‘I’m coming home mum’

Private Hannah Roberts of Gedney pictured removing the signs featuring the Desert Rats logo from Camp Bastion. Photo: Heathcliff O'Malley
Private Hannah Roberts of Gedney pictured removing the signs featuring the Desert Rats logo from Camp Bastion. Photo: Heathcliff O'Malley
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This is the historic moment a 22-year-old private from Gedney showed the world our troops in Afghanistan are finally coming home.

Hannah Roberts was photographed removing a sign from the barbed wire fence at Camp Bastion on the day Task Force Helmand – the mission to bring stability to the south of the country – ended, with US Marines assuming responsibility for the province.

A pupil of the George Farmer School, Hannah joined the Royal Signals four years ago and flew out to her attachment with the 7th Armoured Brigade – The Desert Rats – in the Helmand province on her birthday, September 20, last year.

On Wednesday, her Brigadier James Woodham, commander of UK forces, shook hands with US Brigadier General Daniel Yoo, who said British sacrifices in both blood and treasure “have given the Afghans a chance”.

Speaking from Afghanistan Hannah, who has a week left before beginning the journey home, told the Free Press: “I was so surprised to hear my picture had been used on the front of the Telegraph.

“I’ve walked past that sign every day for the last six months going to work and it represents the time the Desert Rats have been based there for the past eight years.

“On Facebook friends have been asking me if I was stealing it. I wasn’t stealing it, but it would have looked really nice on my bedroom wall.”

Mags Roberts, Hannah’s mum, said she was overwhelmed with pride when she was told about the picture.

She said: “I’m getting emotional just talking about it. It’s hard when they send your youngest daughter away, even though she reassures us she is fine.

“We are really proud of her and looking forward to her coming home.”

Although Hannah’s work in communications was everything she had been trained for, it had not prepared her for her landing in Afghanistan.

Hannah said: “We arrived in the cover of darkness and all the lights went out in the plane. We were told to put out body armour on and that was the moment we realised we were landing in a war zone.”

However, she said she has always felt safe – right down to her “ballistic knickers”. She said: “If we were not carrying a loaded weapon we were escorted.”

Describing the past six months, she said: “I am proud to be a soldier in the British Army and to have had the opportunity to do a tour of Afghanistan and play my part.

“It’s been hard being away, but I think harder for everyone at home.”

After helping with the clear-up operation for the next few days, Hannah still has a little way to go before arriving back in Gedney.

She will spend two days “decompression” in Cyprus – which her mum says involves relaxing on the beach and the first taste of alcohol in weeks – followed by a week at a base in Germany for “dekit and debrief”.

Hannah won’t exactly be putting her feet up during her time off. Already she’s planned mountain climbing in Turkey with the army and a trip to Las Vegas with friends.

But she said most of all she is looking forward to seeing her police officer mum and father, Daren, a prison officer. She said: “I definitely won’t miss the sand, it gets everywhere.”