Crowds braved the wind and rain to line the streets of Taunton yesterday for an emotional welcome home for 700 members of 40 Commando Royal Marines (40 Cdo RM) after a challenging deployment on Operation HERRICK in Afghanistan.
After the unit’s campaign medals parade yesterday at its base in nearby Norton Manor Camp, it was the turn of the town of Taunton to show its appreciation of 40 Cdo RM’s achievements and sacrifices in Sangin, Helmand province, Afghanistan.
The medal parade was the largest ever gathering of personnel at Norton Manor Camp, and family and friends enjoyed an emotional and proud day.
Captain-General of the Royal Marines, His Royal Highness Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh, presented medals, spoke to families of Marines, and inspected the parade.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul James, Commanding Officer of 40 Cdo RM, summed up the feelings about the parade:
It was a fantastic occasion, a very proud day,” he said.
There were more than 2,500 people in Norton Manor, probably the largest ever gathering here. It was fantastic to have the Duke of Edinburgh here, he means a lot to the Corps.
Another aspect was to have as many injured Marines here as possible. It meant that the well and the recovering Marines could be here in one place, having last seen each other in theatre.
“To have their families here as well means the event had extra poignancy. The injured have had attendance here for the medals parade as a prime goal in their recovery.”
After the parade, the Royal Marines marched through heavy rain from the county cricket ground to the town centre, exercising the ceremonial honour of the ‘Freedom of Taunton’, to attend a civic ceremony to mark their safe return to a town with which they have very strong links.
The troops were cheered all the way by ecstatic flag- and banner-waving crowds whose enthusiasm was not dampened by the weather. Businesses came to a halt to watch the event and showed their gratitude to their adopted Marines by dressing their shops and office fronts with flags and standards.
A guard of commandos was inspected by the Lord-Lieutenant of Somerset, Lady Gass, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox, and Taunton Deane’s Mayor, Councillor Jefferson Horsley, who said the town had ‘adopted’ the Marines and their fortunes were followed closely by everyone in the area. He also paid tribute to those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in combat.
A brief religious blessing was conducted before Dr Fox addressed the assembled Marines and crowd:
If they can brave the Taliban we can brave the weather,” he said. “40 Commando Royal Marines has returned to the warmest of welcomes after a tour in which their hard work and sacrifice has made us here at home safer.
After the rousing welcome, Lieutenant Colonel James said:
We were expecting huge support, but this has exceeded all our expectations. The people of Taunton are always fully behind us and today marching through the town meant a lot to us.
Also attending the parade was the Mayor of Wootton Bassett, Mary Champion. Councillor Champion was invited because her town plays such a poignant and moving role in the repatriation of casualties from the conflict.
Fourteen members of 40 Cdo RM lost their lives during their latest tour of duty in Afghanistan: Sergeant Steven Derbyshire, Lance Corporal Michael Taylor, Corporals Christopher Harrison, Stephen Walker and Stephen Curley, and Marines Adam Brown, Scott Taylor, Jonathan Crookes, Matthew Harrison, David Hart, Steven Birdsall, Anthony Hotine, Richard Hollington and Paul Warren.
The medal parade also included Elizabeth Cross presentations to bereaved families.