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Last Updated: Monday, 5 May, 2003, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
War troops reunited with families
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, commanding officer of the Royal Irish Regiment
Lt Col Tim Collins was widely admired for his speech

The first infantry soldiers to arrive back in the UK following the end of the war in Iraq have been reunited with their families.

Around 150 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, returned to their barracks in Canterbury, Kent, on Sunday, after flying in from Kuwait.

And a further 338 members of the regiment flew back into RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Monday.

The Royal Irish Regiment band was on hand to provide a suitable back note to the occasion as the first troops returned to Canterbury's Howe Barracks.

The unit's commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins - who was widely admired for his rallying speech as the fighting began - paid tribute to those who had risked their lives in Iraq.

Lt Col Collins, who arrived back in the UK on Friday, told the troops that they had helped change Iraq for the better.

The regiment's spokesman, Paul Beard, said of the homecoming: "It was pretty emotional at least one of the soldiers' wives has given birth to a child while they were away."

Booby-trapped

During their time in the Gulf, its troops played an important role in helping to secure the southern Iraqi oil fields around Nasiriyah, taking control of an area stretching across 4,500 square kilometres.

They patrolled and secured the zone and were specially trained to clear areas that were booby-trapped, mined, and a danger to the local population.

They also seized major stocks of weapons and ammunition.

'Joyous welcome'

They were among more than 2,000 troops from Kent to be sent to the Gulf in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

The county's deployment also included 650 troops from 36 Royal Engineers in Maidstone.

Members of the RAF's 33 Squadron have also started to come back, with 42 personnel from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire arriving on Saturday night.

The pilots, aircrew and Puma aircraft of 33 Squadron were used to support the army in southern Iraq.

They arrived home on board a C17 Transporter aircraft from Brize Norton - which returned them straight to the airbase at Benson.

The Pumas were stationed in and around Basra, moving troops and helping set up surprise road blocks and check points.




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