PROUDLY marching in time, the soldiers of The Light Dragoons were cheered by the people of Newcastle as they paraded through the city.
The 320 soldiers, members of the regiment nicknamed England’s Northern Cavalry, yesterday celebrated their homecoming from Afghanistan.
Accompanied by The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band, the march saw the troops welcomed back to the North East and thanked for their six months of sacrifice.
The Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Coun Jackie Slesenger, said: “As Lord Mayor is it my honour to welcome home The Light Dragoons to their Newcastle home after their service in Afghanistan.
“We are all proud of our service men and women, and I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank them for their hard work and dedication while representing the North East while on active service in this challenging part of the world.”
During the six-month tour, The Light Dragoons carried out some 248 operations, searched 1,700 Afghan compounds and discovered over three tonnes of homemade explosives.
One of those back from the war zone was Lance Corporal Lee Hunter, 25, from Burnhope in County Durham. The most recent deployment was L/Cpl Hunter’s third tour of Afghanistan. He said: “It’s good to be back home seeing all my family. They all came down to support me on the parade.”
He is following in the footsteps of his father Simon Hunter, who was in the Dragoons for 23 years.
“I am very proud,” said Mr Hunter, snr. “But I am glad to have him back in one piece – I know what they go through.”
Corporal Mathew Purvis, from Newton Aycliffe, was on his second tour of duty. The 26-year-old father-of-two said: “It’s great to be back and see my daughters.
“The support from people in Newcastle and the North East has been fantastic.”
The Light Dragoons have undertaken a number of different roles in Afghanistan. Soldiers from A Squadron acted as the eyes and ears of the brigade, and provided route security for convoys.
D Squadron delivered training to the Afghan National Police Force, while B Squadron acted on military intelligence to remove key insurgents and their weapons.
Here in the UK, C Squadron was the Rear Operations Group, ensuring the families remaining behind were well supported.
Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Sam Plant MBE said: “I am extremely proud of what we have achieved. Our soldiers worked tirelessly through sweltering heat to set the highest standards in every respect.
“It is a great privilege to take part in this homecoming parade and I know that every one of us will be deeply grateful for the support that the public give and at the same time immensely proud that we are finally home, having done a job to the best of our ability. The parade means a lot to us.”
It was the fourth tour of duty for the brigade, normally based at Norfolk. During the tour, they lost Sergeant Lee Davidson, of Doncaster, who was killed in action on September 9.
Just before the start of yesterday’s parade, a man collapsed outside the Civic Centre. Paramedics were called and the man, who had gone to watch the parade, was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary.