The rain spat in Galashiels and Melrose on Tuesday, but to the parading soldiers of 1SCOTS, the Royal Scots Borderers, it didn’t matter, because they were home, safe from six months in the desert.
Nor did the weather dampen the cheering crowds lining the streets to welcome their sons, fathers, and even strangers, back from danger in Afghanistan.
The soldiers marched in desert boots shouldering rifles and carrying swords behind thumping pipes and drum, and their mascot Shetland pony, Cruachan IV, who stood no higher than their proudly beating chests. A large group, 100, or more from Langlee Primary School clapped the battalion’s passage from Currie Road to Bank Street.
Head teacher Sandra Davidson explained: “There are one or two children at the school with parents in the armed forces, and the others are very aware of what’s going on in the world. There’s always conflict going on somewhere, and I think it’s important for them to recognise that, and appreciate there are people out there keeping the peace and really putting their lives on the line.”
Another onlooker, a former teacher, summed up why many Gala folk had turned up in the wind and rain. “These guys have been out there giving up lots of things, potentially even their lives,and I think the least we can do is support them,” he said.
One such person is 24-year-old Lance Corporal Fraser Pairman from Kelso, who was chuffed to see his mum amid the crowd. “It’s good to see everybody out supporting the guys, and it’s good to be finally home,” he told The Southern.
“We were mentoring the Afghan local police so they are ready to take over their own district and get on with the job themselves. We saw a lot of progress from the time we came to the time we left.
“This tour to Afghanistan was a lot quieter than the first time in 2012, and the threat was a lot lower.”
His relief was echoed by Galalean, Lance Corporal Graham Tait, whose 12-year-old daughter Naimh escaped Galashiels Academy for a day to see her father parade in their hometown.
“I just about had a tear in my eye,” he told us: “It was really emotional actually, getting past the Border Reiver around by the fountain on Bank Street.
“I thought about the Borders all the time, but I was getting The Southern Reporter and Hawick News sent out, so it was a wee bit like a home away from home.
“Every day I thought of my family, especially my son and daughter, and then they’re thinking about us out there anyway.”
Separation was also tough for Lance Corporal Bruce Taylor, 22, of Hawick, who was reunited with his mum, dad, wife Laura, and their 17-month-old daughter Grace. He told us: “It was really hard leaving the baby because she is young, but it was great to come home, and get cuddles.”
Laura described raising their daughter on her own, saying: “It was hard on her because she knew her daddy was leaving, and it was really hard bringing her up myself, but I just had to get on with it.”
But Tuesday wasn’t for difficult memories, it was for joy and thanks.
“I’m just happy to be back and seeing everybody,” said Lance Corporal Taylor, adding: “It felt good marching around, seeing everybody clapping and cheering.”
A new 18-track CD, When Duty Calls, to raise money for injured soldiers who served in Afghanistan, and featuring company tunes by 1SCOTS pipes and drums and the Fijian choir, is on sale for £10 at Turnbull’s in Selkirk, Spences in Hawick, Pipers in Galashiels, and Walk This Way army surplus store in Coldstream.