Norfolk's Light Dragoons return from war

Elaine MaslinAs the war in Afghanistan rages on troops based with the Light Dragoons in Norfolk are finally making their way home from the front line after what has been a long tour.Elaine Maslin

As the war in Afghanistan rages on troops based with the Light Dragoons in Norfolk are finally making their way home from the front line after what has been a long tour.

Reporter Elaine Maslin spoke to some of their wives as they prepared for the home coming next week.

It has been a very long seven months for the families of the Norfolk-based Light Dragoons.

During what has been their bloodiest tour of duty in 13 years, six men based at the Dragoons' barracks in Swanton Morley have been killed in action.

Taliban attacks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the worn torn Helmand province of the country have taken their toll.

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For those at home it is a nerve wrecking time, never knowing if they will get the ominous knock on the door.

But now the wait is nearly over.

Nearly all of the approximately 350 troops from the 500 strong Light Dragoons deployed to Afghanistan in early April will have arrived back home by the end of next week.

Some are already home having gone out earlier than the main deployment. About 80 will return to jubilant wives and children on Wednesday via Stansted. A further 80 will return next Saturday.

Yesterday their young children excited about the return of their daddies and their mums were preparing to give them a very welcome home.

Creating banners in the sunshine, they were all relieved that most of the troops are now out of the action and at Camp Bastion, in Cyprus for decompression or en route.

For Bethany Bell, 12, it is one of the first years that what her father does is really starting to hit home.

'It is hard because we are only kids,' she said.

'Our dads and mums to tell us what our dads are doing but we do not understand fully what they are doing out there.

'I have only just started to understand what is going on and it is hard because it is upsetting when my mum and brother Aiden cry and I don't know how to help them.'

She said making the banners with the others made her feel really excited but also emotional about her father, Keith, coming home on Monday, but she was glad she knew now he was not in the war zone and somewhere safe.

Kerry Bell, who is married to warrant officer second class Trevor Bell, due home on Wednesday, said although she had been married nearly 11 years this tour had been tough.

'We would be lying if we said we hadn't thought it would be fine,' she said. 'When the first one was killed we were all shocked.

'It is the second part of the tour that is the hardest, after R&R.

'When they finally come back we are all nervous. You don't know how they are going to be when they get back. We don't know what they have seen and you don't want to do too much or too little.'

They have children Gracie, six, and Will, nine. Will said the first thing he was going to do when he saw his dad was 'hug him'.

The youngster had thought his dad might not make his birthday on November 10, due to some troops being kept in the field.

So he had said he wanted to cancel his birthday and have no presents or cards, said Mrs Bell.

She said Rachel Bartholmew, the wife of regimental sergeant major Garry Bartholomew, had been brilliant at keeping up morale, organising trips to the zoo and Alton Towers and an Armed Forces Day event on the base.

For many it is the simple things, like having someone to laugh with watching a comedy, or missing birthdays and special events.

Michelle Wilson's husband Cpl Keith Wilson was delayed from returning home so he missed going to see a scan of his pregnant wife's unborn baby.

He is now due back on Tuesday, earlier than expected, after more than seven months in Afghanistan.

Kasell Archer, 23, has three children, Kaydi, four, Tiana, three, and eight week old Ellize with husband Cpl Ashley Archer.

He returned in June for the birth of Ellize. 'It is emotional when they come back and hard getting back into the family routine.'

Kaydi said: 'I miss him. I like going to the beach and going fishing with him.' She writes letters and sends pictures to her dad when he is away.

Sanda, 28, has been married for 16 years to husband Cpl Richard Stott, due home on Wednesday, and they have two children, children, Dario, eight, and Rianna, 15.

'They miss so much, birthdays, special days, anything with school,' she said. 'You tell them on the phone but it is not the same.

'They play football in teams but he's missing that. But I'm proud of him, proud of what he does.'