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Byline: By Peter Collins South Wales Echo

More than 500 soldiers with the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards have returned to their home base at RAF St Athan after a six-month tour of Iraq.

There were plenty of stories of bravery to be told yesterday as the battalion gathered at the St Athan base for the first time since they returned from Iraq last month.

While in Iraq, two Welsh Guards Companies were based in Basra while the main body of the Battalion formed a Welsh Guards battle group, 165 miles further north at Al Amarah, in Maysan Province.

Their tour included the historic Iraqi elections in January.

Lt Col Ben Bathurst, commander of the Welsh Guards, said the battalion had helped with security, training and the economic development of Iraq.

He said: 'We can confidently claim that we made a significant difference to the Iraqi people's lives. They see us now as necessary to establishing the government. We are very positive about our experiences in Iraq.' Soldiers recall time in the danger zone: Marc Jeffries and Marc Devine were both relieved to be home after coming under fire in separate incidents in Iraq.

Guardsman Devine, who has been with the Welsh Guards for two years, fired his first shots in anger when the base in Basra he was guarding came under fire.

The 22-year-old, from Ely, Cardiff, who is engaged to be married, said: 'A couple of shots were fired at us and I fired back. I didn't really think of the danger, I just did what I'd been trained to do.'

Meanwhile, Lance Corp Jeffries, 26, who was based in Basra, spent three weeks with the Black Watch in Baghdad.

Lance Corp Jeffries, who kept in regular contact with his parents at their home in Llanishen, Cardiff, said: 'We took a lot of incoming mortars. It was very frightening.' Little Dylan counted off the days: Before he left for Iraq last October, Sergeant Carl Taylor made a special calendar so that his five year-old son Dylan could count off the days until his father returned home.

The calendar was placed on the fridge at Sgt Taylor's home in St Athan. Each day without fail the toddler would scratch off the date.

'As it happened, I returned home a week early. But Dylan continued to tick off the days,' said the 26 year-old, who has been with the Welsh Guards since 1996.

His 37-year-old wife Tracey was also counting down the days.

'It was awful,' she said. 'It was a six- month tour of duty but it seemed a lot longer than that for me and Dylan.

'We took every day as it came and Dylan asked about his dad every day.'

Sgt Taylor was with the Prince of Wales Company based at the Old State Building, Basra.

His duties included street patrols and training the Iraqi police and security forces.

He said: 'We had loads of roadside bombs. I remember one of them exploded right in front of us, killing two Iraqi policemen.

'We trained the police in the basics, such as vehicle checks and searches.' Wedding bells must wait for Michelle and Dominic: Michelle Parry, who served with the Adjutant General Corps attached to the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards in Iraq, was planning to get married in St Lucia this summer.

After six months in Alamara where she was responsible for ensuring the soldiers were paid, the 27-year-old, from Dowlais, was looking forward to marrying fellow soldier Dominic Andrews.

But Dominic, a staff sergeant with the Royal Engineers, is being posted to Iraq and the wedding plans have been postponed.

'We were going to get married in July,' said Michelle.

'But he will have to do his training before going to Iraq and so it's just not possible. We will get married eventually.'

She added: 'I was thinking about him and our wedding while I was in Iraq.

'Luckily, since we are both in the military we were able to keep in touch regularly on the military lines. Talking to him kept me going.

'My role in ensuring soldiers were paid was important because it kept morale high. It was important that wives back home had the money for their families.

'We came under mortar attack on several occasions.

'One of the hardest things for me was missing Wales winning the Grand Slam and celebrating St David's Day at home. I'm very patriotic.'
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 11, 2005
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