Hundreds of people lined the streets of Sheffield to welcome home heroes from Third Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment.
Crowds turned out in the searing heat yesterday afternoon to watch the battalion, formerly the Duke of Wellington Regiment, as they exercised their Freedom of the City.
The parade, which set off from Barker’s Pool, is one of many being held this week by the troops, who spent last summer battling the heat and danger of Afghanistan.
Captain Mark-Andrew Poots said: “It may be hot here, but it doesn’t begin to compare to the temperatures these guys were fighting in this time last year in Southern Afghanistan – wearing full uniform and heavy equipment.
“It’s wonderful for these soldiers to know how much support they have back home and I guarantee, next time they find themselves having to do something difficult in the line of duty, the applause will be ringing in their ears and driving them on – it’s very powerful.”
Private Andrew McArthur, of Arbourthorne, completed a six-and-a-half month tour last summer - at the same time that six British soldiers were killed after an explosion hit the armoured vehicle they were travelling in.
Andrew, aged 21, said: “I knew three of the guys who were killed.
“As harsh as it sounds, you come to terms with it quickly, because out there, there’s no time to grieve. We have a job to do and that comes first, otherwise we’ll have more casualties on our hands.
“There’s time to mourn when we get home.”
He said the public’s support meant a lot to the soldiers.
Private McArthur said: “It means so much – it’s something we can take with us when we’re away from home.”
The soldiers, led by the band of the King’s Division, also marched in Rotherham yesterday and will be in Barnsley today and Halifax and Huddersfield tomorrow.
Private Connor Millward, aged 20, of Gleadless, completed his first tour of Afghanistan last summer.
He said: “It’s another world out there – you can’t even imagine. It’s nerve wracking at first, because you don’t know what you’re going into, but once you’re settled and have your day-to-day routine, it’s not so bad.
“It’s tough being away from home, but it’s also surreal re-adjusting to life back home when you return. Days like this, when we get to walk down the street and see people cheering and clapping for us – people we’ve never even met – are pretty special.”
Robert Strafford, aged 65, of Netherthorpe told The Star he makes a point of attending every parade he can: “These lads deserve our support. If it wasn’t for them, future generations wouldn’t be here, we owe them our gratitude.”
Catherine Matthews, aged 44, of Handsworth, agreed: “I don’t know any of the soldiers personally but I think it’s our duty to show up and let them know how much we appreciate the tough job they’re doing out there for all of us.”
Mitchell Brown, aged 18, from Manor, has been in the army for less than a month.
He said: “So far it’s as I expected, hard work but I still have a lot of training to go.
“I think the hardest part for me, when I eventually do a tour, will be being away from my family.
“Luckily I’m surrounded and supported by guys who’ve been and done the job already, but it does scare me - the thought of going and not coming back.”