Saturday, May 23, 2009

Welcome home, heroes of Helmand

THE heroes of Helmand were applauded every step of the way as the 750 men of 45 Commando staged a homecoming parade after a gruelling tour of Afghanistan in which 12 of their comrades lost their lives.
More than 3,000 residents of Arbroath, friends and family lined the one-mile route yesterday to honour the Royal Marines' completion of their arduous six-month deployment.

It was first time that the Marines of RM Condor, the sprawling commando base on the outskirts of the town, had exercised their right to march through the streets of the royal burgh since 45 Commando were granted the freedom of Arbroath in 2003.

As the commandos set off on their march from Victoria Park, the crowd lining the streets broke into spontaneous applause. And they kept on clapping until the Marines had passed the ruins of Arbroath Abbey, where Ruth Leslie Melville, the provost of Angus, and Georgina Osborne, the Lord Lieutenant of Angus, took the official salute.

The unit's commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Morris, said after the parade that he had been overwhelmed by the public's response.

He said: "The turn-out was fantastic. It was great to see so many people taking the trouble to turn out. Some of the lads have already said what a highlight it was for them – to see the respect being shown towards them for their efforts and the support from the local community.

"I think the clapping started from the minute we set off to the minute we stopped."

Some of the men marching in the parade bore the scars of battle. Others, who were so severely wounded they were unable to march, joined the crowd of well-wishers along the bunting-lined route.

Lt-Col Morris stressed, however, that the event had been tinged with sadness for those who had died during the six-month tour in war-torn Helmand province.

Nine men from 45 Commando were killed in action and three other servicemen from support units attached to the Condor Marines had also died.

Lt-Col Morris said: "This was such a happy, positive event, but tinged with sadness when we remember those who have fallen in Afghanistan.

"We also remember the great commitment that has been made by those very fine young men who have suffered some very serious injuries."

The crowds had begun to gather at vantage points along the route more than an hour before the parade was to begin.

They included the mothers of two Royal Marines based at RM Condor. Anne Clements, from Lumphinnans, near Cowdenbeath, was sharing a park bench below the saluting base with Jacqueline Ross, from Leven.

Mrs Clements's son, Jordan, 26, a lance corporal, had been on his second tour of Afghanistan.

She said: "I am proud of all of the lads. They had a horrendous time in Afghanistan. My son lost one of his best pals over there, but they all did a fantastic job."

Mrs Ross – whose son, Stuart, 23, a "rookie" Marine, also served in Helmand – said: "I was demented with worry when he was over there, and it's great to have him home. And I just think it's wonderful that so many folk have turned out here today."

Ben Smith, 66, a former sergeant in the Royal Artillery from Arbroath, was among the crowd lining the top of the High Street.

"I am standing here as a mark of respect for all these men," he said. "I am tremendously proud of these lads – and have been all my days.

"I know that the folk here in Arbroath certainly appreciate what they do for this country. Arbroath has a lot of time for the Marines."

Andrew Welsh, the MSP for Angus, said: "What a great welcome home for 45 Commando. I think it shows the whole town's appreciation of the work they did and their devotion to duty.

"It is also a day to say to the Marines that the town remembers those who did not return."

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