1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment: Crowds out in force for Shropshire homecoming parade
Around 1,000 people gathered in Market Drayton town centre to welcome home the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment following its final tour of Afghanistan.
There were cheers and applause as 250 infantry male and female soldiers based at Shropshire's Clive Barracks, in Tern Hill, proudly took part in a parade and an emotional open air thanksgiving blessing to mark their safe return.
A huge crowd lined Cheshire Street to watch the spectacle organised by Market Drayton Town Council unfold led by the regiment's band members who were looking resplendent in their green uniforms - some wearing the traditional bearskins. They were accompanied by mascot wolfhound Brian Boru X.
The ceremony included a series of prayers read aloud by clergy including the vicar of St Mary's Church the Rev Catherine McBride.
Welcoming the soldiers the Lord-Lieutenant of Shropshire Anna Turner JP praised them for the work they carried out in Afghanistan "standing up for safety and peace" under difficult circumstances during the tour which ran from April to November.
They were based in Kabul providing support to Afghan troops in preparation for the country's general election held in September.
Mrs Turner said: "I am absolutely delighted to be here representing Her Majesty the Queen. First of all let me say how proud and pleased I am to be here to welcome you home.
"Afghanistan is an extremely dangerous and fragile country. We are enormously proud of you and your boldness."
Market Drayton Mayor Councillor Roger Smith said: "I am very proud and honoured to welcome 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment on your safe return from Afghanistan.
"On behalf of the residents I would like to thank the battalion for its continued service to Queen and country. It's very nice to see so many soldiers out on the streets of Market Drayton, looking so dashing in their uniforms. I am also pleased to see such a fantastic turn out .
"The town council will always show its appreciation and gratitude to you and is more than happy to welcome you all here today."
Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Lewis, the regiment's commanding officer, said that 350 men and women from the regiment took part in the spring tour.
"There they undertook 40 to 70 personal security missions every day and assisted in 11 high profile attacks on the city," he said.
"This is our fifth and we believe our final tour to Afghanistan and there has always been links between the base and the town.
"We are especially grateful to the people and for ongoing friendship."
Cheswardine resident Rod Pope, 76, who was once based at Clive Barracks as an aircraft engineer, said: "It's been quite emotional. I'm ex-military and it's good o see a turn as massive as this."
Market Drayton Infant School pupil Frankie Locke, aged six, watched the parade with his grandfather Ted Clews and said: "I liked the marching the best and looking at the rifles."
After the ceremony the soldiers marched to the town's Royal British Legion, in Church Street, for a reception where some were introduced to the Lord-Lieutenant.
They then tucked into a curry meal along with 150 other guests including some relatives.
The regiment has been based at Tern Hill since 2007. It also has a base in Belfast and recruits mainly from the island of Ireland, with some members from the United Kingdom and other commonwealth states.
Lance Corporal Shawn Jack, 40, from St Vincent, West Indies, is a member of the band and played the bass drum during the parade. He was joined at the reception by his wife Nicky and daughter Aliyah, aged four.
L/Cpl Jack said: "I've been with regiment for 11 years after being recruited from the army in the Caribbean where I grew up. This was my second tour to Afghanistan, I also served in Helmand Province from 2010-2011.
"I play lots of instruments in the band, but today I played the bass drum. When we're out on the parades it is good to see people come out to support us."
Also among those attending was Chelsea pensioner Mike Shanahan who served with former The Royal Irish Rangers Regiment.
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