More than one thousand Royal Marines, Sappers and Gunners from 3 Commando Brigade paraded through Plymouth on Friday to mark their return from a successful six-month tour in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Hundreds of loved ones and well-wishers braved storm-force winds and driving rain to gather on Plymouth Hoe and along Royal Parade in the city centre on Friday 11 November, Armistice Day.
Troops from 3 Commando Brigade Headquarters, 30 Commando Information Exploitation (IX) Group, 42 Commando, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery (RA) and 24 Commando Engineer Regiment marked their homecoming with a remembrance service and a parade which included injured personnel, some in wheelchairs.
3 Commando Brigade led Task Force Helmand on Operation HERRICK 14 from April to September 2011. It was the biggest Afghanistan deployment involving military personnel from the South West of England in several years.
Friday’s events began with a medal ceremony for 30 Commando IX Group on Plymouth Hoe, followed by a full parade form up for an Armistice Day service and roll of honour for the men lost during the six-month tour.
This was followed by the national two-minute silence, signalled by a gun round from the Royal Citadel (home of 29 Commando Regiment RA), and then a march through the city of Plymouth with a VIP salute taking place on Royal Parade.
Speaking about 3 Commando Brigade’s achievements in Afghanistan, Brigadier Ed Davis, the Brigade’s Commander, said the campaign in Helmand is very much on track thanks not only to the efforts made during 3 Commando Brigade’s tour, but also because of the hard work and sacrifice of those on previous tours.
He paid tribute to the Service personnel who had been a part of HERRICK 14:
It has been humbling to see the sacrifice and the professionalism of our people. Their humanity and their desire to reach out to the people of Helmand and their insatiable desire to make a difference has been inspiring.
The Royal Marines, Sappers and Gunners from the parading Commando units based at RM Stonehouse, Bickleigh and the Royal Citadel have strong links with the people of Plymouth, with many in their ranks coming from the city and surrounding areas.
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, spokesman for Headquarters 3 Commando Brigade, said:
The timing of the 3 Commando Brigade homecoming parade could not be more poignant. As we march through our home city of Plymouth on Armistice Day, at the forefront of our thoughts will be those who made the ultimate sacrifice during Operation HERRICK 14 as well as those who have fallen in previous conflicts.
The parade will also be our opportunity for the Royal Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen of the brigade to thank the people of Plymouth and our families for the tremendous support they have given to us over the last six months that we have been serving in Helmand.
Officiating at the march and medal parade were Commander-in-Chief Fleet Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Brigadier Ed Davis and the Under Secretary of State for Defence Lord Astor of Hever. Special guests at the event included bereaved relatives.
After the main events in Plymouth about 3,000 family members and friends braved the weather to watch 650 Royal Marines from 42 Commando receive their Afghanistan campaign medals from Major General Gordon Messenger at their Bickleigh Barracks base.
General Messenger, addressing the parade and families, said:
I must congratulate 42 Commando for a really first class tour of Afghanistan. It is not easy being a soldier in Afghanistan, they have to be three seemingly contrasting personas.
First they have to be combat troops and ready to fight at any time, second they have to be diplomats ready to reassure the people of Afghanistan rather than frighten them by their presence, and thirdly be trainers and mentors to the Afghan forces, both army and police.
Often they have to be possess all characteristics at the same time, firing at insurgents and reassuring a young Afghan child at the same time.
They therefore have to be very skilled at combining these skills and deploying them at the right time, showing great dexterity and courage and empathy, which 42 Commando have done supremely well.
The legacy of 42 Commando’s success will last for many years in Afghanistan. And they have not done this without loss or sacrifice.
General Messenger also thanked all the families for their support:
I must also thank all the families of the Marines. You are the unsung heroes of tours. The guys can share experiences they have jointly undergone and which they have volunteered for as a job they find rewarding.
But families are not in that position and feel anguish and stress of separation alone and sometimes have endured this on up to three tours. This requires its own courage and patience.