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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 19:44 GMT
Cheers for heroes at homecoming parade
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News

March through Winchester
Councils have been criticised for not putting on parades
The narrow pavements of Winchester city centre have been packed with people waving flags and cheering on soldiers, sailors and airmen as they marched past.

About 3,000 in all turned out to welcome back troops, who recently returned from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The parade is one of several to be held since the head of the Army, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, and former senior officers criticised local councils for not doing enough to welcome forces coming home from active duty.

More than 300 service personnel from The Rifles, the King's Royal Hussars, the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, the frigate HMS Richmond, RAF Odiham and the 4 General Support (Medical) Regiment marched through the Hampshire city.

They marched - in their desert combat uniform - to music provided by the band of the Welsh Guards, the Pipes and Drums of the Irish Guards and the Band of The Rifles.

The 4th Battalion The Rifles lost 11 men, with 62 injured in Iraq last year. Five of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards lost their lives in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

Those marching through Winchester received a heroes' welcome from the assembled crowds.

Brian Ashworth, who used to serve with the 11th Hussars, was among the crowd.

It was fantastic to hear people shouting 'thank you' and 'Come on, girls'
SAC Jenna Meachin

"It's brilliant - these men are heroes and should be welcomed home and the public should be aware of what they're going through for us," he said.

His wife, Vicky, agreed. "It's wonderful that the public have come and welcomed them home and supported the regiments. They've done a difficult job. They're trained and they're good, and they're on top form today."

Those taking part in the parade expressed surprise at the numbers cheering them home, but all were grateful for the support shown.

SAC Jenna Meachin from RAF Odiham served in Iraq in the incident response team. Her job included transporting casualties back to base.

"It was fantastic to hear people shouting 'thank you' and 'Come on, girls'. You have bad times out there and something like this makes you feel more appreciated."

Crowds line Winchester streets [copyright MoD]
Crowds cheered as the service personnel paraded past

Sergeant Major Pete Childs, of the King's Royal Hussars, said: "It was a good parade, and a fantastic turnout. We were a lucky unit - we had a busy tour in Iraq but we all came back."

Among officers too, there was pleasure at the turnout. Brigadier Miles Wade, the Commander of 145 (South) Brigade, the Senior Military Commander in Hampshire, said he was overwhelmed.

"I didn't think so many people would turn out. It's really important when you're overseas to know you have the support of people back home.

"A demonstration of support from the public today is really good for the morale of our soldiers."

The homecoming parade comes after the head of the Army criticised the growing gulf between the nation and its armed forces last year.

In December, about 450 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh were given a heroes' welcome as they marched through Cardiff city centre to mark their return home from Iraq.

And as local councils are being encouraged to hold more of these parades, it is likely other towns will see returning servicemen and women hailed for their bravery on operations abroad.

Homecoming troops parade in city
29 Jan 08 |  Hampshire
Welcoming UK troops home
08 Oct 07 |  UK

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