Slideshow: Huge crowds welcome home RAF heroes
Emma KnightsWith about 2,000 people clapping and cheering as they marched by, a squadron of RAF heroes was given a welcome home to be proud of in Swaffham today.Huge crowds of people young and old lined the streets to say a big 'well done' to the II (AC) Squadron and supporting units based at RAF Marham following their tour of Afghanistan.Emma Knights
With about 2,000 people clapping and cheering as they marched by, a squadron of RAF heroes was given a welcome home to be proud of in Swaffham today.
Huge crowds of people young and old lined the streets to say a big 'well done' to the II (AC) Squadron and supporting units based at RAF Marham following their tour of Afghanistan.
Excitement filled the air as the expectant crowds awaited their arrival, some people started tapping their hands and feet to the sound of the Band of the RAF Regiment in the distance, before everybody erupted into huge rounds of applause, cheers and whistles as the squadron moved through the town.
It clearly meant a great deal to the men and women from the squadron whose faces broke into smiles as they heard the support of the hundreds of people who had turned out to pay tribute to their bravery.
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At the Market Place members of ex-servicemen associations gathered with their standards, and dignitaries watched on with the crowds as each member of the squadron was presented with the Operation Herrick Medal by Richard Jewson, Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk.
A flypast of two Tornado GR4s added to the pomp and ceremony of this poignant military spectacle.
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Wing Commander John Turner, Officer Commanding II (AC) Squadron thanked the crowds for the 'overwhelming' public turnout, and gave his 'sincerest thanks' to his squadron and supporting units for their outstanding efforts in the harshest of environments in Afghanistan where they were under the constant threat of attack.
He said they should be 'justifiably proud' of their medals, and thanked their family and friends who had supported them back home while they were in Afghanistan.
One little boy could not wait to tell his dad just how proud he was of him. Breaking free from the crowds as soon as the ceremony had finished Jevan, four, was the first to run up to the squadron and gave his dad Sgt Jason Cook, 37, a great big hug.
Jevan said: 'I am proud of my dad because he is home.'
Holding his son, Sgt Cook, from King's Lynn, said: 'The parade was excellent, quite emotional really, especially because a lot of people turned out.'
Cpl Andrew Fellowes, 36, from Grimsby, said: 'The turnout was absolutely fantastic, more people than I'd expected. I just felt very proud to see the people supporting us including all the old gents with their flags and medals. It was a proud moment and very moving.'
His wife Kate, 27, was in crowd with her mum and dad Anne and Kevin Rowlinson, both 53.
She said: 'Watching the parade I was really proud of them all. They work really hard and it is great to see everyone out supporting them.'
Lesley Reeves, 41 and from Gooderstone, near Swaffham, watched the parade with her children Jessie and Ellie, four and eight.
She said: 'We went to show our support for the guys and to let them know we are all here, that we have been thinking of them and we are glad they have arrived home safely.
'It is also nice to show the children and explain why there is a parade so they understand what is going on in other parts of the world.'
Former Royal Navy man Robert Maddern, 78, from Watton, and who was at the parade with his wife Joan, 76, said: 'We have got to support them. I have read several books about the problems in Afghanistan and the least we can do is welcome them home.
'It was a wonderful turn out and the weather was wonderful as well.'
The II (AC) Squadron patrolled the Afghanistan skies between April and July this year to help keep the Nato-led troops on the ground safe by looking ahead for possible enemy activity.
During their time taking responsibility for the Operation Herrick Tornado Detachment crews flew 500 sorties and clocked nearly 1,700 flying hours providing support for ground-based forces.
The squadron has now handed over responsibility to 13 Squadron which will be the last to go out on tour to Afghanistan from RAF Marham before responsibility is handed over to RAF Lossiemouth.