HUNDREDS of residents welcomed home the 1st Batallion of the Royal Anglian Regiment at a special parade yesterday.

In front of dozens of visiting dignitaries as well as veterans of past conflicts, the troops marched down New Road, Grays, before being inspected by Thurrock mayor Diane Revell.

The soldiers, dressed in desert fatigues, received a rapturous reception from locals in an emotionally charged parade.

Nine of the unit died in active service in Afghanistan last year.

Inside the council's civic offices, the mayor expressed her thanks to the unit.

She said: "On behalf of all the people of Thurrock, we thank you for your courage, bravery and honour. You make us feel very humble."

Batallion leader, Lieutenant Colonel Vincent MBE was moved by the warmth of Thurrock residents response.

He said: "The batallion faced over 40 skirmishes with the Taliban. We lost good men. The recognition that you have given us here today is highly valued."

After the ceremony, soldiers mingled with residents including pupils from Stifford Primary school.

Deputy head Sarah John said: "It was a moving experience.

"The pupils told the soldiers they were very proud of them.

"They came back to school and have written letters of thanks to them."