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Sunday, 21 December 2014

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Hundreds watch army regiment homecoming parade in Carlisle

The early spring sun was shining upon Cumbrian troops as they were welcomed back home following their recent tour of Afghanistan.

Army homecoming photo
Crowds watch the parade in Carlisle

Hundreds gathered in the centre of Carlisle to watch as the city hosted a homecoming parade for the 1st Battalion, the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

Flag-waving children were held aloft on the shoulders of their parents and grandparents as more than 100 soldiers marched through English Street and Scotch Street.

The Mayor of Carlisle, councillor Mary Styth, and Brigadier Mike Griffiths, colonel of the regiment, took the salute of the troops as they marched past the Crown & Mitre hotel.

The pair were flanked by robed civic dignitaries and standard bearers from the Royal British Legion.

Soldiers in the parade included Kingsman James Lee Hunter, 24, of Flimby near Maryport, who was badly injured during an attack while on patrol three months into the tour.

He was hit by shrapnel and spent a month in hospital at Camp Bastion following an operation to remove the metal lodged in his knee.

Kingsman Hunter said: “It was hard out there, it was hard in terms of weather and really demanding every day. The patrols were endless and you got used to it.”

Fellow squaddie 19-year-old Kevin McGrady, from Whitehaven, was on his first tour.

Kingsman McGrady said: “It makes me very happy to be able to come here and be part of the parade.

“I went past my mum and my grandad shouted ‘smiler’ at me.”

Proud mother Susan Leighton, from Keswick, watched her 21-year-old son Lance Corporal Jason Leighton in the parade.

LCpl Leighton said: “You don’t get to interact with the public that often. They probably often only get to see us on the news so it’s good for them to be able to see us marching through the town.

“The cathedral service brought back a few memories for us but I feel really proud to be able to do this parade.”

He also described how he escaped injury after a roadside bomb exploded less than 50 metres from his vehicle while out on patrol.

“Fortunately I wasn’t injured and injuries sustained were minor ones,” he said. “You do a lot of training but when something like this happens for real it is quite mind-numbing.”

Among the crowd were Michelle Smith, from Brampton, and Helen Fell, of Cargo, the girlfriend of Mrs Smith’s son, Lance Corporal Dan Smith.

Mrs Smith said: “It is an emotional day. I’m so glad they are here and home safe. It was a long, hard time for them.

“Dan had his 21st birthday out there but he didn’t get the presents we sent over. They didn’t reach him where he was but a friend got his cards to him. He asked for the food and things we sent him to be given to soldiers who were going there after him.”

Helen said: “We feel very proud. We’ve gone to other parades like the medal presentation last year but it is nice to have them here in Carlisle, at home.”

The parade, during which shoppers, shop workers and visitors clapped and cheered, took place after a thanksgiving service in Carlisle Cathedral.

Led by the Dean of Carlisle, the Very Reverend Mark Boyling, the address was given by Rev Simon Bloxam-Rose, padre of the regiment who spent seven months on the front line in Afghanistan with soldiers during their 2009-10 tour.

The names of the nine Duke of Lancaster’s soldiers – three from 1Lancs and six from the second battalion - who died while serving on the tour were read out and a floral tribute placed in the Border Regiment chapel.

The mayor, Mrs Styth, and Lt Col Frazier Lawrence OBE, the battalion’s commanding officer, gave readings.

Lt Col Lawrence said afterwards: “It’s fantastic to be made to feel so welcome in a city that is a key part of the battalion’s history. It is superb to see so many people welcome their county regiment from a really demanding tour.”

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