YORK’S war heroes are safely back with their families and loved ones after an emotional reunion at Imphal Barracks.

The soldiers of 2 Signal Regiment returned from five months on the Afghan front line to applause, shrieks of delight and tears of joy after days of delay that had tested the nerves of their wives, partners, children, mothers and fathers.

Many were immediately draped with the traditional Gurkha homecoming gift – a light coloured scarf called a hatha.

Their commander, Lt Col Andy Knott, expressed his relief in bringing all 300 soldiers under his command home safely.

Staff Sgt John Stephenson, said: “It’s great to be back. I wanted to go to Afghanistan because I wanted to get the chance to do something that many people don’t get – to change people’s lives and improve the quality of their lives.”

Sgt Stephenson earned the nick name of the Pied Piper of Fulford, through his work in building a school for Afghan children.

His wife Mandy said: “I’m proud of him.” He had previously served in Iraq and Kosovo and his daughters Alicia, 12, and Jasmine, 11, could not contain their delight.

Trainee teacher Charlotte Billam, 24, of Tadcaster, had delayed Christmas so her partner Lance Cpl Simon Poole, 27, could share it with her. She had left her family and friends in Southampton, to be near his UK base and warmly praised his family for the support they gave her during his absence. Carrie Richardson, of Howden, said she could not believe her husband, Cpl Carl Richardson, was back until he walked through the door.

“Bringing up three small children by myself is difficult but they keep me busy and I try not to think about it,” she said.

With her were 16-month-old Evie, four-year-old Georgia and seven-year-old Ben.

Fulford neighbours Savya Gurung, 25, and Lachwhma Gurung, 30, said: “It’s really exciting” as they waited for their husbands, Sgt Dipak Gurung, 34, and Cpl Lalchandra Gurung, 26, respectively.