Prayers of thanks for troops’ return

A SPECIAL service was held at St Edmundsbury Cathedral to welcome home Suffolk troops after a tour of Afghanistan.

Supporters and families filled the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds for a homecoming evensong yesterday, to give thanks for the safe return of D Squadron of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment after a six-month tour of Helmand province.

Prayers were said for the courage and bravery of the servicemen, who returned to their base at RAF Honington last week.

Squadron leader Major Mike Taylor said: “It is heart-warming to see people care.

“It really feels as though people in St Edmundsbury care about us and what we are doing.”

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A candle had been kept burning in the cathedral 24 hours a day since the unit left in December last year.

Although the squadron suffered three casualties, there were no fatalities during the tour in which the unit operated Viking tanks, playing a important role in Operation Moshtarak to clear northern Nad-e-Ali of insurgents.

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“It is such a massive relief to have everyone back in one piece,” Maj Taylor said. “We have seen some unbelievable courage from guys in this squadron.”

Battle-weary troops enjoyed a beer in the sun on the cathedral Cloister Garth after the service.

Bury brewer Greene King supplied the soldiers with famous IPA beer to toast the end of a campaign which had been fraught with daily danger from improvised explosive devices.

“There are parts of Helmand that are like driving through a minefield,” Maj Taylor said. “There are guys who have had quite a hard time of it.

“We have become a very tight-knit unit. It has become a big family.”

Trooper Thomas Doyle, 22, said the prayers and support of people at home had meant a lot to the group.

“It was a bit emotional out there really,” he said. “It is nice to know the community have been saying prayers and thinking about us.”

Michael Hampel, Acting Dean at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, said it had been a privilege to support the squadron while they were away.

“It was great to hold the service knowing everyone who went out there came back,” he said.

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