Ipswich: A day that made Suffolk feel proud

IT was a day that made Suffolk proud – and a day to be proud to be British, write Jame Marston.

As large crowds lined the streets of Ipswich to cheer and applaud troops returning from Afghanistan, the county was reminded of its strong links to the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment – affectionately known as The Vikings.

The last of the troops returned home just eight days ago from what was the battalion’s fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan.

And yesterday Ipswich and Suffolk took a moment away from life’s usual hustle and bustle to welcome them back.

At midday Suffolk’s veterans marched, with their standards held high, into place on the steps of Ipswich town hall ready to honour the troops.

Among them was Ipswich mum Lorraine McClure, whose son Aaron was killed while on duty in Afghanistan in August 2007.

Mrs McClure, was proudly wearing her son’s medals.

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She said: “I am really honoured to be marching with the veterans. This is the first time I have worn Aaron’s medals in public and today is an emotional day but I am filled with pride. Our spirits are high.”

And then, along Westgate Street, The Vikings marched, accompanied by the Prince of Wales Band.

Parading on to the Corn Hill to loud cheers and applause, 260 young men and women lined up in front of the county’s civic leaders and dignitaries.

As an inspection of the troops took place, Ipswich MP Ben Gummer told The Star: “The people of Ipswich and Suffolk have strong links with the Royal Anglians and this is an opportunity for people to come and welcome them home and thank them for the work done.”

Then the speeches were made, with Ipswich’s mayor welcoming the Vikings and thanking them on behalf of the town.

Prayers were said and as flags fluttered in the November breeze, Ipswich and Suffolk remembered the 16 soldiers from the battalion who were killed in Afghanistan since the first tour of duty in 2002. Reverend Andrew Dotchin, 56, was among those watching the parade.

He said: “We are here to support those men and women who risk their lives and fight not only for our rights and freedoms but the rights and freedoms of others.

“The conflict in Afghanistan has a direct impact on people living in my parish of Whitton. I see people’s lives destroyed by drugs. Soldiers like the men and women parading today are making a difference.”

Ipswich Borough Councillor Alisdair Ross served in Afghanistan with the 2 Rifles in 2009 as an operations warrant officer.

He said: “This is a very local regiment recruited from Ipswich and Suffolk. This is a way for Ipswich to say thank you and well done. This will be an important day for the soldiers. They are home safe and well.”

The ceremonies over the band struck up once again leaving the Corn Hill to the strains of Rule Britannia.

Ipswich came to a standstill as the formation of soldiers – some so very young – in khaki and berets made their way through tavern street, Upper Brook Street and along Butter Market – they made an impressive and moving sight.

Applauding along the route were many families and friends of those parading as well as people simply there to show their support.

Helen Prior-Townsend and three year old daughter Chloe were typical.

Helen said: “I think it is very important to pay our respects to the people that do such a hard job and risk their lives.”

And then, outside the Corn Exchange it was all over as the parade came to an end and the crowds dispersed.

Ipswich went back to its bustle.

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