Slideshow: Crowds line Oakham streets to welcome home troops

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CROWDS of people lined the streets of Oakham today (Friday) to welcome home soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

Members of 32 (Minden) Battery, 16 Regiment Royal Artillery, were greeted to a warm reception from hundreds of residents as they paraded around the town.

Members of 32 (Minden) Battery 16 Regiment Royal Artillery parade in Oakham today. They are pictured in Melton Road   Photo: SM150612-003ow'32

Members of 32 (Minden) Battery 16 Regiment Royal Artillery parade in Oakham today. They are pictured in Melton Road Photo: SM150612-003ow'32

The soldiers, based at St George’s Barracks in North Luffenham, have spent the last six months in Afghanistan and were accompanied on their parade by the Band of The Brigade of Gurkhas.

The parade started in Northgate before the troops marched along Station Road, Melton Road, and High Street to Oakham Castle where they were awarded their Operation Herrick campaign medals in front of people, young and old, who had turned out to give their support.

The Lord Lieutenant of Rutland Dr Lawrence Howard said the soldiers were given a “wonderful welcome home”.

He said: “It’s been a splendid day and they’ve had a wonderful welcome home.

“The people of Oakham have shown their true colours by turning out in force to celebrate the achievement of men and women in Afghanistan.

“I’m enormously proud of the county and its links with the 16 Regiment Royal Artillery and wish the soldiers well in their future endeavours.”

The parade started at 11am and took the soldiers along Northgate, Station Road and Melton Road, before they were met with huge cheers from families showing their support in High Street.

Mary Williams, 87, of Brooke Road, Oakham, was watching as the soldiers marched along High Street.

She said: “The reason I have come out to support them is because my husband Edmond had served alongside the Gurkhas while serving in Burma.

“I also have a grandson who is on leave from Afghanistan so it means a lot to be able to come and support them all.”

The troops then made their way to Oakham Castle where more than 20 servicemen and women were presented with their Operation Herrick campaign medals by Dr Howard.

Six-year-old Phoenix Robinson, of Queen’s Road, Oakham, saw her dad Sgt Lional Robinson, awarded his medal, with her mum Toni, 30.

She said: “I’m really proud of my Daddy. I can’t wait to see his medal and show my friends at show and tell in school.”

Karen Kennedy, 31, of Ladywell Road, Oakham, gathered with friends and family to see the medal presentation.

She said: “I feel quite patriotic to see them come back and lots of people have come out here to support them on their return home.”

Derrick Lewis, 66, of Noel Avenue, Oakham, who served as a driver for the Ministry of Defence, said: “It’s been a lovely day for them and it’s great to see them home safely. They always get good support in Oakham.”

Chris Stanley, 62, of St Albans Close, Oakham, was at the castle for the medal presentation.

She said: “I’m very pleased to see them. They’re very brave and deserve our admiration and support.

“It’s really hard for them out there so it’s great to see them back safely.”

Rutland County Council leader Roger Begy said: “Isn’t it just brilliant to see all these people here today and the weather is just right for the occasion.

“When you have been through what they have, it must be lovely to see the people of Oakham come out and support you.”

The High Sheriff of Rutland Bert Hellyer said: “The parade was excellent.

“One should commend the regiment for what they do and the people of Oakham have shown their appreciation today.”

The 32 (Minden) Battery was responsible for the operation of the force protection systems at Camp Bastion and Kandahar.

The only rapier regiment in the British forces, 16 Regiment Royal Artillery provides low level air defence over the battlefield.

It is armed with the Rapier system, a land-based air defence system, responsible for defending essential resources such as airfields and bases. The rapier system consists of a launcher with eight ready-to-fire missiles, a surveillance radar and tracker system.

The Army Long Service and Good Conduct medal was awarded to Warrant Officer Class Two McWhan and Staff Sergeant Joseph Smith, for their 15 years of service.

Concluding the medal presentation, Major General (Rtd) David Shaw thanked everyone for coming out and showing their support to the troops.