ABOUT 1,000 people braved the wet weather in Abingdon to welcome home 350 troops from Afghanistan. While a military helicopter flew overhead, friends, family and complete strangers stood in the rain yesterday, or leaned out of their windows, to applaud the soldiers from Dalton Barracks as they passed.
The troops from 4 Logistic Support Regiment were stationed at Camp Bastion before returning home last month. Lieutenant Paul Bedford said: “It was nice to see people being so appreciative. “We are all happy to be back home and see the family. I know the guys all feel very much the same.” Craftsman Richard Hobbs, 24, said: “It was a really good turnout at the parade – I was glad to see so many people including my parents. It feels great to be back.”
The troops began their march from Ock Street fire station at 10.30am, following a military band. Mayor Monica Lovatt saluted the troops in the market place, before they turned down West St Helen Street. The troops, along with family and friends, then attended a service at St Helen’s Church. The church service included two songs performed by the Abingdon Military Wives choir. Lance Corporal Martin Challice, 25, said: “It does feel really good to be home on solid ground, not dust.
“We were expecting one or two people so it was a great surprise to see so many.” Donna Hornsby travelled from Bournemouth with her son Harrison, four, and daughter Ciara, two, to welcome back their uncle, Lance Corporal Justin Collett. Ms Hornsby said: “It was brilliant and the kids were really excited to see their uncle Justin come home.”
Harrison added: “It was really good to see all the soldiers and my uncle marching.” But it was not just family and friends showing their support.
Ena Mitchell, 94, whose husband was killed in 1944, braved the cold and rain to represent the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain. She said: “I thought the parade was wonderful. “I come to all of the parades to show our appreciation.” Tony and Pat Purkis from Abingdon came out with their friends Joan and Len Wood-land, from Shippon, to see the parade. Mr Purkis, 77, completed his national service from 1954 to 1956 with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
He said: “I came out because I wanted to shake hands with an engineer. “I wanted to say ‘I remember my national service days with pride’. “We are very proud to see them.” Mrs Woodland, 77, said: “We are surrounded by troops in Shippon, but most of them are in Afghanistan now. “They go out in all weather, so why shouldn’t we?” There will be another parade for family and friends tomorrow at the barracks.