Carry the cross and fight the good fight

It watched over the brave lads wounded in another conflict almost a century ago. And now the wood of an old ash tree is being crafted into keepsakes for a new generation of soldiers on their way to battle.

By EMMA KNIGHTS

It watched over the brave lads wounded in another conflict almost a century ago. And now the wood of an old ash tree is being crafted into keepsakes for a new generation of soldiers on their way to battle.

The hand-made crosses will accompany more than 180 Light Dragoons embarking on a mission to Afghanistan this month.

The tokens from Norfolk churches are intended to help give the soldiers faith and strength amid the stresses of conflict.

The idea came from Canon Richard Ames-Lewis, team rector for Dereham, Scarning and Swanton Morley, who wanted to support the soldiers after speaking to Padre Jason Clarke, of the Swanton Morley-based regiment.

Poignantly, the material available to woodworker Fred Beckett was a tree from Dereham's Old Vicarage which served as a military hospital in the first world war.

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Mr Beckett had just been given the wood by Josephine Matthews, who now lives at the Old Vicarage, when he was commissioned to make the crosses.

“I believe it is more than a coincidence I had this wood.

“These crosses are intended as a reminder to the soldiers that

their families, Jesus and all of us

have not forgotten them,” he said.

A holding cross will be kept at all of the churches involved and at Dereham Day Services so local people can

pray for the soldiers throughout

their six-month deployment.

Those churches that contributed were St Nicholas's, at Dereham, Ss Peter and Paul, Scarning, and All Saints', Shipdham.

As well as 75 made from the ash tree, the 200 crosses include some made by Scarning churchwarden Alan Glister, adults with learning difficulties from Dereham Day Services, and Ray Frampton. There are also machine-made crosses.

They were given to Padre Clarke yesterday at a service at All Saints' Church, Swanton Morley.

Padre Clarke, who will be going to Afghanistan, described the gifts as the “most beautiful thing I have come across in many years” and said all the soldiers were extremely touched.

He added: “The soldiers are highly trained and have excellent morale.

“They know they are entering a dangerous and challenging environment, but they do so with confidence and determination.”

Lt Col Angus Watson, commanding officer of the regiment, said: “It

will be comforting to know the community of which the regiment is a strong part will be praying for us, and the crosses will be a reminder of that support.”

The Light Dragoons, a formation reconnaissance regiment, are being deployed this month to Camp Bastion, in troubled Helmand province.

Their tasks will include disrupting the Taliban and offering reassurance and support to the Afghan government and the local population.

East Anglian servicemen in Afghanistan - see page 12