Friday, May 22, 2009
Thousands of people have lined the streets of a Monmouthshire town to pay tribute to an Army regiment which has returned from Afghanistan.
More than 400 soldiers and officers from the 1st Battalion The Rifles marched through Chepstow in their desert combat uniforms.
Commanding officer Lt Col Joe Cavanagh, said his soldiers were "overwhelmed" to find around 5,000 lining the streets.
The regiment is based at the nearby Beachley Barracks.
Lt Col Cavanagh added the occasion was an emotional one as eight soldiers from the Rifles' battle group lost their lives during the deployment in Helmand province.
These were Rifleman Stuart Nash, Corp Richard Robinson, Corp Daniel Nield, L/Corp Stephen Kingscott, Sgt Chris Reed, Rifleman Jamie Gunn, L/Corp Paul Upton and Corp Tom Gaden.
Lt Col Cavanagh said: "We thought that there would be hundreds of people there but in fact there were thousands.
"We were overwhelmed with the number of people that turned out to support us. This was the formal homecoming for us.
"We have had lots of informal ones since we came back from Afghanistan but this was the town and the people of Chepstow welcoming us home."
He added: "It was quite an emotional march with the sound of the crowd cheering. It was a wonderful occasion but it was obviously tinged with sadness because of the eight soldiers we have lost."
The mayor of Chepstow Henry Ashby said the cheers during the march could be heard for miles.
"It was absolutely amazing," he said.
"I think the whole of the town turned out. We think there could have been 5,000 people there as it was at least six deep at the side of the road.
"I think the cheering would have been heard from as far away as the racecourse which is miles away from the town centre."
He added: "We asked the regiment because they have only recently moved here and we thought it would be nice as a mark of respect to say 'welcome home."'
After the march, the soldiers were presented with the Operation Herrick medal in the presence of the Duke of Kent, the Royal Colonel of 1st Battalion The Rifles.