Hundreds turn out to cheer brave soldiers home from Helmand

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Hundreds turned out to welcome troops home from Afghanistan as they paraded through Tameside.

Members of the First Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, marched through Ashton town centre to applause from the crowd.

Crowds lined the road into the town’s market place to see the parade marking their return from a six-month tour of duty in Helmand Province.

The regiment, drawn from across Greater Manchester and Lancashire, had been deployed to train the Iraqi army but also fought the Taliban on a regular basis.

Families watched with pride as the soldiers took part in the parade before attending a civic reception in the Town Hall.

Kingsman Adam Meekle, 22, from Manchester, was on parade watched by proud gran Margaret Meekle, 69.

Adam said: “It was my first tour of duty and we were supporting the Afghan army with their operations.

“We went out there with some basic Pashtun but picked up more as we went along so we could communicate with the farmers and children who came up to the police checkpoints.

“The phrase we had to use the most was to say ‘no pens’ – they loved our coloured pens, which they would use to draw patterns on their hands.”

Gran Margaret, who also lives in Manchester, sent parcels of shower gel and cakes out to Adam while he was serving as well as extra presents at Christmas.

She said: “The parade today was great, it made me feel so proud of Adam and of all the troops. It was very moving.”

Also on parade was Kingsman Troy Mitchell Levins, 20, from Oldham. He spent three months in Helmand after being flown there in January to replace an injured colleague.

He said: “There’s a really great turnout, it’s amazing hundreds of people have come to support us.

“It was my first tour of duty and it went well. I went there as a battlefield casualty replacement, met a lot of new lads and we ended up working well together.”

Troy’s proud mum Jennifer Lovell was in the crowd along with his grandad, brother and girlfriend.

Jennifer said: “I felt very, very proud to see my son on parade – it’s great to see him and all the lads get this homecoming.”

The parade was lead by the Band of the King’s Division in full military regalia.

The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment were given the Freedom of the Borough of Tameside in 2010 – which means they can parade through the town with weapons.

Addressing the crowd, Colonel Peter Rafferty MBE said: “I cannot tell you how proud and privileged we are to exercise freedoms so gratefully granted to parade through this town.

“You have certainly showed the men and women a heroes’ welcome as they return to these shores and each and every one is a hero of this nation.

“They say an army marches on its stomach but an army fights on its spirit which comes from faith in ourselves and our nation. But above all it comes from faith in the communities such as this that keep us in their hearts and prayers.

“It has always been your regiment, here in Tameside.”

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