CREWS from 101 Squadron came home to RAF Brize Norton tonight after almost 19 years serving in the Middle East.

A flypast of the squadron’s VC10 tanker aircraft was held at the base at Carterton to mark the return home of the air-to-air refuelling unit, which was first deployed to the region in 1990 in the build-up to the first Gulf War.

Its crews also saw service in the skies above Afghanistan and Iraq, refuelling British and allied aircraft on combat patrols following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Wing Commander Steve Lushington, the squadron’s commanding officer, said: “The past 18 years have shown the incredible capability and versatility of the VC10 force.

“Circumstances naturally change, we stand ready to provide our world-renowned service and go to wherever it is required.

“We look forward to the future and hope to further contribute to the illustrious and enviable record of 101 Squadron.”

Flt Lt Chris Haywood, 27, from Carterton was among those returning, after three-and-a-half weeks away. He was reunited with his wife Melanie, 26, and 10-week-old son Oliver.

He said: “It’s good to be back in the UK.”

Mrs Haywood said “It’s nice to see Chris again, and its nice for him to see Oliver again. It’s quite a relief to have him back safely.”

The withdrawal of British forces from Iraq ends the six-year deployment of land forces that began with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Picture Damian Halliwell l More reaction in tomorrow’s Oxford Mail