Soldiers from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, just back from their final deployment to Afghanistan, marched through Westminster to a surprise welcome from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.
The London Homecoming Parade served as a rousing send off for more than 120 serving and former members of the Coldstream Guards who are participating in Bike2Bennecourt, a cycle ride of over 250 miles from London to Bennecourt, France. The sponsored cycle ride is a fund raiser for regimental charities so that they can continue to support wounded soldiers and their families.
The soldiers paraded from Wellington Barracks to the Guards Memorial at Horse Guards Parade where they were met by a surprise well wisher. Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne whose office overlooks the Memorial, popped out to wish the soldiers and their families well. By St James’s Park he joined them in a service of thanksgiving for the safe return of the Battalion from operations. Prayers were made honouring those Coldstream Guardsmen who made the ultimate sacrifice in previous tours of Afghanistan, and in previous conflicts, in the service of this country. George Osborne was joined by the Colonel of the Regiment, Lieutenant General Sir James Bucknall KCB, CBE, who has two sons in the Regiment, and General Officer Commanding London District, Major General Edward Smyth-Osbourne CBE, who laid wreaths at the memorial.
Accompanied by rousing music from the Band of the Coldstream Guards, George Osborne then set off the cyclists.
The riders will stop in Maidstone between 11am and 2pm where the Band will parade down the High Street at 11am before giving a concert in Jubilee Square, before they all head to Dover for the ferry to France.
The Band will entertain passengers on the cross channel ferry and will give further concerts at Hesdin and Gisors before the group arrives at Bennecourt on the morning of 20 September. Upon arrival there will be a First World War Memorial Service with the Band of the Coldstream Guards and the Band of the Garde Republicaine, with French and British dignitaries in attendance.
During three tours of Afghanistan the Coldstream Guards have suffered significant casualties, both physical and mental, as well as fatalities. The Regiment places great emphasis in helping their long-term wounded and their families rebuild their lives and this fundraising cycle ride is designed to support that initiative.
Most recently, more than 350 personnel from the Coldstream Guards and attachments deployed to Afghanistan over the period September 2013 to August 2014. The Reconnaissance and Snipers Platoons deployed to Helmand in September 2013 as part of the 9th / 12th Lancers Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Helmand Province, directly supporting the Afghan Security Forces on deliberate operations. They were in frequent contact with insurgents, and firefights were a regular occurrence. One of the Coldstream Guards snipers excelled with five confirmed kills from just one shot, hitting and detonating a suicide vest.
Number One Company and Number Two Company Coldstream Guards deployed as the Kabul Support Unit from February to August 2014, covering the busy period of the presidential election and providing support to the British Embassy, the Afghan National Army Officer Academy and to ISAF Headquarters in Kabul.
Both Companies were tasked with protecting UK bases and enabling safe movement across Kabul. They also were responsible for the safety for all UK civilian and military personnel. Number One Company was based in Camp Souter and Number Two Company was based in Camp Qargha. Prior to their deployment both Companies spent 12 months on training in Kenya, across the UK and in Germany.
There was a real development of the Afghan National Army (ANA) during the Coldstream Guards’ tenure. The ANA have grown from strength to strength and are now conducting independent operations that they were not previously able to do. The Afghan National Police, in Kabul, have also shown themselves to be a skilled force preventing insurgents from bringing weapons into Kabul and keeping the streets safe during the day and night.