PRINCESS Anne flew in to York to present medals to soldiers and officers who have recently returned from a six month tour of Afghanistan.

Hundreds of wives, children and friends watched proudly on yesterday as 300 soldiers from the 2 Signal Regiment marched on to the parade square at Imphal Barracks in Fulford Road, accompanied by the Royal Signals band.

The Princess Royal, who is Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Signals, presented Operational Service Medals to about 100 of the servicemen and women who had been on their first such tour.

Rain started falling part-way through the ceremony but, aided by a hastily provided umbrella, she still took time to speak to every individual soldier about their experiences.

Princess Anne told servicemen and women and their families: "Over the course of a very busy six months, you have provided a vital link of communications to all the British forces deployed in Afghanistan.

"Whether on the streets of Kabul or the desert of Helmand, you've worked hard and maintained the highest standard.

"Having had the opportunity to visit briefly in Afghanistan just before Christmas, I know that the engineering challenge is significant, the conditions austere and the enemy still very determined.

"You have faced all this and succeeded."

Some of the soldiers’ wives spoke of their pride at the Royal recognition for their husband’s brave exploits, and of how they coped during their long separation.

Ruth Marsh, of Strensall, who is married to Aaron and has two children, Charles, 13, and Oliver, seven, said it was a chance for people to show their immense pride in the soldiers.

She said she had become used to her husband leaving the family for six months at a time and had developed a routine for dealing with it, helped by the other wives and the army’s support services.

“You quickly take on the dual role of both parents while they’re away, and keep busy, and don’t keep looking at the calendar, “ she said.

She said the family had fallen in love with York, and the children had settled in schools here, and so they intended to remain in the city.

Jacki Morris, married to Andy, said it had been a long time to be apart but she was used to such separations by now, and he would now have four weeks off with the family.