A heroes’ welcome was given to the Royal Marines of 40 Commando when thousands of people packed the streets of Taunton to welcome them home from duty in Afghanistan. The unit was also presented with campaign medals by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.
About 15,000 cheering and banner-waving well-wishers gave the Marines a tumultuous greeting as they paraded through the town centre, headed by HM Band Royal Marines (Plymouth) to mark the end of their final seven-month tour to Afghanistan.
The unit was the first Royal Marines into Afghanistan and the last out as the drawdown of forces approaches.
The Mayor of Taunton Councillor Libby Lisgo and guests addressed the massed ranks of marines and a guard as they halted in the town square after the march round the centre. She said: “40 Commando were the first Commando unit into Afghanistan and now the last out.
“40 Commando have deployed four times to Afghanistan in 12 years. The Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade have suffered 61 deaths in that time and a huge number wounded. 40 Commando have had 18 killed in action in Afghanistan. My thoughts and those of Taunton are with the families and friends of the deceased, for whom life will never be the same again.’’
She called for a moment of silence to ‘remember and say a silent thankyou to the brave’ who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Jackson also spoke to the crowd and his troops: “We genuinely puffed out our chests today on this special occasion. Thankyou for your overwhelming support and for allowing us to march through the wonderful town of Taunton.’’
The 700 Marines, back from successfully helping the Afghan National Forces take lead responsibility for security and military tasks, then had the honour of His Royal Highness officiate at their Operation Herrick (operations in Afghanistan) medal parade.
HRH, as honorary Captain General of the Royal Marines, was the guest of honour at 40 Commando’s base at Norton Manor, near Taunton, to present campaign medals to those whose most recent tour had been their first to serve in Afghanistan. Those who had served in Afghanistan before with 40 Commando in 2001 (elements of 40Commando) 2008 and 2010 already received medals.
.After the medals parade Captain Jack Broughton, second in command of 40 Commando Logistics Company, hugged his family (wife Gillian and son Thomas 21 months) and thanked them for coming to see him on both parades. He said: “It’s great to have my wife and lad here. It is great to be back home and to see Thomas so much bigger than when I left seven months ago. The town centre parade was very uplifting and shows how much people have been thinking of us while we were away.’’
He has been working at brigade headquarters in Afghanistan (a step up from his normal unit level) and described the tour as a constant and rewarding challenge. He added: “The parade and march-past was a fitting finale for all the operational tours by Marine units in Afghanistan over the years. Everyone did us proud.’’
Gillian said: “We really enjoyed the parades. It was a great atmosphere in Taunton. Thomas loved waving and breaking his Union Jack flags at the march.’’
Corporal Sebastian Rolland, 28, of Luton, of C-Company has served in Afghanistan three times with the heavy weapons section and has been in the Corps of marines for six years. He said: “It gives me a feeling of massive pride to march through Taunton and have everyone cheering and clapping. It means a ;lot to have so many people’s support. The medals parade was very stirring and it was a great honour to have the Captain General there for all the lads.
“Having been to Afghan three times I have noticed the huge difference from when there was a concentration on heavy weapons use in the early tours, to now an emphasis on successfully mentoring the Afghan forces. It is “very rewarding to see them taking on responsibility for security themselves.’’ The unit is now on eight weeks’ leave before resuming training.