Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Saturday, 8 May 2010 11:48 UK

Edinburgh homecoming parade for Afghanistan troops


The battlegroup lost 30 members during the tour of Afghanistan

Hundreds of soldiers from the 3 Rifles and 1 Scots have marched in Edinburgh after returning from Afghanistan.

They were taking part in a homecoming parade on the Royal Mile to thank the public for their support, before being presented with their service medals.

The Edinburgh-based troops were deployed to Helmand in October 2009.

During the six-month tour the 1,400-strong battlegroup lost 30 members, the biggest loss of life in a battlegroup for 60 years.

The troops marched from the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, past some bereaved families and injured colleagues who were unable to march.

Caroline Wyatt
Caroline Wyatt
BBC defence correspondent

At 8am, the Royal Mile was deserted. By 10.30am as the men of the 3 Rifles Battlegroup marched smartly past, still tanned by six months under a harsh Afghan sun, the crowds stood six deep to welcome them back.

And it was a heartfelt welcome. Many standing to watch, wave and cheer them on were their own families, the strain of six months of waiting and worrying only just beginning to wear off. The emotion was too much for some; one rifleman's young daughter burst into tears as her father marched past.

At the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a more sombre atmosphere reigned as the families of at least 20 of the 30 men who died in this battlegroup's unimaginably tough tour of Helmand waited to take the salute from the men who did come home.

It was an unusual tribute from the battlegroup, and one aimed at making public their own gratitude to, and respect for, the men who had served with them and had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Watching the families as they stood in dignified silence, we could only begin to wonder at the strength it must take to watch and welcome others' sons, fathers and husbands as they marked their return home, while still mourning the loss of their own.

The 650 soldiers paraded down the Royal Mile, accompanied by pipes and drums. Princess Alexandra received a royal salute outside the city chambers.

The battlegroup, from B Company of the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and 3 Battalion The Rifles, were also being presented with their operational service medals at Redford Barracks.

Lt Col Nick Kitson, the commanding officer of 3 Rifles, said he believed the public recognised the job they were doing.

He said: "People are really beginning to get a great understanding of what we're doing and what the sacrifices are and really getting behind us.

"There's no greater evidence of that than the way the city of Edinburgh has already looked after us and afforded us the wonderful privilege of marching down the Royal Mile."

Maj Dickie Head said the losses in Afghanistan were difficult but their mission carried on.

He said: "As far as we're concerned we're there doing a job, as you can imagine the casualties have a significant impact, they do make you perhaps pause and think.

"But you've also got to realise when you're in amongst it and making it happen you've got to think about fighting the battle day-by-day."

Maj Head said this meant continuing the struggle against insurgent forces while working to win over the local population, a challenge which he said was making progress.

Thousands of people also lined the streets of the city on Friday as the battlegroup paid tribute to their comrades who had been killed while serving in Afghanistan.

More than 400 soldiers marched from Redford Barracks to a memorial service in Colinton Parish Church, accompanied by the Band and Bugles of the Rifles and the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Some of the soldiers bore injuries suffered while fighting in Afghanistan.

A memorial at Redford Barracks has also been dedicated to soldiers killed while serving in Afghanistan.

In Perth, a day of celebrations was being held to mark the awarding of the freedom of the city to the 7th Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, Territorial Army Battalion.

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