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Pride at parade

PUBLISHED: 17:54 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 10:21 03 July 2010

A UNIQUE occasion which the people of Great Yarmouth can be proud of - that's how mayor Paul Garrod summed up Sunday's visit by the Royal Anglian Regiment.

A UNIQUE occasion which the people of Great Yarmouth can be proud of - that's how mayor Paul Garrod summed up Sunday's visit by the Royal Anglian Regiment.

An estimated 8,000 people lined the streets to give our region's heroes a rousing welcome - just a few months since they returned home from a tough tour in Afghanistan.

Fifty soldiers from A Company marched from Regent Street to the Market Place as infectious applause and cheering gripped the crowds, which were seven deep in places.

The troops were inspected by the Mayor of Great Yarmouth Paul Garrod and the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk Richard Jewson, before marching to St Nicholas' Church for a thanksgiving service.

Exercising their right of Freedom of the Borough, the soldiers with their fixed bayonets, paraded around the Market Place watched by crowds of families and children waving Union flags, shopkeepers, former soldiers, local youth groups and many who had simply turned out to show their support for British troops.

Prior to the march, a civic procession led by the band of Winterton Marine Cadets walked from the Town Hall to the Market Place, coming to a halt near St Nicholas Priory Middle School.

There was also a flypast by an Apache attack helicopter, of the type used to support the battalion during offensives in Afghanistan.

Mr Garrod said: “I was filled with pride on Sunday. The townspeople didn't let us down. When we turned into the Market Place and saw the throngs of crowds, Lisa and I shed a little tear because we'd had a lot of sleepless nights about the event.

“I saw people hanging out of windows, on rooftops, it was unbelievable.”

The church was filled to capacity for the service led by Canon Michael Woods. The church bells rang out with a special quarter peal of Plain Bob Major to mark the visit.

Afterwards, soldiers enjoyed beer and mingled with the public. Veterans from the old Royal Norfolk Regiment of which

A Company is affiliated, chatted and shared stories.

Among those greeting the Royal Anglians on the parade was Bertie Hodds, from Caister. He said: “I am here because I was in the army and I know what it is like on active service. I just wanted to show them we appreciate what a good job they have done.”

Sgt Major Chris Hopkins said the turnout for the march had been “fantastic.”

“We didn't know what to expect because it's been a while since we returned but it's been outstanding. When we came back from Bosnia we didn't get any response but the war in Afghanistan put us in the spotlight. A lot of the lads have been asked for autographs.”

Major Dom Biddick, who commands A Company, said: “It was very impressive to see so many people; it means a lot to the battalion that so many people turned out to say thank-you for what they have done and

it sends us an important

message.”

Sgt Chris Holmes, of Caister, served throughout the tour of Helmand, said: “We thought there might be a few hundred people but the turnout has been huge.

“I feel proud so many came out to see the boys and show their appreciation for what wehave done. I thought it was nice that the lads who lost their lives were mentioned during the service.”

Looking on in the crowds was Sgt Holmes' wife Sally and three children Jordan, Chloe and Katie. His parents, who live in Scratby, were also there.

Soldiers let their hair down in the evening at a meal

at the Masonic Lodge in Yarmouth. Seated alongside councillors and local dignitaries, troops shared stories and reflected on the day's events.

The meal was sponsored by the Mercury, Yarmouth Borough Council and the district councils of

Broadland, South and North Norfolk.

Yarmouth MP Tony Wright said the visit was “long overdue”, adding he was “proud” how the people of Yarmouth had responded.

“There never is the homecoming as there should be in terms of the respect the public would like to show the soldiers.

“I think this event cements a relationship between the public and the regiment. It's nice to see the soldiers relaxed.”

Toasts were given during the evening and the one to “The Vikings”, the regimental nickname, won the most applause.

Mr Garrod said the event

had been a unique occasion adding he would love to see the troops return to the

town.

“This certainly has been the highlight for me as my year as mayor. People will remember this day for many years.”

The tour of Helmand was gruelling for the 1st battalion, which suffered a high

number of casualties

during its six months in Afghanistan. Along with nine men killed in action, it suffered a further 134 casualties, including 57

troops injured in battlefield action.

During the service the names of the nine were read out: Pte Chris Gray, 19; L/Cpl George Davey, 23; Cpl Darren Bonner, 31; L/Cpl Alex Hawkins, 22; Pte Tony Rawson, 27; Capt David Hicks, 26; Pte Aaron McClure, 19; Pte Robert Foster, 19; Pte John Thrumble, 21.

The troops are now back on duty at their Surrey barracks Surrey, training for their next deployment, possibly to Northern Ireland this year. Soldiers will return to Afghanistan or Iraq next

year.

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