Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Saturday, 26 April 2008 17:43 UK

Windsor welcome for Afghan troops

By Colette Hume
BBC News, Windsor

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Coldstream Guards hold their homecoming parade in Windsor

The crowds began gathering early in Windsor, marking their places on the main street with a mixture of firm hands on the barriers, bags and even the occasional deckchair.

The town is no stranger to royal ceremonial events, but today they gathered not for royalty, but for the 450-strong First Battalion, Coldstream Guards.

The men - known as Coldstreamers - have just concluded a sixth-month tour of Afghanistan. On Saturday they made a formal return to their barracks in the shadow of the castle.

Lewis has been so excited about seeing his dad
Donna Cartwright

Among those waiting was Donna Cartwright with her three-year-old son Lewis.

Donna's husband Matt is a Coldstreamer. She said coping with a lively little boy while her husband was away was not easy.

"Lewis has been so excited about seeing his dad. Six months is a long time to do without seeing him."

She admitted that she had been worried about her husband serving in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

"You try not to worry, Lewis keeps me busy so that's a help, but you can't help it."

Double worry

For Donna, the worry is doubled - her brother Lee Greenhill serves alongside Matt in the battalion.

"The two main men in Lewis's life are both away, he really missed them. So did I," she said.

As the minutes ticked by the crowds and the anticipation grew, a lone runner passing by found himself being cheered as if he was the winner of the London Marathon.

Some brought banners welcoming individual soldiers, others spelled out the English translation of the Coldstreamers Latin motto - Second to None.

It's great to see everyone. I've got a pile of stag dos to go to
Lance Sergeant Chris Hunter
A little boy dressed in a miniature ceremonial uniform, complete with a bearskin hat and red tunic, sat straight and tall on his father's shoulders, mimicking the guardsmen stationed outside the entrance to the castle - home of the regiment's Colonel in Chief, the Queen.

Shortly after 1100 BST the first ripples of applause could be heard far away.

The low thud of the regimental bandsmen's drums marked the beat as the battalion made its way towards the castle and the waiting dignitaries.

As they came into view the crowds began to shout and cheer - some calling out to sons, brothers and husbands, others clapping in time to the band.

Over in minutes

The march was led by L/Cpl Simon Wiggins, pushed in his wheelchair by a colleague. He lost a leg to a roadside bomb.

Later his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel George Waters paid tribute to the bravery shown by his men, telling reporters he was pleased to have brought them home.

But he added that his thoughts were with the families of soldiers in other regiments who had not been so lucky.

Because of security there was no e-mail, we just had a phone call once a week on a bad line
Alison Fisher
After hours of anticipation, the welcome home march was over in a matter of minutes.

The soldiers returned to their barracks for a buffet lunch on the grassy quad with their families.

Some had returned last week - but others flew back into Britain on Friday night. Lance Sergeant Chris Hunter from Sunderland was one of those reunited with his family.

Chris, 24, joined the Army almost as a boy soldier. His eight-and-a-half years as a Coldstreamer has included tours to Iraq.

There was no disguising his enthusiasm for the job - but also his joy at being home.

"I've got a month off," he told me. "It's great to see everyone. I've got a pile of stag dos to go to."

His mother Christine shook her head slowly as he recalled the long list of parties - but her wide grin showed her relief that her son was home."

Coldstream Guards parading through Windsor
Some of the men returned just hours before the parade

And many of those stag parties Chris listed are for fellow Coldstreamers. At least five weddings are planned for the next couple of weeks.

"If he doesn't like the colour scheme it's tough," one bride-to-be told me, giggling as her soldier fiancÚ looked in mock horror.

"I've had to do it myself - well, me and my mum have because he's not been here."

Alison Fisher is another Coldstreamer bride-to-be. The wedding date is set for 16 May.

Her fiancÚ spent much of the tour in Musa Qala, a former Taleban stronghold and the scene of heavy fighting between insurgents and the British and Afghan forces.

"Because of security there was no e-mail, we just had a phone call once a week on a bad line - we spent a lot of time shouting down the phone to each about the wedding arrangements. We don't have to do that any more."


SEE ALSO
Troops in town homecoming parade
26 Apr 08 |  Berkshire
Afghanistan tour troops due home
17 Apr 08 |  Berkshire
Afghanistan troops welcome parade
13 Dec 07 |  Berkshire

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