Thousands line streets to welcome home troops

APPLAUSE and cheers rang out as thousands of people lined the streets to welcome home troops from a six-month tour of Afghanistan.

More than 400 servicemen from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and Search Task Force marched through Saffron Walden on Friday for a homecoming parade in front of Uttlesford residents.

Led by the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers, the soldiers stepped off from the Common Car Park at around 12.30pm and marched down Common Hill, along Hill Street and up Market Street to the Market Square.

Chairman of Uttlesford District Council, Cllr Christina Cant, then took the salute from the troops, while the Mayor of Saffron Walden, Cllr David Watson, and dignitaries from Saffron Walden Town Council watched on.

Cllr Cant said: “We greet those who have just returned from onerous duty in Afghanistan and at the same time we honour and remember those who have given their lives in this campaign.

“In April 2009 the Regiment was awarded the Freedom of the District and today’s march is one of the ways in which that freedom is exercised.

“It is a source of pride and pleasure for us all to be here and to witness this notable event. This district values its connections with the army and it is good to see the work that is done in fostering the idea that Wimbish Station is an integral part of our community.

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“We are justly proud of our soldiers and acutely aware of the dangerous work you do on our behalf. The record of duty and heroism of those involved in bomb disposal is an inspiration to us all.”

Commanding officer of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and Search Task Force, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Bell, then gave an impassioned speech about the three servicemen who died during the recent six-month tour.

“The work we have done in Afghanistan has not been without significant cost,” he said. “Earlier this morning we remembered Sapper Connor Ray, Corporal Andrew Roberts and Private Ratu Silibaravi, and we also remember those who have suffered life changing injuries while on tour.

“I am delighted and proud of the achievements we have made as a Task Force and that includes disposing of in excess of 400 improvised explosive devices.

“I want to thank the people of Saffron Walden and the district of Uttlesford for welcoming us home and for the continued support of us and of the Injured Soldiers Fund. I also want to thank the Task Force for their enormous contributions over the last six months, and to the community, thank you very much,” he added.

Following the salute, the Task Force marched back up Market Hill, along Church Street and returned to the Common Car Park via Common Hill.

This afternoon, the soldiers will receive their Op HERRICK Campaign medals in the grounds of Audley End House.

The 400-strong EOD and Search Task Force is made up of 23 units from the Army, Navy and Royal Airforce and has just returned from Op HERRICK 16 earlier this month.

The Task Force is responsible for the training of the Afghan National Army’s bomb disposal team, as well as their front line roll – searching for and destroying IEDs on the ground.

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