FAMILIES across East Lancashire were celebrating today as the first troops began to arrive home from duty in Iraq.

Local soldiers and medics were among the first to return, as SIMON HAWORTH and ROGER AIREY found out...

ONE of the first of East Lancashire's troops to return from the war in Iraq today described how he came close to death when a mortar missed his vehicle by metres.

Clive Fawcett, a warrant officer in the Royal Logistics Corps, is now safely back with his family in Lower Darwen after three months serving in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, a bout of appendicitis cut short the stay of a Blackburn medic serving in during the Iraqi War. Although 25-year-old Lisa Southworth was disappointed to come home early, she was given a hero's welcome home by family and friends.

The combat medical technician, of Preston Old Road, had been out in the Middle East since February and was due to stay there until August. But she contracted appendicitis two weeks ago and had to be rushed into a field hospital in Kuwait for an operation and she is now back home recuperating.

Today they both spoke of the experience that will remain with them forever.

Clive detailed the chilling warnings of a chemical attack, being mobbed by Iraqis desperate for food and water and collecting body parts from the battlefield. Yet, the 37-year-old kept morale high among his comrades by displaying his magical talents to keep fellow troops entertained making cards and cigarettes disappear.

Despite serving in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq in 1991 Clive, a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, was more worried about serving in Iraq this time because he had his three children Daniel, 12, Chelsea, ten, and Louis, seven, waiting for him at home.

Clive said: "I served in the 1991 and it was all 'gung-ho'. This time, because I have three kids, it was more worrying."

And the reality of war kicked in on the very first day of combat. He said: "We were always told Saddam had capability of chemical weapons. On day one we got the warning 'gas, gas, gas' on the radio. For the first time I thought to myself 'this is real now' and five minutes later we heard the same for scud missiles.

"You think to yourself they're coming down on top of you."

Lisa, who has been in the army for five years, was working in the General Support Medical Regiment, which is based in Aldershot.

She said: "My main role was a kind of paramedic, picking up casualties from centres near the front and bring them further away so they could have operations in field hospitals. It brought things home when we were treating our own troops.

"I'm pleased to be home and have really missed my family and friends."

Mum Rita Halton said: "I think she's a bit disappointed as well because she had psyched herself up to stay out there until August.

"When the whole conflict kicked off I was glued to the television practically 24 hours a day -- I felt like I lived there.

"I kept in regular contact with Lisa. She even wrote from the roadside in Iraq and she texted me regularly to let me know she was OK.

"We're delighted she's home safe and sound and all her family is very proud of her."

Near the end of the war Clive told how he was travelling in a vehicle convoy in the south of Iraq when a mortar landed 100 metres away.

He said: "We were near the Kuwaiti border when it landed. That was the closest and scary for me. I saw it land, though none of us were hurt and we carried on back to camp."

After the close scrape Clive was taken to a field hospital for a routine check which revealed another medical problem requiring him to return early to the UK.

And with just two-and-a-half years left to serve in a 22-year army career he could be looking to take his magic and entertainment career full-time shortly.

He said: "What I'll do when I come out I don't know. It could be entertainment if it takes off. I have been doing it longer than being in the army and I have got all the kit."

Clive is doing his first ever magic show in East Lancashire at a summer open day at Lower Darwen Primary School on July 12. Anyone interested in finding out more about Clive and his entertainment shows can visit his website on www.clivefawcett.co.uk