Huge crowds turned out to welcome home heroes from the Light Dragoons.
Thousands of people lined the streets on Wednesday 5 December to watch troops from the regiment, based at Robertson Barracks Swanton Morley, parade through Dereham town centre at 11am.
The troops accompanied by the band from the Parachute Regiment, members of the Royal British Legion and two armoured vehicles entered the market place to the sound of hundreds of children cheering and waving flags. The soldiers halted on the market place next to the Dias where the Mayor of Dereham, Linda Monument, presented the regiment with the freedom of the town.
The troops then continued to march down church street where the parade came to an end. The regiment then went on to join their families and civic guests in St. Nicholas Church for a thanksgiving service.
Troops returned to the barracks at the start of November after six months in Afghanistan, in what has been one of their toughest tours of duty.
Tragically, one soldier from the regiment, Sgt Lee Davidson failed to make it home after being killed in action, while several others sustained life-changing injuries.
The impressive turn out for the Light Dragoons homecoming parade in Dereham was described as “spectacular” and “overwhelming” by the regiment’s commanding officer, Lt Col Sam Plant.
Major General Andrew Stewart said: “The welcome back has been absolutely amazing and fantastic. To see everyone there of all ages cheering and waving flags was truly wonderful.”
He said: “It was a huge honour. My grand father was with the regiment in world war one. My father was with the regiment on D-Day. To be here and see the regiment presented with the freedom of the town was a huge honour.”
Lt Col Sam Plant said at the reception in the town’s Memorial Hall: “It has been amazing. It couldn’t have gone better. The relationship between the Light Dragoons and the local community is very special indeed. Not all regiments enjoy what we have here. We feel so privileged to enjoy days like we had today. It has been wonderful.”
A matching decanter and engraved bottle of port was presented to Lt Col Plant for the regiment and all 350 soldiers were given a gold plated commemorative coin to mark the parade. The coin was produced by Breckland Council and Norfolk County Council.
Robin Goreham, Breckland Council chairman, said: “I’m very proud of the soldiers from Swanton Morley who have done us proud. They often have to make a very big sacrifice – sometimes they have to make the biggest sacrifice.
“The soldiers are doing a fantastic job and they thoroughly deserve the reception and the support from the public out on the street, which was tremendous.”
Ian Monson, Norfolk County Council chairman, said it was an “honour and a privilege” to have the Light Dragoons based in the mid-Norfolk village.
He said: “This is something the whole county can take part in. I’m speaking on behalf of the whole county in welcoming them home. This is something they deserve and something we should do. I hope the soldiers enjoy the day.
“Clearly there are more tough times ahead of them, but today is a day to show our appreciation of what they have done.”
Mr Monson added: “It has been a most magnificent turn out in the bitter cold, The school children were waving there flags and shouting their hearts out. It was very moving and I was overwhelmed by the support that this town and Norfolk has given today.”