Gallery: Forces heroes return home

A SUFFOLK town is preparing to honour its armed forces this weekend after brave servicemen and women shared an emotional homecoming with loved ones.

Rebecca Lefort

A SUFFOLK town is preparing to honour its armed forces this weekend after brave servicemen and women shared an emotional homecoming with loved ones.

Last night nearly 150 members of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment returned to the county for heartfelt reunions with their families, after a gruelling six month tour of duty in war-torn Afghanistan.

They flew into RAF Mildenhall before being bussed to their home base at RAF Honington, near Thetford, for their first night's sleep in the UK since August.

On Saturday, the gunners will go on parade in Bury St Edmunds, where RAF Honington has the Freedom of the Borough, and large numbers of residents and visitors are expected to turn out to show their respect.

The proud regiment is due to leave Abbey Gardens in the town at 11am, accompanied by a brass band, and march up Abbeygate Street, into St Andrews Street before returning to take the salute on the Angel Hill.

Most Read

The squadron, the ground fighting force of the RAF, has just completed a half-year operation defending the Kandahar airbase in Afghanistan.

In recognition of their work in tough and dangerous conditions the squadron's 144 members were presented with International Security Assistance Force medals before they left the country.

On Saturday the squadron is expected to be joined on parade by servicemen injured during the current tour.

One of them, Senior Aircraftman Craig Richardson, from Dereham, was blown up by an improvised explosive device and lost his lower right leg whilst on a routine call out.

On the night he was blown up, in late October last year, he was standing at the front of a military Land Rover and the next thing he knew he was on the ground and in severe pain.

However, having lost his leg, he is already up and about on his artificial leg.

During the most recent tour, which began on August 16 last year, the squadron faced a whole range of weather conditions, from sweltering heat and sandstorms, to rain, mud and freezing cold.

The squadron's commanding officer, Squadron Leader Lee Morgan, said: “We have worked hard during the tour to provide a secure environment from which air operations can continue unhindered.

“Every member of the squadron has understood the importance of air power to both NATO and the UK mission and the role that we have played in the delivery of that capability.

“The squadron has had a significant impact on insurgent teams operating in the area of operation, reducing the frequency and intensity of attacks.

“The men and women on the squadron have worked extremely hard in difficult conditions, with some outstanding individual performances.”

Because of Saturday's parade all parking on Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds will be shut from 5pm on Friday until 2pm on Saturday.

Parking at Chequer Square will also be shut from 5pm on Friday and throughout Saturday during rehearsals for the Queen's visit to attend the Maundy service at the cathedral in April.

Shire Hall car park will also be shut on Saturday.