An army colonel has challenged 10,000 people to turn up to support local soldiers as they prepare to march proudly through the streets of Watford.
Lieutenant Colonel Simon Browne, of The 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, the urged residents to give the soldiers a hero's homecoming – regardless of their views on the war in Iraq.
The battalion, better know simply as The Poachers, recruits across Hertfordshire and currently has many members from Watford itself.
In November, The Poachers returned from a six-month tour of Iraq, and Lt Col Browne says the troops deserve a warm welcome home.
He said: “The guys always look forward to these sort of things because, lets be honest, it is a chance to show off.
“But we call it a homecoming parade and we call it that because many of us are actually coming home and it is a way of the guys being recognised by the communities they come from.
“It is also a way of giving the people of Watford the chance to thank the guys for what they do.”
The parade will be held on Wednesday, March 11, when the soldiers will leave Lower High Street at 12.30pm, and march across Exchange Road into the High Street.
There will then be a short civic ceremony and an inspection of the troops, before the soldiers march on into The Parade.
There they will be dismissed before attending a civic reception in their honour.
Lt Col Browne is expecting a “big full-blown parade” involving about 300 soldiers, a band and lots of “pomp and circumstance”.
He added: “It is a huge honour to be able to march through a town like this because cities and town's don't give us the honour lightly so it will definitely be a huge honour for us.
“It also symbolises the very close relationship we have with the recruitment are.”
The Poachers were in Basra, in southern Iraq, for six months in 2006, leaving behind “one of the most violent places in the world”.
Two soldiers in the battalion lost their lives during the dangerous tour, while 23 were wounded.
Lt Col Browne, however, says the city, with the help of the British troops stationed there, is now a safe, civilised place.
During the last tour, from May to November last year, no soldier from The Poachers was injured.
He says Basra is now a “fantastic, peaceful, fully-functioning city”.
“The great frustration we had in Iraq is that it is a classic case of good news not being good news.
“People who will instinctively be against what we do have a certain view, and in my opinion, it is a pretty jaundice view of what has been going on in Iraq.”
He added: “We do what we have been told, because that is what the army does.
“People might not fully support the war and not fully understand the politics behind it but the guys go there with no agenda, they do the job to the best of their abilities and they have met a huge, huge challenge to help a city that was in a pretty bad state.”
Lt Col Browne also challenged as many people as possible to come and cheer on the parade, warning Watford could be outdone by other towns and cities in the UK.
“All I would say is when our 1st Battalion came back from Afghanistan Norwich managed to get 10,000 people onto the street to support them.
“So there is a challenge – be better than Norwich.”