Veterans given freedom of town

THE men who fought for our freedom were awarded a freedom of their own at emotional ceremony in a Suffolk town yesterday.At the climax of the Bury St Edmunds Magna Carta celebrations, the Bury St Edmunds and District branch of the Normandy Veterans Association(1944) were awarded the freedom of the borough.

THE men who fought for our freedom were awarded a freedom of their own at emotional ceremony in a Suffolk town yesterday.

At the climax of the Bury St Edmunds Magna Carta celebrations, the Bury St Edmunds and District branch of the Normandy Veterans Association(1944) were awarded the freedom of the borough.

A small band of around 30 surviving veterans of the association's 42 members gathered in the tranquil surroundings of the town's historic Abbey Gardens to receive the award with the same dignity with which they and their comrades lay down their lives for the benefit of the greater good.

A special meeting of St Edmundsbury Borough Council was convened in a marquee in the gardens where the honour was conferred upon the veterans, attended by Lord Phillips, Master of the Rolls, and Major General Michael Wooley, commander of the Third United States Air Force.


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St Edmundsbury mayor Michael Jones, said: "The freedom of the borough seems a particularly appropriate award for our Normandy veterans as they were at the forefront of the fight for freedom in 1944.

"The actions they took and the sights they saw are still vivid memories and it is our responsibility to ensure those memories do not fade into history."

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He added: "Although we are giving the freedom to the Normandy veterans, we must also take time to salute the commitment, heroism and sacrifices made by all the British, Commonwealth, American and other allied forces not just in Normandy but throughout the Second World War.

"It is especially relevant that we celebrate our links to the Magna Carta on this day as well because it gives us the chance to reflect on the freedom we enjoy to lead our lives without tyranny, to elect our own leaders, and to receive justice.

"From that charter grew the freedoms of English law, freedoms which have spread far beyond these shores and for which, over the centuries, so many have laid down their lives to protect."

The heat proved too much for one of the USAF personnel who fainted during the inspection of the ranks immediately after the ceremony, but otherwise proceedings went without a hitch.

The veterans then exercised their new freedom with a parade through the streets of the town in a cavalcade of vintage Jeeps, where they received a hero's welcome from the assembled crowd of onlookers.

They were led by the United States Air Force in Europe Band who gave a rendition of The Wild Blue Yonder as four F-15 fighter jets flew overhead and were joined by members of the Third United States Air Force which was awarded the freedom of the borough in 2000.

A Magna Carta celebration service was held in the Cathedral, before the veterans paraded once more to Angel Hill for a military display, where the USAF Honour Guard Drill team was due to have made an appearance, but was unable to attend having been recalled for the funeral of President Reagan.

Len Gower, 79, of Icklingham, secretary of the veterans association, who served as a Royal Marine and took part in the D-Day landings, called the day the "icing on the cake".

He said: "It's wonderful to be recognised after all these years, we don't talk about the war much, it was such a long time ago and it's only on occasions like these when you remember it, but it's great to get together, there's a special bond between us.

"It's a great honour to be here today receiving this award and the lads are all very proud. I just hope the youth of today never have to go through what we went through."

Bury St Edmunds is one of the five Magna Carta charter towns, which take it in turns to celebrate the signing of the historic document in 1215 which deprived King John of absolute power.

The previous year the barons of England gathered in the Abbey church, the ruins of which are situated a matter of yards from where yesterday's celebrations took place.

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