Video & Gallery: Town pays tribute to homecoming heroes

AN HISTORIC Suffolk town came to a standstill to welcome an RAF squadron home after a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Dave Gooderham

AN HISTORIC Suffolk town came to a standstill to welcome an RAF squadron home after a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of people lined the streets of Bury St Edmunds on Saturday morning to pay their own tributes to the servicemen of the 1 Squadron RAF Regiment.

Basking in bright sunshine, the homecoming parade saw loved ones, veterans and children - proudly waving their Union flags - come together to salute the personnel.

The efforts of the crowds, which maintained the close link between East Anglia and the armed forces, was not lost on senior members of the squadron.

Flight Lt Tony Field, deputy squadron commander, said: “To have such outstanding recognition is really the jewel in the crown for us since we have returned.

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“I think there might have been a bit of resistance among the boys at first as they wanted to start their leave, but ask anyone now and they would be glad they did the parade.”

Led by the central band of the RAF, the parade took the servicemen through the town centre and into the new multi-million pound Arc shopping centre which opened on Thursday.

They were then joined by comrades who were wounded on active service in Afghanistan before returning past the offices of St Edmundsbury Borough Council on Angel Hill where the salute was taken by Mayor Bob Cockle and RAF Honington's station commander, Group Captain Nick Bray.

Margaret Charlesworth , St Edmundsbury deputy mayor, said: “The whole parade has been absolutely fantastic. Bury has a history of honouring servicemen and it was great to see those in the squadron get the credit they deserve.”

The sentiments were echoed by the crowd whose applause rang round the historic streets as the servicemen marched past.

John Stewart, 35, who lives in the town, said: “It was great to see the town get right behind the servicemen and have a big celebration.

“With the Arc opening and more people coming to the town, it was a good way of promoting Bury and showing it in such a good light. It was nice to see the flags waving and everyone, young and old, taking part.”

Kris and Jill Casey, who both come from a military background, took their two young children Erin and Sam to the parade.

The couple said: “I think it means a lot to the servicemen on parade to see this level of support. Bury has always had good military links and it is good to see this continuing.”

The parade was followed by a civic reception in the Athenaeum for the squadron and their families.