Emotional return home for Yorkshire soldiers

IT was always going to be an emotional return for soldiers from The 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment after completing their tour of duty in Afghanistan. And so it proved.

Almost six months to the day since six of their comrades were killed in a Taliban bomb blast, 98 men from Corunna Company were greeted by relatives last night at a homecoming celebration at Battlesbury Barracks in Warminster, in Wiltshire, where the regiment is based.

There were tears of joy that sons, husbands, fathers and brothers had made it back home safely, but this relief was tinged with sadness for those who did not.

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Major Ed Colver, Commanding Officer of Corunna Company, who was greeted by his wife Lisa and their children Philippa, six months and Hugo, three, paid tribute to his men.

“It’s wonderful to be back home and see the children’s faces, and the wives and families.

“There’s a mixture of relief that the soldiers have made it back safe and sound and also a huge amount of pride after what has been a long and difficult tour,” he said.

“But my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the six soldiers who were killed. It must be very difficult for them to see people here celebrating when their sons have not come back.

“So it’s a day of real mixed emotions.”

Major Colver said the soldiers’ deaths had shaken the company but praised the way his men reacted to the loss of their friends and colleagues.

“Nobody wants that to happen to any company, never mind your own. It was an extremely difficult situation but I am incredibly proud of the way the men bounced back and got on with the job they were brought there to do.

“I believe we have achieved a huge amount in the time we’ve been there and for that the men deserve the utmost praise.”

The relief and happiness at finally being back home was etched on people’s faces as they were reunited with loved ones.

Corporal Dominic Shields, was greeted with a kiss by his girlfriend, Devon, who had travelled from Yorkshire to meet him.

“It’s great to be back, but it’s a bit weird to see everyone cheering. It’s difficult to put into words,” he said.

The 25 year-old, from Huddersfield, said he was looking forward to spending some time with his family, unwinding and having a beer.

“I’m looking forward to seeing my family and my niece and I’m going to buy myself a new car, a BMW, and I’m going to buy a house with my girlfriend.

“So I’m going to be busy,” he said.

It has been a difficult tour for the company, which was working with the King’s Royal Hussars Battlegroup, and one that has been overshadowed by the loss of six soldiers earlier this year.

In March, Corporal Jake Hartley, 20; Privates Anthony Frampton, 20, Christopher Kershaw, 19, Daniel Wade, 20, Daniel Wilford, 21; and 33-year-old Sergeant Nigel Coupe, who was on secondment from The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, were killed when their armoured vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb during Operation Herrick 16.

Of the five men serving with the battalion, three were from Huddersfield, Pte Kershaw was from Bradford, Pte Wade was from Warrington and Sgt Coupe was from St Annes in Lancashire.

More than 200 family members travelled down from Yorkshire to attend the repatriation service at Carterton back in March, while over 2,000 well-wishers and fellow servicemen also lined the streets of the Oxfordshire town to pay their respects.

The deaths of the six soldiers represented the biggest single loss of British life in Afghanistan since September 2006 when an RAF Nimrod crashed, killing 14 people.

The men had been on a security patrol in a Warrior armoured fighting vehicle when it was caught in an explosion in Kandahar province. The company been stationed in Lashkar Gah Durai, one of the most remote parts of Helmand Province, since March.

During the tour, members of Corunna Company mounted checkpoints and went on operations including a dramatic raid on a Taliban-controlled village which led to the seizure of 300 kilogrammes of explosives.

They also raided other bomb factories and captured an insurgent commander.

The men who returned home yesterday will spend the next 10 days in camp as their kit returns from Afghanistan before they start three weeks of leave.

Once the rest of the regiment returns in the coming weeks a series of marches and parades are planned.

On November 30, the whole regiment will be given the freedom of Warminster in a special parade when they will also get their campaign medals.