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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 November 2007, 20:01 GMT
Poignant return home for troops
By Angus Crawford
BBC News

Thousands of people have lined the streets of Norwich to welcome home from Afghanistan the First Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment.

Members have just returned from a conflict where troops fired more than a million bullets in fighting described as some of the heaviest since the Korean War.

Royal Anglian Regiment at Liverpool St Station
The locomotive Royal Anglian Regiment was unveiled in London

Their journey began at Liverpool Street Station in London where a locomotive was named after them.

While around them commuters hurry towards their offices and other travellers stop for coffee or a magazine the men on platform 10 talk about war.

Captain Mark Taylor remembers what it was like fighting the Taleban: "The ferocity, it's unimaginable, and it's difficult to try and convey that."

The men are all dressed in desert combats; one is holding his son who keeps trying to tweak the hair of a press photographer in front of him.

It's not just a proud day for the battalion, but for the Army as a whole
Lance Corporal Simon Mercer

They are next door to a blue locomotive.

Two red velvet curtains have been pulled apart to show its new name - Royal Anglian Regiment.

The man who pulled the cord is Lance Corporal Simon Mercer.

"It's not just a proud day for the battalion, but for the Army as a whole," he says.

He remembers his time on the frontline. It was tough being there, but he says it was just as hard for those left behind.

"It's not just us out there who are enduring hardship, our families back home are obviously watching the media."

The statistics of the tour speak for themselves - nine dead, 57 wounded in combat, some so seriously they will never fight again, a total of 135 injuries from all causes.

Royal Anglian Regiment in Norwich
Thousands lined streets in Norwich as the troops marched

Their commanding officer tells them it is a day to be proud but also to remember the dead.

Then they are on the train for the two-hour journey to Norwich, across three of the counties the regiment recruits from.

They are ushered into the first-class carriages and served with all the cakes and sandwiches they can eat.

By early afternoon they are drawn up in ranks outside Norwich City Hall. They look only to the front and their bayonets are again fixed - this time only for their ceremonial parade to mark the fact they officially have the freedom of the city.

Bunting and banners

There are thousands of people lining the streets, the market square is packed.

There is bunting, there are union jacks and on one shop front a homemade banner which reads "Welcome Home, Well Done".

When asked why she is here, one woman says: "Why? Because my grandson leaves for Basra tomorrow".

Another young man admits he could not be a soldier but "what they do is a great thing for the country".

Another simply says, "it's brilliant".

The Royal Anglians then march to the cathedral, bystanders cheer and clap, some run down back streets to get there ahead of the troops.

Finally the regimental colours were laid on the altar.

The congregation sings the hymn Praise my soul, the King of Heaven.

A service of thanksgiving for those who came back and one of remembrance for those who did not.


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