Crowds flocked to Ripon city centre this morning (Wednesday) as the soldiers of 21 Engineer Regiment returned home from their tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of friends and family travelled from across the country to stand alongside Ripon residents as the city played host to a homecoming parade.
Troops from the regiment honoured the memory of two comrades killed during the operation in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Capt James Townley and Spr Richard Walker, as they were led by the Band of the King’s Division from the Spa Gardens, along Park Street, Westgate and Kirkgate to Ripon Cathedral where the soldiers attended a service.
During the service a role of honour was read out, including the names of Engineers Capt James Townley and Spr Richard Walker, who died during the tour, and Army medic Corporal Day, who had served at the Ripon base before she was killed in Afghanistan in September 2012.
Despite last month’s shock announcement that Claro Barracks will close in 2017, and the Regiment’s troops and their families will relocate to Catterick Garrison, the celebratory mood was not dampened.
Soldiers such as Spr Alan Mustart spoke of his pride at taking part in the joy at being reunited with his family after the hectic six month tour.
Spr Mustart said: “It’s great to be back. My son, Byron, is one and I’m so pleased to see him again. He’s walking and running around now, and he couldn’t do that when I left.”
British troops have been able to depart Afghanistan early, as Afghan army and police have started to take the lead for security in central Helmand.
Engineers have had the difficult task of closing or transferring their bases to the Afghan forces to ensure a high security presence remains.
The high profile work has seen 31 security bases closed or transferred by 21 Engineer Regiment since taking over from 26 Engineer Regiment in September.
Speaking to the Gazette at the parade, the Regiment’s commanding officer, Lt Col “Jack” Nicholson, said the homecoming parade was an important time to reflect and remember, as well as a time to thank the people of Ripon for their support.
“It’s great to see so many people have turned out, and it’s quite humbling to know we have this support. The soldiers grow six inches taller when they walk round streets like this.”
He also thanked the families who welcomed their loved ones back after a tough six months apart
“Today is important for the families. Although we have had a hard tour, the families have had a harder tour.”
The Regiment’s losses during the tour are “a bitter bitter blow”, he added.
“It’s very sad, and we will not forget them.”