Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 15:31 UK

Thousands welcome troops' return


The Duke of Edinburgh took the salute in the parade

Thousands of people have lined the streets of Exeter to welcome home nearly 700 troops from Afghanistan.

The Duke of Edinburgh took the salute in the parade.

A service of remembrance for those who have been killed and of thanksgiving for the safe return of others was held at Exeter Cathedral.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, who was at the parade, paid tribute to two soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Mr Ainsworth, said Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, was a "leader of men".

Prince 'mortified'

The Prince of Wales, on a visit to Cornwall, said he was "completely mortified" when he heard about the death of his friend, the most senior British officer to die in Afghanistan.

Plymouth Trooper Joshua Hammond, 18, from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was killed in the same explosion in Helmand province.

It was fantastic marching today - it was a proud and humbling occasion
Lt Col Charlie Stickland
42 Commando Commander

Commander of Task Force Helmand Brig Gordon Messenger said: "This parade and service are about remembering our fallen and giving thanks for our return.

"It is a fitting opportunity for everyone who has been involved in the deployment, at home and overseas, to come together and commemorate what has been a memorable and emotional experience for us all."

The troops returned home from the six-month Operation Herrick 9 tour in April, with the main phase of the operation involving 1,500 troops clearing the Taliban from the town of Nad-e-Ali.

Candles lit

Members of 13 army, marine and navy units took part in the march.

Lt Col Charlie Stickland, 42 Commando Commander, who attended the parade, said: "It was fantastic marching today - it was a proud and humbling occasion.

"In Afghanistan you are focused about what you do and you wonder whether the public are tracking the progress that you are making, so to see this level of support is brilliant."

While 1,600 troops and their families, together with dignitaries, sat inside the cathedral, at least 1,000 people stood in Cathedral Square where the service was shown on a large screen.

A roll of honour of the names of the troops who lost their lives during the operation was read out before candles were lit and placed at the altar.

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