Thursday, October 29, 2009
The heroes who survived 'one day, one hour of tragedy': Battalion that lost 13 men in Afghanistan enjoys homecoming parade
By Daily Mail Reporter
A brave amputee hailed the public's support of the Army as 'phenomenal' as he watched his fellow soldiers take part in a homecoming parade today.
Hundreds of people lined the streets of Croydon, south London, to welcome home the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, which lost 13 men in Afghanistan this summer.
The 100 members of 2 Rifles, based in Ballykinler, Northern Ireland, were invited to parade through the centre of the town by its mayor after the loss of their colleague Rifleman Danny Simpson, who came from the town.
Based in Sangin, the 600-strong battalion endured fierce fighting during their tour of duty, including what was described as 'one hour of tragedy' on July 10 - the day five riflemen were killed in two connected blasts while on foot patrol.
Lieutenant Alex Horsfal, 26, of Chitton, Wiltshire, Platoon Commander C company, lost his left leg above the knee as a result of his injuries suffered that day and suffered damage to his left arm.
Friends from the battalion who had not seen him since that day surrounded his wheelchair as they prepared to march from the Territorial Army Centre.
Speaking ahead of the parade, Lt Horsfal said: 'I've got to say that the general public have been awesome.
'The change there has been in the last few years, the understanding and the sympathy felt towards the Army, and especially those who have been wounded, is phenomenal.'
He praised his colleagues, saying: 'I think what we have managed to achieve is fantastic, although the casualties have been fairly high. It's been a tough tour.
'While I was there, everything was going to plan as it should have been but there was one day, one hour of tragedy.'
He said it 'felt like years' that he was recovering in Selly Oak Hospital, and that it was good to see his fellow soldiers again.
Lt Horsfal said: 'It's quite emotional in a way. It's a lovely feeling to be back, but a strange feeling at the same time.'
Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Rob Thomson, said it had been 'the campaign of their lives' and added: 'I'm hugely proud of the extraordinary courage that's been shown.'
Sangin is a notoriously volatile area because it contains a patchwork of rival tribes and is a major centre of the country's opium industry.
He said the Battalion was leaving it in a better state than when they arrived, and added: 'For me, progress in Sangin has not been dramatic but we have moved forward, indelibly so.'
What they had achieved was at a 'huge cost', however.
'That cost is utterly painful to me,' Lt Cl Thomson added. 'Each of the 13 heroes killed left a hole in our hearts and we mourn them deeply.
'As I've come home to my missus and my kids, there are wives, kids and parents out there who won't be seeing their husband, father and son again.'
He said the Army would hold those families close to their own hearts, and added: 'In some ways, I see those 13 standing behind me and telling me to keep on fighting, keep going for their sake.
'Those who have been wounded, we will march step-by-step with through their journeys of recovery.
'Their grit, their resolve and their determination reflects the way we do business as a regiment and as the British Army.
'It is with great honour, huge pride, and not some inconsiderable humility that we march through the streets of Croydon to show what we have achieved and to thank those people in every corner of our nation who have stood by us.'
As well as the 13 deaths, 14 soldiers in the Battalion suffered 'life-changing injuries' to their limbs or eyes, he said. He praised the courage of all the soldiers, saying it was 'the level of courage I have never seen in my 20 years of service.'
Read more on the Daily Mail Web site here