SOUTH Essex's war heroes have made a triumphant return from the frontline in Afghanistan.
Soldiers from across the region have been serving with the Royal Anglian regiment for the past six months, fighting the Taleban in the notorious Helmand province.
They enjoyed an emotional reunion with their wives, girlfriends and families when their coach pulled into Pirbright Barracks, Surrey, yesterday afternoon, shortly after landing back on home soil.
Loved ones waved flags and "welcome home" banners, and troops and families alike struggled to keep their emotions in check.
Private Beau Dean, 19, from Basildon, said: "It feels absolutely fantastic, amazing.
"I've missed just being able to relax with my girlfriend, Vicky, and doing the normal things so much."
Private Dean's fiancee, Vicky Wilson, 19, also of Basildon, said: "I've been crying ever since I left home earlier today. It's an overwhelming relief. I don't know whether to smile or cry."
The couple got engaged on Christmas Day, but they've only seen each other for two weeks in the past six months, when Pte Dean was home on leave.
Private Iain Strike, 23, of Vange, was reunited with his mum, Eve, dad Kevin and gran Moira Moore, as well as girlfriend Hayley Scales, 25, of Basildon.
Private Strike said: "It feels brilliant being back.
"The first thing I want to do when I get back home is go to the pub. It's hard to put into words how I feel.
"There were times when I didn't think I would ever make it home and it feels so good to see everyone."
His mum said: "I am so relieved to have Iain home, but you feel sadness for the families of the soldiers who didn't make it home."
Dad Kevin added: "We are so proud of him and everything the regiment has achieved."
The Royal Anglian Regiment has lost nine soldiers during this tour of duty. It was the first regiment to go on the offensive against the Taleban and engage in "all-out war".
SEE YOUR ECHO ON THURSDAY FOR PICTURES AND STORIES FROM RETURNING SERVICEMEN