TWO Borders soldiers are looking forward to returning home in the next few weeks from tours of duty in Afghanistan, writes Mark Entwistle.
Sergeant Sgt Mark Macrae, who hails originally from Golspie in Sutherland but now lives in Kelso, is a piper in the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards.
Although a full-time piper in the regimental pipe band, in Afghanistan he is primarily an infantry platoon sergeant in the commanding officer’s group.
The battalion is presently working with the Afghan National Security Forces to keep an important highway secure so that the local population can travel freely through the area.
In over 16 years’ service with the pipe band, Sgt Macrae, 38, has played at numerous high-profile events, including the Queen’s birthday six times, Edinburgh Military Tattoo five times and a state banquet where he piped for US president Barack Obama.
He has also been on operations in Iraq, Northern Ireland and in 2010 was in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 12.
Sgt Macrae told us: “Compared to Herrick 12, the Afghan National Security Forces take control more, they have advanced, they stand and fight without our help.”
His tour highlights so far include piping for a Remembrance Service in November and more recently for Saint Andrew’s Day at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Oullette where he and another five bandsmen played ‘Abide With Me’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ at a church service.
Sgt Macrae’s wife Susan, son Ben, 5, and daughter Sophie, 8, all live in Kelso where Mrs Macrae works for her father at Roger Fish & Son, Crosslaw Caravan Park, Coldingham.
Sgt Macrae says he is looking forward to seeing his family, taking Ben to football and having a pint in the Red Lion when he goes home soon on leave.
The Pipe Band of The Scots Guards is the largest in the British Army, and it has toured the world in recent years, playing everywhere from the United States to Azerbaijan, Japan and New Zealand.
Meanwhile, another Borderer currently serving with the Scots Guards in Afghanistan is also looking forward to coming home in time for Christmas.
Guardsman Ross Hayworth, 22, from Melrose, has been working closely with the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) to bring security to an area of the Upper Gereshk Valley in Helmand Province.
Gdsm Hayworth, who also serves with the Catterick-based 1st Battalion Scots Guards, is a general purpose machine gun (GPMG) specialist in 8 Platoon.
He has been based in Pan Kalay, a small check point on Route 611 which has been handed over to the ANCOP.
Gdsm Hayworth told TheSouthern: “The ANCOP have been amazing and we’ve grown a strong bond.
“They know what they are doing so we can trust them to do a good job when we leave, they are professional from the top down.”
The Scots Guards have been responsible for maintaining security on the road. Working closely with the ANCOP, the Scottish troops have built up a good relationship with the police officers and it’s through this mutual trust that the checkpoint has been handed over to the Afghan police for full control.
A keen sportsman, Gdsm Hayworth has played rugby for Melrose, as well as for the Scots Guards, and on his return to the UK will be attending trials for the Army U23 team.
He and his fellow platoon members will be returning to the UK just before Christmas as part of the drawdown plan for combat troops in Afghanistan.
Gdsm Hayworth says he is looking forward to seeing his girlfriend, Fran, spending Christmas with his family in Melrose and going to The Ship for a beer.
When not on operations, the Scots Guards carry out ceremonial duties and during Gdsm’s three-year army career, he has guarded the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace, St James Palace and Windsor Castle.