Troops who risked their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq received a heroes’ welcome as they marched through Birmingham today.
Thousands of people waved flags and cheered as around 150 soldiers from the 26th Regiment The Royal Artillery paraded through Victoria Square, into New Street and back through Bennetts Hill.
The unit, which is currently based in Gutersloh, Germany, has completed three tours in Afghanistan and three further tours of Iraq.
Hilary Latham, aged 53, caught the train from Blackpool at 7.30am to watch her son Martin, 28, a bombardier who has completed two tours in Iraq and one in Kosovo.
She said: “I haven’t seen him for two weeks. I feel very proud. It’s awful when he’s out there, I watch the news all the time so these events make it all worthwhile.
“It’s sad so many of our boys are being injured but they believe in what they’re doing so we should back them all the way.
“We should have more things like this. When you compare how the Americans treat their troops, we are sadly lacking.”
Chairman of the Oldbury branch of the Royal Artillery Association, Fred Phillips, said the day brought back memories of when he served in the Second World War.
The 88-year-old said: “The boys have done well. They are a credit to us. They are risking their lives for us so we should recognise what they do.”
The regiment of the West Midlands Gunners, as it is also known, enjoyed the Freedom of Birmingham, a rare honour awarded to just five regiments in the past by the city.
Dating back to the laws of ancient Rome it allows soldiers the privilege to march through the city “with drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed’.
Lieutenant Colonel Karl Ford, the regiment’s commanding officer, said: “The Regiment has just returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it endured the most testing conditions.
“To be given the Freedom is a great privilege, and reflects public recognition of the invaluable service of our Armed Forces.
“All of us in the West Midlands Gunners, and particularly those who hail from Birmingham, are extremely proud of this honour, and thankful to both the Lord Mayor and the people of Birmingham.”
Lance Bombardier Steven Ford said: “It’s a great honour showing ourselves off and showing the public that were are still here.
“As a soldier it’s nice to know when you come home you’ve got people behind you.”
A one minute silence was observed during the ceremony to commemorate the lives of those soldiers who did not return home.
Despite the support shown to the troops, some onlookers expressed concern over how the Government was treating servicemen and women in the line of fire pointing to the news that the head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, last week called for better equipment to protect troops from roadside bombs in the country.
Margaret Roberts, aged 69, from Wednesfield, said: “They are fighting with one hand behind their backs. They haven’t been given the right equipment. I think it’s disgusting.”
Following the parade, the soldiers were invited to the Lord Mayor’s reception where they met local dignitaries.