I am also well aware that as we stand here on this cold winter’s day many of you will be thinking of your friends and colleagues from A Company who are serving in Forward Operating Base Inkerman, and particularly of Rifleman Samuel Bassett’s family, as they come to terms with his death. My thoughts and heartfelt prayers are with them all.

Riflemen, it is a matter of the greatest pride for me that I am able to be here with you and your families today to present your Afghanistan Service Medals – medals hard-earned whilst holding the Southern flank of UK forces in the Nad-e-Ali district – through the most costly period for British Forces since the Falklands War. Whilst I am delighted to be here to celebrate the return of B & R companies, I come here today with very mixed emotions.

I visited the Battalion before your departure earlier this year and join you in mourning deeply the loss of those who have not returned. The Battalion lost 2 Riflemen – Rifleman Daniel Hume to enemy action and Lance Corporal Taran Cheeseman who tragically died after being flown back to Selly Oak.

I know too that over the course of the tour 39 Riflemen were wounded in action – four very seriously – and I have been keeping a close eye on their progress over the last few months as they have moved from Selly Oak to Headley Court. So I am greatly heartened to see so many of them well enough to be amongst the ranks today, especially Captain Harry Parker, Rifleman Daniel Shaw, Rifleman Sam Walpole, and Rifleman Tyler Christopher, as I know how hard their road to recovery has been.

Neither should we forget those soldiers in the Rear Party who did not deploy, but whose support enabled their fellow Riflemen in Afghanistan to concentrate on their job.

I am also well aware that as we stand here on this cold winter’s day many of you will be thinking of your friends and colleagues from A Company who are serving in Forward Operating Base Inkerman, and particularly of Rifleman Samuel Bassett’s family, as they come to terms with his death. My thoughts and heartfelt prayers are with them all.

Now I would like to take a moment to say how delighted I am to see so many family members here today. Your loyalty, love and support have been unfaltering, and vital to the success of these men on parade. It is for them that the Home Fires must be kept burning and nobody does it better than you.

This has been an incredibly challenging tour for you all. You have worked in the most dangerous, arduous and austere conditions, under constant attack by the Taliban, patrolling amongst the poppies of the Green Zone with the ever present threat of IEDs. You have shown unswerving courage and professionalism and lived up to your exacting motto – Swift and Bold – and you have forged an enviable and glittering reputation in your own right as the Rifles – the 4th Battalion in particular.

You have made your Royal Colonel very proud, proud of you and proud to be British and I believe this country owes you an enormous debt of gratitude.

I salute you all and wish you a very Merry Christmas.