Thousands of proud and grateful well-wishers lined the streets of Cardiff city centre this morning to welcome home the Welsh Guards – just in time for Christmas.
More than 300 soldiers from the 1st Battalion marched from Cardiff Castle to rousing applause and cries of thanks after a gruelling operational tour of Afghanistan.
Lieutenant Colonel Dino Bossi, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, said: “It is a hugely proud day, we call this a homecoming parade and it really does feel like coming home.
“It is amazing to see the reaction of the crowd and to feel the warmth coming off them is frankly, just wonderful.
“And it’s fantastic to get home before Christmas, we’re very much looking forward to some Christmas leave.”
He added: “Sometimes when you’re in Afghanistan it’s difficult to put it all into context.
“I think it’s also difficult for people to understand what we do out there.
“This gives them a chance to show their appreciation and us an opportunity to see that the sacrifices that we made are appreciated.”
Proud mother Julie Thomas from Aberdare felt especially compelled to welcome the troops home.
Her son, Welsh guardsman Mathew Thomas had his tour of Afghanistan cut short by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
Thankfully the soldier’s injured arm could be saved by medics and he is expected to make a full recovery.
Mrs Thomas said: “He’s here today cheering his mates on. I’m just ecstatic to see them all home.
“It’s fantastic to see everyone here showing their appreciation. It’s a wonderful occasion, we are so proud of them all.”
Others lining the streets of the capital included children from Kings Monkton School in Cardiff who clapped and cheered as the procession marched past them on St Mary Street.
School teacher Victoria Houlihan said: “They all had a good time. We were invited down here by the Welsh Guards and were more than happy to accept. We’re all really happy to be here cheering them on.”
Lance Sergeant Marc Devine from Ely, Cardiff, was at the parade with his 14-month-old son Archie.
The 30-year-old said: “It’s lovely to be home, obviously nice to see the family at first, words cannot explain it really.
“He was only five months old when I left, we’ve just come back from a quick holiday in Mexico, its just been nice to do a bit of bonding with my son, especially with Christmas coming up, I can’t wait to be honest, I’m just really looking forward to it.”
He added: “The tour was not as bad as the last one the boys went on but of course there were some challenging moments.
“We got each other through it at the end of the day and we’re home now safe and sound.”
Missing from the procession however were four men, Lance Corporal Lee Davies, Guardsman Craig Roderick, Guardsman Apete Tuisovurua and Warrant Officer Leonard Thomas who were killed in action during their tour of duty.
All four were honoured at private service held at City Hall before the homecoming parade.
Lieutenant Colonel Dino Bossi said “It’s been an extraordinarily tough tour, very costly and I know that everybody will be pleased that side of it is over.
“However, everyone is convinced they have done a good and worthwhile job and to have that conformed by the reaction of the crowd today was marvellous.”
On Saturday the Welsh Guards will receive a minute’s applause from the Millennium Stadium crowd at half time in the rugby international against Australia.
On Sunday a selection of guardsmen will watch Cardiff City take on Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship.
And on Tuesday the guards will be presented with their medals of duty from Prince Charles in Swansea.