This morning I joined local Conservative MPs Ann Widdecombe and Hugh Robertson, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, councillors, school children and thousands of ordinary people in cheering troops from the 36 Engineers Regiment as they paraded through Maidstone having returned home from Afghanistan.
The local media outlets are reporting that over 2000 people turned up to line the streets of Maidstone to cheer and wave flags despite the pouring rain. I managed to stand quite near the Town Hall, facing the troops as they turned and saluted the civics on the podium. Their eyes were full of pride and some broke their military resolve and couldn't help but smile as they marched passed. Retired gentlemen turned up with their military ties and caps and were cheering as loudly as the primary school parties that had arrived with their union jacks.
It has been well reported locally that 2 of the regiment didn't return home and the parade today was as much for them as it was for those who stomped through the cobble streets in their desert fatigues. As they marched passed, I felt quite moved. The parade reminded me how young some of these men and women are; how they go to dangerous places to fight in wars they might not even believe in; and how sometimes they don't return safely. I am glad I went and could show my appreciation. They deserve it.