Gallery: Prince honours war heroes

SOLDIERS from Colchester were honoured for their service in Afghanistan today when the Prince of Wales came to the town to present them with campaign medals.

SOLDIERS from Colchester were honoured for their service in Afghanistan today when the Prince of Wales came to the town to present them with campaign medals.

Prince Charles was at the Parachute Regiment's base in Colchester as more than 500 soldiers gathered for the ceremony.

Charles, who is Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, had bid farewell to the second battalion prior to its departure for Afghanistan in March.

Relatives of the soldiers lined the parade square at Colchester Garrison's newly-built Merville Barracks as the royal helicopter arrived this morning.

The Prince was accompanied by his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the pair presented medals to around 500 soldiers.

They spent around an hour giving the campaign medals to the troops from the four separate Parachute Regiments, speaking to each one individually.

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The band of the Parachute Regiment played songs and marched around the parade square as the medals were handed over.

Half-a-dozen injured soldiers were presented with medals at the beginning of the ceremony, among them Lance Corporal Tom Neathway, who lost both legs and an arm when he was hit by a booby-trapped improvised explosive device in Kajaki in July this year.

After the medal presentation Prince Charles addressed the soldiers, and joked about the bitterly cold weather saying: “Before you all freeze to death and I breach some health and safety regulation of some kind or other I wanted to say what an enormous pleasure it is to be able to join you here with my wife and to be able to hand you your campaign medals which were so richly deserved.”

He spoke of his pride in their work in Afghanistan.

“Thank you more than anything else for the incredible service you gave this nation. You carried out your duties constantly and without complaint. It is truly remarkable,” he said.

He said he felt part of a “remarkable regimental family” after being Colonel in Chief for 31 years.

“I think I have begun to start to see some of the sons of those I came across as soldiers and officers when I became Colonel in Chief,” he added.

The Prince also shared his own feelings at the deployment of his younger son, Prince Harry, to fight the Taliban - something he could not talk about in public at the time because of security reasons.

“I did understand something of what the Paras and their families were feeling about their sons going off on operations as at the time my youngest son was actually out in Afghanistan but I couldn't tell anybody and that, I promise you, made it rather difficult,” he said.

“All I can say was that I felt so much with your families and your loved ones.”

L-Cpl Neathway was determined to stand to receive his campaign medal from Prince Charles and onlookers broke into applause as he achieved his goal.

Watched by his family the 2 Para soldier then walked on his new prosthetic legs to take his seat with his injured comrades, making all the months of daily physio worthwhile.

Speaking of the moment he was hit by a booby-trapped improvised explosive device in Kajaki in July this year, he said: “I knew I had been badly injured but I knew I would be alright because of the guys who were with me.”

L-Cpl Neathway, of Worcester, said: “My goal has been today.

“As soon as I was injured one of the first things I decided to do was work towards was walking today.

“I walked and I am happy.”

He said his injuries had not changed him and added: “I have the same life as before only I am in a wheelchair - that's it.

“I will be driving again in January. People on the outside might think I have changed but I haven't that much.

“I still go out at the weekend on the lash with my mates.”

He added his next aim was to get back to work.

His proud father, Alan Neathway, spoke of his pride in his son, saying: “I am so proud, I cannot really say.

“I am really, really proud of everything he has achieved since the incident.

“He is an amazing kid.

“It has been a very emotional day.”

Malcolm and Elizabeth Butler, and their daughter Amy, ten, set off at 1.30am from their home in Cornwall to watch their son David, 22, receive his medal.

“We are very proud of him and were so glad to have him back,” said Mrs Butler.

She said she had worried daily about her son, who was with Sniper Platoon, 2 Para, and constantly watched the news during the time he was away.

Major Russell Lewis, of 2 Para, said the ceremony was a proud and emotional time for the regiment, made all the more poignant by the fact that the Prince saw them shortly before they deployed.

“It is a huge honour as it was such a demanding tour,” he said.

“It (the medal) is something quite significant and even more special by the fact that the prince has presented them.”

Families of the soldiers from the regiment who died in Afghanistan were also at the event and were given their loved one's service medals.

They and the injured troops and their families then spent time at a private reception at the garrison with the royal couple.

More than 30 members of the British Armed Forces died in Afghanistan this year.

That number included 13 members of the Parachute Regiment as troops faced some of the fiercest fighting UK soldiers have experienced since the Second World War.