SOLDIERS are to march through the streets of Blackburn to celebrate their return from Afghanistan.

The 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment will be honoured at a homecoming service at Blackburn Cathedral.

Some 120 soldiers in full uniform will then exercise the regiment's right under the Freedom of the Borough to march through town.

And people from across Lancashire are being urged to 'join the parade' by lining the streets to give them a hero's welcome.

Civic leaders have hailed the decision to celebrate the battalion for its sixth-month tour of duty, which ends in October.

Local dignitaries have begun to receive invites to the event, which will take place on December 1.

The route through town has yet to be finalised.

The Dean of Blackburn, the Very Rev Christopher Armstrong, said the event would give East Lancashire residents the chance to ‘express relief, show gratitude and pray for an improvement in Afghanistan’.

He said: “Essentially it will be a thanksgiving service for the safe return of a peacekeeping force working in very difficult and challenging situations.

“The service is about the regiment wanting to relate directly to the communities that have sent them off on this tricky project, so that the communities themselves can welcome them home in a formal and dignified, yet joyful way.

“This is one thing that the Cathedral can provide for the regiment and the local community.

"We take this sort of thing very seriously. We are happy to step up to the plate in that way.

“A member of the choir’s son is serving in Afghanistan.

"It has been very tricky for him and the rest of us, ticking away the days and weeks while he’s putting his life on the line for the national and the stability of the world.”

Blackburn MP Jack Straw confirmed he would be attending the service and said: “I’m delighted the Cathedral has been chosen as the place to welcome the Regiment home.

“It is right that we should honour their phenomenal work as well as mourning the loss of the personnel who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and support those who have been injured and their families.”

Mr Straw said he didn’t think ‘for a second’ there would be any protests during the march.

“Most people understand that if Afghanistan is not stabilised then Pakistan’s stability will be seriously threatened, which would then reverberate on the streets of East Lancashire.”

Anjum Anwar, a cohesion worker with Blackburn Cathedral, called for anyone against the war to show the soldiers respect.

She said: “There will be some who will support it and some who will not, from all communities.

"There are a lot of people against the war, not just Muslims.

“All I’m asking for those who do not, is to rise above it and maintain high standards.

"If not, they have failed.

“Afghanistan is a sensitive issue. Somebody’s war is another person’s terrorism.

"It will be upsetting for some people, but people need to understand that there are people dying on a daily basis.

“Everybody has a job to do. There must be listening on both sides and I am not expecting any issues.”

The 1st Battalion Duke of Lancaster Regiment is made up of 600 soldiers, around a quarter of whom are from East Lancashire.

The battalion consists entirely of frontline fighting troops, and much of its work in Afghanistan has been patrolling recently secured Taliban territory.

It was on one of these missions that Lance Corporal Jordan Bancroft, 25, from Earby, was killed last month in a gun fight.

Soldiers returning from Afghanistan are due to receive their Operation Service medals in Catterick next month.

There will also be parades through other major recruiting areas such as Manchester, Warrington, Lancaster and Carlisle.

The last time soldiers marched through Blackburn was in October 2001 when the former Queen's Lancashire Regiment celebrated the Freedom of the Borough, which was awarded in 1948.