Delight at return of Vikings

BIG hugs, kisses and tears of joy were the order of the day when dozens of the region’s soldiers made an emotional homecoming after a punishing tour of Afghanistan.

Family and friends gathered at the Royal Anglian Regiment’s barracks yesterday to welcome back 90 battle weary men who had spent the last six months fighting to retain the peace in a former Taliban stronghold.

After three frustrating days grounded by volcanic ash, the returning soldiers were greeted to a round of applause and cheers after a long journey from Afghanistan to Pirbright, Surrey, via Cyprus.

But the joy of the return of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment was tinged with sadness with the fact that five friends and colleagues from the 400 strong regiment had come back tragically early after being killed during their deployment in Helmand.

The returning Vikings – the majority of whom come from East Anglia - spoke of their relief at completing the tough tour, but said their fallen and wounded comrades would not be forgotten.

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Private James Grigg, 21, of Stradbroke, L/Cpl Scott Hardy, 26, of Chelmsford, Pte Robert Hayes, 19, of Burwell, Cambridgeshire, L/Cpl Adam Drane, 23, of Bury St Edmunds, and Capt Martin Driver, 31, of Barnsley, lost their lives protecting local Afghans from the Taliban in the Musa Qaleh district.

Major Stuart Smith, officer commanding of A (Norfolk) Company, said the soldiers had come across a “tenacious” enemy.

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“I think we have made a huge difference by pushing back the insurgents and protected an environment to allow locals to go back to their normal work.

“We are a family regiment and a friendly bunch and a lot of our soldiers picked up some of the basic language and made the effort to talk to the locals,”

“I think everyone should be hugely proud of what they have done. For a lot of them it was their first operational tour. They have been able to make the area north of Musa Qaleh more secure for a lot of people,” he said.

During their deployment, the Royal Anglians helped the Afghan national army to extend the safe zone for people living to the north of Musa Qaleh. It was during this second half of the tour that three company members lost their lives following roadside bomb explosions.

Alison Burgess, of Bury St Edmunds, founder of the Viking Family Support Group, welcomed home son Pte Nicky Burgess two weeks after her other son, Daniel, 21, returned with C (Essex) Company. She added that the families had been supporting each other through the tour.

“There is an overwhelming sense of pride and naturally it has been a tough time as well. I am really relieved, very thankful, and very proud,” she said.

L/Cpl David Garner, of Sudbury, said he was looking forward to spending time with his children Freja, 2, and Odin, 11 months.

“It is brilliant to be back and it is very emotional. I am looking forward to doing as little as possible in my own home,” he said

His wife Carly, added: “It has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and I am just grateful that he is home. It has been a tough tour for them and lost some close friends.”

Lt Tim Hearne, of Sudbury, said: “It has been a very strange, we have had a long journey, but it is nice to see everyone.”

Kim Dungey, of East Ruston, near Stalham, gave a big hug to her 19-year-old son, Pte Shane Gold, who had been on his first tour with the Vikings.

“It has had its ups and downs and there have been some hairy moments, but its good to have him home. I have been really excited to see him and was up at 3am this morning,” she said.

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