YORKSHIRE’S heroes flew home to emotional reunions with their families and friends last night.
But there were also sad memories as the troops from 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment returned from an arduous tour on the Afghanistan front line.
Many of them worked alongside Lance Cpl Graham Shaw, 27, of Golcar, and Cpl Liam Riley, 21, who died.
They were killed by roadside bombs while serving as part of the 1 Coldstream Guards Battle Group near Malgir, in Helmand.
Their deaths were recalled by troops and their families as they were reunited last night at Battlesbury Barracks in Wiltshire, where the unit – fondly known as The Dukes – are based.
Among those returning from the conflict was Private James Holland, 23, of Ashenhurst, Newsome.
The former Newsome High School pupil joined up when he was just 16 and flew back from a two-month stint in Sangit.
He was reunited with girlfriend Nicola and their eight-month-old daughter Maddison.
Pte Holland said: “Graham Shaw was a good mate and a good soldier, and I knew him well. His death, and that of Liam, were horrible for the whole Battalion. Everyone was on a real downer for days.
“It has been a hard tour. I worked with a mentoring group with the Afghan National Army at Sangit and then spent time at an observation post.
“The conditions haven’t been great but we are glad to be back.
“It’s great to see Nicola and Maddison, but it will be straight back to work tomorrow”.
Nicola, who has been with James for almost three years, said: “I’m just so glad he’s home. He’s already noticed a difference in Maddison, as she’s grown so much and now has teeth.
“I try not to watch the news about Afghanistan on the TV. You hear things that upset you. But they say the worst is hearing the knock on the door.
“We just want to enjoy time together with Maddison”.
Major Nick McKenzie, who flew back with his troops in Corunna Company, also paid tribute to Lance Cpl Shaw.
He was the officer who gave a eulogy at the moving funeral service at St John’s Church, Golcar.
“We had done a lot of work together and I knew Lance Cpl Shaw very well.
“He had started off as a sniper but served in many roles and was a great soldier to have alongside you.
“It has been a tough tour but the boys have acquitted themselves very well.
“You have to remember that for some of them, this was their first tour in a conflict and we have taken boys aged 18 and 19 into a difficult situation.
“It has certainly been a maturing exercise for many of them. Some troops were there for their third, fourth or fifth tour but others had to say `Goodbye’ to their families for the first time and that is always hard.
“The guys have done a fantastic job, not only in operations in Helmand but also working with the Afghan National Army and with the local police.
“It is a big responsibility as we have to hand over to them in the future.
“It was a challenge. When we got there we were heading into winter and temperatures were very low but since February, the heat has increased and the boys have had to work in heat of up to 35 deg Celsius.
“They have served the unit well, the Army well and their country well”.
A total of 77 Dukes’ soldiers were deployed throughout Helmand Province. Some 31 of them formed part of the ‘Mastiff Group’ operating in the Babaji region in the heavily armoured Mastiff Protected Mobility Vehicle. They undertook essential tasks such as transporting troops, protecting large convoys, and fighting the Taliban with their advanced weapons systems.
The other 46 were split across the region and performed a variety of tasks ranging from drivers through to snipers. Many of them were performing the vital and challenging role of being Battle Casualty Replacements, replacing troops in a number of different units who had lost soldiers through death or injury. Major McKenzie said: “All these soldiers played a key role in the recent Operation Moshtarak, during which they were responsible for improving the security and quality of life of the Afghan people.
“Their return will be tinged with sadness as the Battalion and its wider family remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice on this tour of duty.
“Lance Corporal Shaw and Corporal Riley were both killed by Improvised Explosive Devices on the same patrol in February.
“We also had two other troops wounded in incidents but we have not suffered as badly as other units”.