By David Wilkes
'Best army': The Duchess of Cornwall inspects the troops of 11 Light Brigade today during a homecoming parade in Winchester. The 650 troops have returned from a tour in Afghanistan
Some of the soldiers had feared there might not be anyone to welcome them home because they would all be watching England in the World Cup.
They couldn't have been more wrong.
In glorious sunshine, an estimated crowd of 10,000 turned out to greet the men of 11 Light Brigade, returning after a six-month tour of Afghanistan.
Thanks: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, met servicemen during an inspection of the troops and told them, 'You are all heroes, and I salute you for a job very well done'
Accompanied by three military bands, the 650 soldiers in desert fatigues marched for two miles into the centre of Winchester, cheered all the way in the UK's biggest homecoming parade.
Amid the celebrations, it was also a time for reflection. The brigade was set up specifically for a single tour of duty, which ended in April.
March of the Light Brigade: Union Jacks wave among the crowd of 10,000 as the soldiers parade into the centre of Winchester, where they were addressed by the Duchess of Cornwall
Summer outfit: Camilla wore an elegant cream dress but kept on her lightweight coat despite the heat
During this time it lost 64 of its 5,500 soldiers, who were drawn from 11 different regiments.
The parade came the day after the news of the death of the 300th British soldier in Afghanistan since military operations began there.
And yesterday an unnamed Marine from 40 Commando died in a firefight in Helmand Province
Addressing the troops, the Duchess of Cornwall said: 'You are all heroes and I salute you all for a job very well done.'
She also spoke of the 'devastating number of casualties' suffered in the brigade - several of whom were present in wheelchairs - and praised the 'extraordinary care' they have received at Selly Oak Hospital and Headley Grange.
The Duchess then inspected the troops before a fly-past by two Tornado jets and attended a private ceremony where she presented the families of two servicemen killed during the tour with the Elizabeth Medal.
Later 1,400 people attended a private service of thanksgiving and remembrance in Winchester Cathedral.
Sergeant Craig Newton, 33, from the Coldstream Guards which formed part of 11 Light Brigade, said he had been concerned the World Cup tie might affect the turnout.
'But the people of Winchester have done us proud,' he said.
'The boys within the Guards are happy to miss the match - the football comes around every four years but a day like today is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.'
Among the crowd was Mick Dyson, the uncle of Lance Corporal Graham Shaw, 27, who was killed in an explosion while on foot patrol in Malgir in Helmand provinve on Feb 1 this year.
At the time, Prince Harry paid tribute to him and his friend Corporal Liam Riley, 21, who died in a separate blast on the same day.
Fly by: The 11 Light Brigade accompanied by three bands march through the City of Winchester today as crowds line the streets
Mr Dyson, 53, of Huddersfield, said: 'The reception from the public was superb. It just shows what respect the pubic have for the soldiers.
'It makes us realise that although we have lost a loved one, the public respect what he did and are paying respect for so many brave people that have lost their lives serving their country.'
End of an era: The Brigade are due to be disbanded after completing their Tour Of Duty in Afghanstan where they suffered 64 fatalities
Welcome home: Crowds watch troops of the 11th Light Brigade march down the main street of Winchester
The brigade's senior chaplain Reverend Mark Christian said: 'It humbled us that so many people bothered to come out to support us.'
Of the the brigade's losses, he added: 'When you sign up to be a soldier you know the risks. It makes us exceptionally sad, but we respect their sacrifice and take heart that their sacridifce has helped make the world a safer place.'
Humbling: Among the troops were several brave men who had lost limbs in battle
Homecoming parade: 650 soldiers of 11 Light Brigade accompanied by three bands march through the City of Winchester in front of the Duchess of Cornwall today
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