Homecoming parade: Salute to those who have fallen

MORE than 300 troops will parade through the streets of Saffron Walden next Friday – some will celebrate their homecoming, others will reflect on their experiences in Afghanistan, but all will remember the three men who lost their lives for their country.

Soldiers from the 33 Engineer Regiment, based at Carver Barracks in Wimbish, will be joined by fellow servicemen from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search Task Force for a homecoming parade through the town.

The march will be “a celebration of the lives of those who have died while serving their country”, not only for the three men killed during the task force’s most recent six-month tour, but for “all the friends lost on previous deployments,” according to three of the servicemen taking part.

Sergeant Si Gardner, a member of 49 field squadran EOD, was responsible for destroying IEDs. He lost a man from his troop – Sapper Connor Ray – a month into his fourth tour of Afghanistan.

Sapper Ray, from Newport, south Wales, had been involved in a search and clearance operation when he was seriously injured in an improvised explosive device strike the day before his 21st birthday.

He was evacuated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham but died a week later.

“It is going to be a very emotional day for all the guys. I knew Connor very well. He was a good lad, full of energy and was always smiling. He had a can-do character and could have gone far in the army,” Sgt Gardner told the Reporter.

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“When something like that happens it obviously has a significant impact on morale in the regiment but the lads have to stay professional and then mourn when we come back and it hits home that someone is missing.”

Sgt Gardner said it was not just about remembering Sapper Ray and Corporal Andrew Steven Roberts and Private Ratu Manasa Silibaravi, both of 23 Pioneer Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps, but also troops lost on previous tours.

“I have been blown up seven times, both on foot and in a vehicle, and have also had someone blown up next to me. Corporal James Oakland, who was part of the Royal Military Police, died while we were doing a search. It was difficult to deal with and quite tough when I came back – I found it very hard.

“But that is just one of the dangers that come with the job,” he added.

? Accompanied by a marching band, Armed Forces personnel from the regiment will begin the parade at 12.30pm from the Common car park. The troops will continue down Common Hill, along Hill Street and up Market Street to the Market Square.

Following that, the regiment will march from the Market Square up Market Hill, along Church Street and back down Common Hill to the Common car park for 1.20pm.

The homecoming parade will follow a memorial service at Carver Barracks in the morning. There will also be a medal ceremony in the afternoon.

To commemorate the soldiers’ return, Newport-based design business Creative Solutions has agreed to put together a booklet to recognise the contribution of the troops during their most recent tour.

It will also honour the three servicemen who lost their lives fighting for their country. Businesses in the area have been encouraged to donate to the creation of the booklet – with �1,500 needed to print them.

Contact Jeremy Rose, founder of the Newport Business Association, on 01799 541114 by Saturday to support the project. Booklets will be available on the day of the parade.