EMOTIONAL families were reunited with their loved ones when 76 soldiers returned home last night.

The troops, from Colchester-based 16 Medical Regiment, have spent the last six months in Afghanistan.

The regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Jez Hair, has been providing medical support across central Helmand.

Some were based in the main hospital in Camp Bastion while others were on the front line, in forward operating bases, providing emergency care to injured soldiers, residents and children. They also took on the important role of training medics in the Afghan National Army.

They arrived back at 7.30pm as their families met them with a combination of cheers and tears.

Lt Col Hair said: “It is fantastic to be back after everyone has done such a great job.

“Looking around at all the happy, smiling people means a lot.”

One of those waiting for her husband was Gail Simms with two-year-old son Jack.

She said: “This means everything. We will have a quiet couple of days together and then we are off to America.”

Her husband, Major Mike Simms, on seeing his family waiting for him with a banner made by his son, said: “This absolutely fantastic. It has been difficult missing Christmas, but it means so much to see them now.”

Colchester MP Bob Russell recently returned from Helmand having met some of the men.

He said: “I am delighted they are back in the UK. They, and their families, will be delighted to be reunited.”