HAMPSHIRE residents turned out in force today to give local soldiers a giant welcome home.

Thousands of people packed the streets of Southampton to cheer on the boys and girls of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment during their homecoming parade.

It is the first time the regiment has carried out such an event in the city since receiving the honour of the Freedom of Southampton several years ago. Their day was made that little bit extra special with a member of Royalty topping the list of invited guests.

Princess Anne the Princess Royal was in Southampton today, as colonel in chief of the regiment, which is based in Marchwood. She presented medals to a number of those from 54 Squadron who have recently returned from Afghanistan and marched in their desert kit.

They were accompanied by hundreds of their fellow soldiers, many of whom have recently come home from Iraq.

The troops formed up at 12.45pm. Following the arrival of the Princess Royal, a sail past commenced from Marchwood Military Port with a further 50 soldiers on board vessels used by the regiment on operations.

On the ground, soldiers handed out 3,000 flags to the crowds to wave as the troops exercised their right to march through their home city.

Following parade they marched up through the High Street, under the Bargate and along Above Bar. Gifts were exchanged before the soldiers were dismissed.

Children from schools on the Waterside, many who have parents or relatives in the regiment, were cheering them on with banners and posters they made themselves.