His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh was also there to present Royal Marines with their campaign medals.
About 15,000 cheering and banner-waving well-wishers greeted 40 Commando as they paraded through the town centre, headed by the Band of HM Royal Marines Plymouth, to mark the end of their final tour of Afghanistan.
40 Commando was the first Royal Marines unit into Afghanistan and the last out, as the drawdown of British forces approaches.
Lieutenant Colonel Matt Jackson, Officer Commanding 40 Commando, spoke to the crowd and his troops:
We genuinely puffed out our chests today on this special occasion. Thank you for your overwhelming support and for allowing us to march through the wonderful town of Taunton.
The Mayor of Taunton Deane, Councillor Libby Lisgo, addressed the massed ranks of Royal Marines as they halted in the town square after the march round the centre. She said:
40 Commando have deployed 4 times to Afghanistan in 12 years. The Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade have suffered 61 deaths in that time and a huge number wounded.
40 Commando have had 18 killed in action in Afghanistan. My thoughts and those of Taunton are with the families and friends of the deceased, for whom life will never be the same again.
The Duke of Edinburgh then honoured the 700 Royal Marines by officiating at their Operation Herrick medal parade. Prince Philip presented campaign medals to those who had completed their first tour of Afghanistan. Those who had served in Afghanistan with 40 Commando on previous deployments – in 2001, 2008 and 2010 – had already received their medals.
One of those who had already received his campaign medal was Corporal Sebastian Rolland of C Company, who has served in Afghanistan 3 times with the heavy weapons section. He said:It gives me a feeling of massive pride to march through Taunton and have everyone cheering and clapping. It means a lot to have so many people’s support.
Having been to Afghanistan 3 times I have noticed the huge difference from when there was a concentration on heavy weapons use in the early tours to now, an emphasis on successfully mentoring the Afghan forces; it is very rewarding to see them taking on responsibility for security themselves.