Marching proudly with her fellow troops, Lance Bombardier Lynette Pearce was one of 30 soldiers to receive a warm welcome home from Afghanistan – after giving birth in the war-torn country just a month ago.
The 28-year-old gunner joined 58 Eyres Battery, from 12 Regiment Royal Artillery, to receive her Afghanistan campaign medal in front of hundreds of family, friends and well-wishers in The Square, Emsworth, yesterday.
Gunner Pearce made headlines around the world last month when she became the first serving British soldier to give birth while on active duty.
Her son, Immanuel, was born five weeks early on September 18 in Camp Bastion, where 58 Battery were providing surveillance and extra security support to the joint Afghan security forces.
She was unaware she was pregnant until she started getting extreme stomach pains and was flown back to the UK accompanied by specialist paediatric medics.
Her commanding officer, Major Andy Taylor, said: ‘She was on parade, but she didn’t have to be.
‘She is actually on maternity leave but she wanted to be there. The baby wasn’t there but we were all pleased to see her in the marching contingent.’
Councillor Brendan Gibb-Gray, who organised with the regiment for the medal parade to be held in public for only the second time in Emsworth, said: ‘Together with their bravery and courage, it’s wonderful to think that a baby was born out there.
‘I had the opportunity to meet the mother and she is very humble, and modest, but extremely proud – both of the fact she has had the baby and that they are both fit and healthy.’
After six gruelling months in Afghanistan, separated from family and friends, the troops returned on Friday.
And hundreds of people turned out yesterday to wave and cheer the 30 soldiers from 12 Regiment, based on Thorney Island, as they were awarded their Afghanistan campaign and the Queens Diamond Jubilee medals, from Mayor of Havant, Councillor Gerald Shimbart.
Rousing music was provided by the Parachute Regiment Band and the George’s Regis Jazz Band.
Shirley Collingwood and her family travelled all the way from County Durham to see her gunner sister Rebecca Craven, receive the medal.
Shirley, 21, said: ‘We are so proud of her.
‘We wouldn’t have missed this.
‘I’ve been to her passing out parade but not a medal parade.
‘She got moved around a lot in the six months she was out there and we’re really glad to have her back again.
‘It feels good to be here with her and to see the community supporting them all.
‘I know she has been really excited about it.’
Amy Waters, 24, is set to marry her 24-year-old fiancé Scott Parry in December.
She was delighted to travel down from Oxford to watch the Lance Bombardier receive his medal.
She said: ‘Having a public ceremony like this shows everybody else what they do.
‘It gives people the chance to welcome them home and be proud of them.
‘It’s really hard not having them around for six months.’
Emsworth is well known for its close links with the soldiers on Thorney Island and, over the past five years, has been forging an ever-closer relationship with them which the community has embraced.
Lucy Primrose, 26, of High Street, Emsworth, did not know any of the troops but wanted to show her support nevertheless.
She said: ‘I was showing my support to all the troops.
‘When you see them marching down the street you can’t help but feel a real sense of pride.
‘What they do is absolutely amazing so they deserve to be supported in public this way, they don’t get enough recognition.’
And eight-year-old Shannon cheered as her father, Staff Sergeant Michael Courtney, marched through Emsworth Square.
The little girl, who was with her 43-year-old mother Nikki, said: ‘It’s really fun to see him, he looks really smart.
‘When he got home we put a big banner in the window saying “Welcome home dad, you’re our hero”.’
Emsworth councillor Brendan Gibb-Gray has spent the last five years building closer links between the town and the military.
The regiment is based on Thorney Island, just east of the town, and many military families have settled there.
In 2007 the first St George’s Day celebrations were held in The Square and Thorney Island soldiers have been joining in ever since.
Veterans also proudly join the parades and thousands turn out to show their respect and support for the troops.
Since the St George’s Day parades began Cllr Gibb-Gray has also been working to encourage 12 Regiment to hold their medal giving ceremonies in public.
This year he worked with Warrant Officer Stephen Woolcombe to hold it in The Square.
Cllr Gibb-Gray said: ‘It’s not normal practice to hold these things in public but we wanted to show the troops how very proud we are of them and of our strong links with them.’