A ROYAL Marine has returned safely from Iraq to his ecstatic York family - and told how he cheated death on the battlefield.

Acting Corporal Robert Barnett, whose mother and sisters wept tears of joy as they were reunited with him at York Station, said he came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and mortars in a four-hour engagement outside Basra.

"I was crouched behind a vehicle and an RPG came over the top and landed about 30 metres away," he said, adding that the Iraqi soldiers were attacking them from boats on a river.

His mother, Margaret, of Howard Drive, Rawcliffe, spoke of her joy and relief at Robert's return.

"You just cannot imagine the sense of relief," she said. "It has been an absolute nightmare. I still can't believe he is back. I am over the moon."

She revealed how, for several hours early in the war, she had feared he might have been on board a helicopter that crashed in the Kuwaiti desert, killing eight Marines.

"We had no news who they were. It went on all day. It was horrendous."

Eventually she heard that the marines were from 42 Commando, while Robert was with 40 Commando.

Robert, 23, said that while he was unscathed from the conflict, a friend had been injured.

He said he could hardly believe his experiences in Iraq.

His 24-year-old sister, Theresa, said: "I am ecstatic to have him back. I have been so worried. I couldn't sleep at night."

His other sister, Victoria, 25, said: "I am really happy. Somebody has been watching over him."

Robert's five-year-old nephew, Kieran, asked him: "Who won?" Robert smiled, and said: "We did."

The family was planning to go out for a night on the town last night.

Margaret said her son, a former All Saints' School pupil, had always wanted to be a soldier, and had joined the army cadets at Burton Stone Lane, York.

Updated: 10:19 Saturday, May 10, 2003