THE county is preparing to share the tears of four stricken service families tomorrow when the bodies of their loved ones are repatriated from Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Peter Eustace from 2nd Battalion The Rifles (2 Rifles) was killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan last Wednesday.

Lieutenant David Boyce and Lance Corporal Richard Scanlon, both from 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, died a day later on Thursday. Both had been in Afghanistan for less than a month.

And on Sunday Private Thomas Lake from 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, was killed in the Jamal Kowi area of the Nahr-e Saraj district of central Helmand.

The four deaths will take the total number of service personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 389.

L Corp Eustace, 25, of 2 Rifles, was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) while conducting a joint patrol with his company and the Afghan National Army.

A statement from his family at home in Liverpool read: “Peter always wanted to join the Army. He was committed to carrying out a full career there. (He) was a loving son and grandson and will be especially missed by his girlfriend, Aimi.”

Lieut Boyce and L Corp Scanlon were serving with the Formation Reconnaissance Squadron and were on patrol providing security in the Yakchal region of Nahr-e Saraj in central Helmand when their armoured vehicle struck an IED Both men were killed in the explosion Lieut Boyce, 25, from Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, was part of the Army Offshore Racing Team during the Sydney Hobart Race in 2010.

His family said: “David was honoured to be a Cavalry Officer who embraced military life with a passion. We are immensely proud of all that he achieved in such a short life and take comfort knowing that he died doing what he loved.”

L Corp Scanlon, from Rhymney, Gwent, celebrated his 31st birthday just three days before he died. He had completed tours of duty in Bosnia and Iraq and had left the Army in July 2006. But after being dissatisfied in a number of civilian jobs he rejoined in September 2009 and was promoted to Lance Corporal in October 2010.

His family said: “Richard was a fun loving young man who enjoyed life to the full. (He) was a great character and he will be sorely missed by his family and all who knew him. There’ll never be anyone else like our Richard.”

Pte Lake, from 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday while taking part in a patrol in the Jamal Kowi area of central Helmand when he was caught in an explosion. He was airlifted to the field hospital at Camp Bastion where he was declared killed in action.

Pte Lake, 29, from Watford, leaves behind his mother, Carol. She said: “Tom was a wonderful son and I will miss him more than I can say. He had so many friends who will remember him as a loyal, fun-loving action man who was always the first to try anything new and usually excelled at it. Tom loved the Army and was so proud to be a soldier. I will always be proud of my boy.”

The plane carrying the soldiers’ bodies is due to arrive at RAF Brize Norton at 12.30pm.

The cortege will then follow the customary route to the memorial garden in Carterton where family members will be offered condolences by the town’s mayor, Coun Norman MacRae MBE, at around 2.30pm.

Mr MacRae said: “I had hoped, that in the run-up to Christmas, the number of repatriations might tail-off. But this week, as we deal with four more devastating deaths, it just goes to show that we cannot be complacent. This will be our biggest repatriation so far – with terrible sadness in quadruplet.

“As Christmas approaches, with all its celebrations, there will be four families out there suffering from these terrible tragedies. But as always, we will seek to honour them and the fallen in the best way we can – with our most heartfelt respect.”

The cortege will end its journey at the special armed forces department of pathology at the John Radcliffe Hospital, 3.30pm, just a few minutes after passing the ever vigilant group of veterans and members of the Royal British Legion, who give the salute in Headley Way.