Children ran to greet their fathers today as soldiers arrived home after six months in war-torn Afghanistan.

The men spoke of concerns that their children wouldn't recognise them and told of dangerous gun battles with the Taliban.

Wives and children were waiting for the 16 men from 23 Pioneer Regiment at St David's Barracks in Ambrosden, near Bicester, and struggled to contain their emotions at being reunited.

Corporal Tony Boyle, 29, of Willow Road, Ambrosden, was met by his wife Rachel and children Shay, one, and Melody, eight months.

He said: "I was worried because my worst nightmare was my kids not recognising me.

"But Shay definitely recognised me and Melody seems to, too.

"When I was single there was no problem but this is the first time I have gone away since I have had kids and all I did was really worry every day for leaving them.

"Melody wasn't even sitting up when I went away and apparently now she's crawling."

Mrs Boyle, 27, added: "It's lovely to have him back. I got really worried for the little ones; wondering how they were going to react.

"It's a bit hard seeing each other for the first time because there are so many people around you.

"Because we have got the kids we have got to keep it together. I try not to cry in front of them."

Lance Corporal Jason Booth was greeted by his pregnant wife Sara and three-year-old son Kyle.

The 31-year-old, of St Hugh's Close, Bicester, said: "It's nice to be home. We spoke every single night on the phone or on the Internet."

Mrs Booth, who is seven months' pregnant, said: "Kyle has been asking questions - 'Where's my daddy? I want my daddy'. He gave him a big hug."

The men were part of a 20-strong team from Bicester who provided close protection for Regional Command (South) Headquarters in Kandahar and regularly patrolled with high-ranking American and Canadian officers.

Corporal Jon Kitchen, 26, of Towcester, came under fire while soldiers while patrolling in an armoured Land Rover in May.

Two of his colleagues were shot in the attack and airlifted back to hospital in the UK. They are expected to make a full recovery.

He said: "I was on a convoy with Americans and the Taliban saw us.

"The ambush was spraying small arms fire. I heard a lot of fire going down so I started shooting back. I could see them about 100m or 200m away. They were hidden in trenches.

"I wasn't scared. I just wanted to kill them so I shot back. We went a few miles further up the road, gave first aid and sent for a helicopter."

Almost 400 troops flew to Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia earlier this year in the biggest deployment from Bicester in 16 years. All are due to return over the next few months.

Rear party commanding officer Major Andrew Parry said: "It's fantastic - particularly seeing happy, smiling faces and children recognising their fathers again."