TEARFUL family members gave the warmest of welcomes to Dorset’s soldiers after a tough tour of Afghanistan.
1 Rifles paraded down Chepstow’s narrow High Street in front of around 4,000 residents and relatives.
The 500-man battalion was created in 2007, mainly from the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, and around one in 10 men is still local.
Six members were killed during their six-month stay in Helmand, as were two men from attached units.
None killed were from Dorset.
Lance Corporal John Jowett, 32, from Portland, a former Devonshire and Dorset man, was with girlfriend Becky Favajer, 34, from Cardiff.
He said: “The parade was good. We didn’t expect that many people.
“It was a really tough tour. We just did it for everybody else and the guys who weren’t here.
“We were in Afghanistan in very small teams. We had about 16 people and about 150 Afghan Army.
“We would take them out doing daily patrols mainly to help them understand the basics of patrolling.
“Sometimes I would rather be on foot than in a vehicle which is a metal object and is prone to Improvised Explosive Devices.
“I’m looking forward to spending time with my girlfriend, seeing my family and just getting back to normal life.”
The Rifles – motto ‘Swift and Bold’ – marched at 140 paces a minute under the historic stone arch and took the salute at the town cenotaph.
The flag-waving crowd was more than a dozen people deep in places and huge cheers greeted each company as it went past to the sound of the regimental march ‘Mechanised Infantry’.
Lance Corporal Andrew Miller, 29, from Weymouth, a soldier for 11 years and a former Devonshire and Dorset man, was with mum Julie, sister Nikki, and his son Keyden, four.
He said: “It was a good reception – better than the freedom parades we have done.
“We have a lot of Devonshire and Dorset men.
“We were out there in small teams and we would go out and train the Afghan Army and go on patrols with them, and if something went wrong jump in and help them out.
“We were on patrols almost every day.”
Mum Julie said: “He has had some stories to tell but he doesn’t really want to talk about them now.”
Alexandria Glenister, 34, from Gillingham, was there for partner, WO2 David Evans, 37.
She said: “I spoke to David about how he deals with it, being such a tough tour, and he said, because he is older and able to admit when it’s having an effect.
“The younger soldiers are worried about doing that. But they all support each other.”
The unit was split into small units to train and patrol with the Afghan Army. This often put them in dangerous positions.
Most of the Afghan soldiers are northerners and the challenge is to get more from the rebellious areas around Helmand.
The Afghan Army is not as capable as the Iraqi Army though progress has been made, and the British men could become close to their Afghan counterparts.
The day was full of tremendous excitement and pride but the war was ever-present.
A minibus dropped off injured soldiers on crutches who could only watch but not walk.
A watching Gulf War veteran from Taunton, whose son was in the parade, said one Rifleman had died in his son’s arms.
Afterwards the men received campaign medals at their nearby HQ, Beachley Barracks, and took the salute from The Royal Colonel The Duke of Kent.
Family members of those killed received medals on their behalf.
The Colonel Commandant Lt Gen Nick Parker, said: “Those who lost their lives are heroes and riflemen forever and they represent the sacrifice and success of this tour.”