PROUD and relieved wives, girlfriends and families of South Yorkshire soldiers gathered to welcome them safely home after six months in a remote part of Afghanistan.
The 98 members of Corunna Company, Third Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment - many from Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham - were given a heroes’ welcome on their return to barracks in Warminster, Wiltshire.
It followed a six-month deployment described by one soldier as ‘intensive and arduous’, in which six from the company died when a vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb.
There were claps and cheers as the soldiers marched back into the base.
Private Ryan Mills, aged 24, of Herringthorpe, Rotherham, was thrilled to see his three-week-old son for the first time.
His partner Katie Gavin gave birth to their second son, Reagan, on August 15, two days early.
Their older son Rylam, three, was also there, along with Pte Mills’ mum Dawn Lester and his grandparents Bryan and Margaret Mills.
Pte Mills said: “Being home after so long out there is a bit surreal and it’s been emotional to see my son for the first time. I’m thrilled.”
Katie said: “It’s a relief to have him home safe and sound.” Sgt Stewart Watts, 29, from South Anston, was greeted with a kiss from delighted girlfriend Gina Barratt, of Gleadless.
He said: “We were very busy in Afghanistan, right until just before we were due to return home. It was the roughest tour I’ve done. It’s a great feeling to be back and away from there. The rest of the lads are excited to be home, too.”
Gina said: “It was such a worry when Stewart was away. It’s amazing they are home.”
Cpl Jamie Oldham, 24, from Maltby, had a surprise when he was greeted by girlfriend, Felicity McGreal, parents Paula and Andy Oldham, and auntie Tina Haynes.
Cpl Oldham, who described the tour of duty as ‘intensive and arduous’, said: “I wasn’t expecting anyone - I’d told them it was a bit far to come - but it was extremely good to see them.
“I’m coming back home this weekend and looking forward to spending time with the family and having a good night out.”
Cpl Chris Tompkins, 30, from Lowedges, said it was ‘just great’ to be home so he can spend time with his three children.
The Sheffield United fan said: “We have three weeks’ leave and my children are my top priority. As much as I love football, I don’t think I’ll have much time for it.”
Private Michael Bainbridge, 24, from Arbourthorne, said it was ‘good to be back’ - but added the next few weeks will be equally hard work as he goes on a course for promotion to Lance Corporal.
Pte Adam Lythall said it would be ‘nice just to have a beer’ and spend time with wife, Michaela and daughter Ellie-Mae, seven.
Major Ed Colver, officer commanding Corrunna Company, who grew up near Stannington and went to Westbourne School, Broomhill, said: “Over the last few weeks of the tour, we have been passing all our expertise on to the Left Flank Company of the Scots Guards who have taken over our area of responsibility.
“We also continued to be busy and mounted a final operation which involved searches of suspected insurgent compounds.”
Major Colver, 35, who was met by wife Lisa and children Philippa and Hugo, added: “The homecoming has involved a big reception and everyone is clearly extremely happy to be home.
“However, it is an extremely difficult time for the families of the six guys who were lost on the tour and our thoughts and prayers are with them.”