THE heartbreaking sobs of a mother crying for her son broke the respectful silence of Wootton Bassett as Lance Corporal Jordan Bancroft was brought home.

The cortege carrying the East Lancashire soldier crawled through the Wiltshire town as his grief-stricken family wept at the side of the road.

Mother Sheila cried: "My baby" and father Tony said poignantly: “Rest in peace son. Forever in your debt.”

Friends and relatives stepped forward in turn to place dozens of single Lancashire red roses on top of the hearse, then exchanged lingering hugs with others sharing their sorrow.

His parents Tony and Sheila, brothers Paul 29, Leighton, 23, sister Toni, 33, and inconsolable girlfriend Lauren, had gripped each other tightly for support as the funeral car drew closer.

Sheila buried her head into Tony's side and clung on to his arm tightly as tears fell from both parents' faces.

The couple shared a tender kiss as their brave, beloved son moved slowly out of view.

Other relatives stood with their heads together and eyes closed, momentarily reflecting on their painful loss.

Hundreds of residents, veterans and Royal British Legion members had lined the streets of Wootton Bassett to pay their hushed respects.

Among them, dozens of the 25-year-old's friends and former colleagues had made the journey to salute 'one of the Battalion's finest'.

L/Cpl Bancroft, of the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, was shot dead last Saturday by insurgents as he provided security for a meeting in Helmand, Afghanistan.

The body of the Burnley fan from Earby was flown home today to RAF Lyneham where seven soldiers carried his Union Jack-draped coffin to a waiting hearse.

Bad weather had delayed L/Cpl Bancroft's final flight home by 24 hours, but the sun shone as the first glimpse of the cortege came into sight in nearby Wootton Bassett's High Street at 5.15pm.

The sound of the church bells at St Bartholomew's prompted an immediate silence, which locals have respected so many times.

For the family of L/Cpl Bancroft this was a moment they hoped they would never have to endure – their immense pride overwhelmed by private and personal emotion, achingly visible to all those sombrely watching.

The cortege had stopped at the town's cenotaph, surrounded by flowers and the message 'Lest we forget'.

Standard bearers, including Billy Allott, 56, from Burnley and Kevin Cheetham, 74, from Padiham, lowered their flags as Legion members held a salute.

Then, to the backdrop of anguished sobs from a distraught family, the procession edged forward and continued down the street.

As it passed out of sight the crowds parted, leaving the family to receive heartfelt sympathy from the forces' representatives.

Described by officers as a 'true Lion of England, L/Cpl Bancroft's family said his loss would leave 'a huge hole in all our lives'.

The former West Craven Technology College pupil joined the Army aged 16, in September 2001 and had twice been deployed on tours of Iraq.

Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Lawrence, Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion paid tribute to a 'diligent, selfless, caring' solider who had a 'profound sense of duty'.

Royal British Legion Burnley and Padiham branch treasurer Tom Norris, 74, had brought 20-year-old Kingsman Adam Bird, from Gannow Top, Burnley, to pay his respects to L/Cpl Bancroft.

Mr Norris said: “They trained together. Adam's in the 2nd Battalion and is due to go back to Cyprus.

"He's on leave and Burnley lads stick together. He wanted to come as soon as he heard the news.

“Soldiers from the Duke of Lancaster Regiment are like our own sons.

"East Lancashire is still one of the strongest areas for Army recruitment.”

Kingsman Bird, who was a medic in charge of 10,000 people on his last tour, said: “I've been working in the careers office and when the news came through he was from Burnley I wanted to come and pay my respects.

“When you are out there you just get on with it.

"It's only when you come back that you reflect on this reality.

"I tell my own mum not to worry, but she's very emotional.”

Dozens of L/Cpl Bancroft's high school friends and pals from Earby made the 350-mile round trip to pay tribute to a man they described as 'genuine' and 'immense'.

David Hilton, 25, originally from Earby, but who now lives in Lyneham, said: “I always held him in the highest regard.”

Ex Kings Regiment Glyn 'Kingo' Griffiths, 68, had travelled from Aberystwyth, Wales, on Wednesday, for his fourth repatriation.

He said: “It is our way of showing our appreciation for a job well done and to support the relatives in any way we can.

“No repatriation is ever the same. It can be numbing, when you hear women crying it is very emotional.

"It is difficult to put into words.

“Sometimes you feel like an intruder on their grief, but for the family who have never seen anything like it, it is a hell of a lot to take and we are here.

"The services are one big family.

“Wootton Bassett is a simple town transformed on these occasions because of its location.”

Local resident and Legion rider member Kerrie Dixon, 44, said: “The whole town fell silent.

"It is very moving. For some it can be too hard and too emotional to take.

“I like to be here because people are in such a daze and we offer a shoulder to cry on.”

More than 100 services repatriations have passed through Wootton Bassett in the past two years.

The numbers paying their respects have grown from a few Legion members who paused to salute the corteges.

L/Cpl Bancroft was the 332nd British military personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

His name is set to be added to the Cenotaph for Earby in Sough Park.

Funeral details are yet to be announced.