Hampshire to celebrate return of armed forces

Thousands of people are expected to line the streets of historic Winchester early next year to formally welcome back some of the thousands of Hampshire based servicemen and women who have recently returned from active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

There are more service personnel and their families stationed in Hampshire than in the whole of Scotland and the Ministry of Defence has always had a significant presence in the county with military garrisons and bases in Aldershot, Bordon, Winchester and the Andover area, RAF Odiham and a big naval base in Portsmouth.

Hampshire is the first county in Britain to have welcomed home its massed forces in this way.  Led by a military band, representatives from the armed forces including the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards, The King’s Royal Hussars and 4 General Support Medical Regiment will march through the centre of Winchester to a special reception in the Great Hall on the morning of Tuesday 29 January 2008.

The leader of Hampshire County Council, Ken Thornber, said it had long been his desire to see the service of all returning regiments being acknowledged and recognised in this way.  “Service personnel and their families are greatly valued in Hampshire. Recently they have faced great hardship on our behalf on active service in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

“The armed forces have already been welcomed back through the individual towns in which their barracks are based.  Now it is the turn of the County to mark their safe return and record our thanks to them for their duty and sacrifice.

“Along with the Lord Lieutenant’s office and Winchester City Council, I am honoured to host this reception for them on behalf of Hampshire County Council.”

Brigadier Miles Wade, the Commander of 145 (South) Brigade, the Senior Military Commander in Hampshire said: “The Winchester reception will be a special event, the first time people will welcome back troops from across the whole of their county, not just one particular unit or regiment. To have our achievements celebrated in such a way will be immensely uplifting for all the servicemen of Hampshire and we are extremely grateful to the County Council, with whom we have such a warm relationship”.

Cllr George Beckett, Leader of Winchester City Council said "It is fitting that the armed forces should march through the city of Winchester which has had such a long history of military and naval connections dating back from King Alfred to the present day. I am personally delighted that Winchester City Council is able to take a leading role in staging this well deserved event of recognition."

Mrs Mary Fagan, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, is co-hosting the reception and said: “This is a wonderful thing for the County and City to do together to show our gratitude to all those who have served with honour in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

It is expected that thousands of people will line the route as the regiments march off at 11.00 am from King Alfred’s statue at the bottom of Winchester High Street, past the Guildhall and through the West Gate to the reception at the Great Hall.