SLIDESHOW: Crowds fly the flags for soldiers’ return home

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The crowds gathered hushed in anticipation, lining St Annes Square with sporadically-placed miniature Union Flags fluttering in the slight winter breeze.

They were here to welcome the men who had risked life and limb for their country, now safely and thankfully back home.

The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment parade through St Annes.

The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment parade through St Annes.

And then, over the crest of The Crescent they came to a rapturous applause - led by the band of the King’s Division.

Around 120 men from the Second Battalion of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment passed through the town’s streets after attending a service at St Annes Parish Church, with several Fylde coast natives among their ranks.

Lance-Corporal Matthew Fearon, 25, from South Street, Lytham, said: “It gives you shivers down your spine, it’s a good feeling.

“A lot of people turned up, and my mum and dad were there too - they’re really proud of me.”

The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment parade through St Annes.

The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment parade through St Annes.

Kingsman Michael Johnston, 23, from Layton, added: “I was proud because these people have come and turned out to see us and thank us for the little bit that we’ve done.”

Among those on the route was seven-year-old Ben Stock, who had been given permission to take the day off from St Nicholas Primary School, Marton, to see his aunty’s fiancé, Kingsman Jason Irving, march.

Ben said: “My uncle Jason was fighting in the Army so I wanted to see him.”

His grandmother Pat Stock, 59, from Benting Avenue, South Shore, said: “We’re here to support him and all the rest of the boys.

“It’s a relief that he’s just come back.”

Kingsman Irving, 27, said: “I could hear him screaming my name.

“It was great and it’s nice to see that people care.

“A turnout like we had today just shows that people care.”

Kingsman Stephen Hyatt, 27, from Clifford Road, North Shore, has just completed his training and was among those to march with his returning comrades.

He said: “It was really good and I enjoyed it, especially because I had my mates back.”

Former servicemen also turned out to pay their respects to this current crop of fighting men,. all of whom are based at Weeton Barracks.

Second World War veteran Bill White, 89, from Sandhurst Avenue, St Annes, was among them.

Mr White, who served in Germany between 1943 and 1947, is the present vice chairman of the St Annes branch of the Royal British Legion.

He said: “It’s very good to see them home again.

“I went to the service, which was excellent, and I think everybody appreciates what they’re doing as you can see by all the people here.

“I’ve come to pay my respects and it’s marvellous to see all the people turn out.”

Former Royal Artilleryman Philip Da Silva, 60, from Church Road, Ansdell, added: “It’s good to see them all come back safely and it’s very important that we do this.

“In my day they just didn’t do this so it’s we want them to feel the public’s on their side.”

In April, some 400 of the battalion’s soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and during the tour closed several UK bases, supported operations run by the Afghan National Security Forces and successfully handed control of Nad-e Ali to the Afghans.

The march was the second of three homecoming parades across the regiment’s recruiting ground in the North West.

Lt Col Neil Unsworth, the unit’s commanding officer, said: “It means a great deal to us to see that we’ve got the public’s support, especially in our hometowns.

“We are very fortunate at the moment to be based in the heart of our recruiting area.

“We’ve been back for about four weeks now and we’re gradually getting used to normal life again.”