier of 22 years, said: “He has done us proud and he has done himself proud. I am glad he is home, but I am not glad about the way he has come home.”

He added: “It is comforting to know that people out there are supporting us, people who did not know Tom. Thank you.”

Many of Pte Wroe’s friends, including those from the cadet group he joined aged 13, travelled from Yorkshire to attend the repatriation ceremony.

Richard Holloway, 18, said: “Tom was the happiest person we all knew. We never knew him without a smile on his face. We are all trying to remember that smile.”

Sapper Sam Parker, 18, of the Royal Engineers, said: “He was my best mate in the cadets and I went to selection with him.

“He was just really bubbly. If you were ever down he would know how to cheer you up.”

Lieutenant Richard Keaveley, Pte Wroe’s former commander in the cadets, said: “He was cheeky but he used to get away with everything because of his smile.

“He was friendly, helpful and had a wicked sense of humour, and he was born to be a soldier. We wish he was still with us.”

Pte Wroe was shot and killed alongside Sgt Thursby, also of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (3YORKS), by a rogue Afghan policeman in Helmand province on Saturday.

Sgt Thursby, who leaves his wife, Louise, and two children, Joshua and Ruby, was seven days short of his 30th birthday when he was killed.

His friend, Corporal Jonathan Roberts, formerly of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (3YORKS), said: “Thursby was an amazing bloke. He was very professional soldier and a great guy to be with. I have lost a friend and I am devastated.”

L Cpl Groom, of The Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was killed when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb on Friday.

Lieutenant Colonel James Bowder, Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, said: “L Cpl Groom was an outstanding soldier in every respect.

“Tough, keen and unflappable, he was utterly committed to his fellows and the cause.

“His many friends and the broader battle group will never forget this most talented of men.”