Downham Market welcomed members of the RAF to the heart of the town and the community.

Returning personnel from IX (B) Squadron paraded through the centre of Downham before a medal presentation ceremony in front of the Town Hall.

Despite the chilly weather, crowds turned out to line the streets and applaud personnel who have recently returned to Norfolk from Afghanistan.

The squadron flew more than 1,800 hours in support of the international mission to improve the lives of the Afghan people.

“All personnel on parade today have served their country with boundless energy and immense professionalism in order to ensure a better life for the people of Afghanistan.

“Throughout the deployment, despite being away from loved ones, especially over Christmas, morale has remained high. A huge part of that achievement is undoubtedly due to the support of families, friends and colleagues and I thank you for your selfless part that you have played.

“This squadron remains one of the finest in the RAF, with a proud history and a bright future, safe in the hands of personnel I am immensely proud to have commanded. It is also well-supported by its family, friends and community and for that I am eternally grateful,” said Wg Cdr Andy Turk, outgoing commanding officer.

He also thanked pupils at the town’s Hillcrest school who wrote to members of the squadron over Christmas.

Downham Mayor Robin Pegg said the town was proud of its connection with Marham and he congratulated the squadron on its hard work and dedication.

The reviewing officer was Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, who commanded IX (B) Sqn during two  operational tours over Iraq and Kosovo.

The parade came just days after the Government announced Marham would be home to the new generation of front-line jets. 

The Lightning II will be replacing the Tornado as it comes out of service.

News that the Lightning will be stationed at Marham came after a sustained campaign by the community to ensure the base remained open.

Among those in the town centre waiting to welcome the squadron was Laddie – the mascot of Downham’s Royal British Legion branch.

The four-legged supporter is partner to Bill Wells, a bugler for the organisation.

He helps raise awareness of the Legion and its work during events including Remembrance Day. Laddie has been a mascot since 2006.