WEARSIDE soldiers were given a hero’s welcome when they returned home after battling the Taliban.
Families and friends cheered as dozens of North East-based officers and soldiers from 35 Battery, 39th Regiment Royal Artillery, landed back in the region after completing a six-month tour-of-duty in Afghanistan.
There were emotional scenes as the returning heroes paraded at Albemarle Barracks, in Northumberland, for an inspection and address from the Honorary Regimental Colonel, Brigadier Nick Clissitt.
Soldier David Divens, of Southwick, Sunderland, was reunited with fiancee Sonia McLoughlin, 24, and baby son Zac, whom he last saw at just nine days old.
“I was home on rest and recuperation leave when Zac was born at the end of July,” he said. “I had to go back to Afghanistan when he was nine days old. Now he’s 10 weeks old and looking wonderful.
“It’s fantastic to be back with him and Sonia again.
“I feel relief more than anything at the moment. Relief that it’s all over and that I can spend time with my family back where I belong.
“I’m a massive Sunderland fan, too, so I’ll be getting to the matches as well.”
Sonia said she was relieved to have her partner back safe and sound.
“David came back the day before I was due with Zac, which was the 29th,” she said. “But Zac wasn’t born until July 31, by Caesarean.
“It was great to have David at the birth and it’s great to have him home again now.”
Wearside gunner Duncan Collins, 23, was also reunited with wife Lucille and two-year-old son Alex.
“It’s great to be home,” said Duncan.
“I’ve got five weeks’ leave now and we’re going to make the most of it.”
Duncan manned the hi-tech Multiple Launch Rocket System in the warzone.
“It has been a routine tour with no high dramas,” he said. “You get good days and bad days, but coming home is definitely the best day.”
The unit provided precision fire support for 3 Commando Brigade during their service in Helmand province, which began in March.
Prayers were said for those killed in action, commendations read, and many soldiers received operational service medals.
The unit, now replaced in the warzone by the regiment’s 132 Battery, was part of the Nato International Assistance Force, deployed as security for the frontline troops.