It’s great to have our boys back home

Royal Horse Artillery Parade through Sheffield City Centre after returning home from Afghanistan
Royal Horse Artillery Parade through Sheffield City Centre after returning home from Afghanistan
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You could feel it echo through your chest and legs.

One round from one 105mm ‘light’ gun on Devonshire Green at 12.15 was enough to chill the blood and numb the senses.

And it would have been enough to flatten half of Dinnington 11 miles away had it been live ammunition, such is the cannon’s range and power.

Sheffield gathered to mark the homecoming parade of the ‘Chestnuts’ of the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery.

Men and women recruited largely from the Sheffield area who returned from Afghanistan in October without losing a single man or woman.

And now they’re on the march down Division Street, a perfectly symmetrical red, black, white and gold battery of men and women, past bars and restaurants some of them may frequent in less disciplined formations tonight.

The immaculate band in their grey greatcoats and red plumes are led and followed by the glory of the cannon horses so intense and full of muscular life as they pull the highly polished agents of death.

Some shopkeepers come out to look, others stay behind counters as men, women and horses, all impossibly smart, move as one toward the City Hall.

Big lads in bloody butchers’ aprons stand outside Simmonites, meaty arms folded, nodding their acknowledgement.

A toddler waves a flag from her stroller and a 6ft 4ins middle-aged transexual in a blonde wig and two-day stubble takes pictures on a pink phone and giggles.

In Barkers Pool the top brass awaits. The Lord Mayor, politicians, Regiment Commanding Officer Lt Col Mike Elviss and a crowd of hundreds applaud as the troops form ranks in front of the City Hall.

Soldiers stand in the rain and wait as their forebears did at Waterloo in 1815 and at Mons in 1914.

Sheffield Lord Mayor Vickie Priestley tells how ‘proud and happy the city is to welcome you back to Sheffield’ and thanks them sincerely for their sacrifice.

Lt Col Mike Elviss’s plummy officer tones are in contrast to the Mayor’s Sheffield vowels when he speaks of the ‘brutal and uncivilizing experience of the extreme violence and harsh conditions in Afghanistan’ and praises the city for having been ‘a great source of talent for us for many years’.

Inspection and speeches over, parade moves on.

“Dunt it mek yer proud,” says one middle-aged lady to her friend, both laughing in embarrassment as they blow their noses and wipe away a tear.

Those around her agree and as the parade goes from Barkers Pool towards Fargate one mum shouts: “There’s our James!”

James winks back from under his soldier’s shiny peak and his family cheers.

Fargate stops to applaud as the 250 men and 22 horses pass.

Boots girls stand in the store window in their black and white smocks, smiling and picking out their favourites as the unflinching soldiers press on.

As they round the corner of High Street and Arundel Gate six floors worth of office workers wave from the windows of Hallam University’s 1-11 Building.

Women in the New York Nail parlour opposite stare out, largely unmoved through laquery fumes of polish.

The parade finally makes its way to Tudor Square to be dismissed by their Regimental Sergeant Major and the young men and women, looking even younger as they chat about football, where they’re parked and what’s happening later.

Now they have time to reflect on Lt Col Mike Elviss’s earlier words urging them to:

“Enjoy your Sheffield day, rest and prepare yourself for what is to come, for something is certain to come.”