Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment (The Staffords) today took part in a homecoming parade in Walsall to mark the end of their Afghanistan tour of duty, in the past week also being welcomed in Lichfield, Stafford and Hanley. They received a massive Walsall welcome by people from across the borough, together with local dignitaries and other officials.
In Afghanistan, apart from their military duties, the Staffords also helped set up a school in the village of Rahim Khalay, in Helmand Province, and doubled the size of the protected community, undermining the stranglehold the insurgents have over the area. Sadly, during the tour the regiment lost 22 year-old Private Gareth Bellingham, killed on June 18 while fighting insurgents.
Troops assembled in Darwall Street at 12.30pm today in preparation for the march, which at 1pm took them along Darwall Street, turning right into Tower Street, right into Lichfield Street and then in review past the Mayor and Mayoress of Walsall (Councillor Garry and Mrs June Perry), the borough’s Chief Executive, the Leader of the Council and other dignitaries.
Preceded by the Regimental Band and the Mercians’ mascot ‘Private Derby’, a Swaledale Ram inherited from the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, hundreds of local soldiers were received with thunderous applause by hundreds of Walsall people cheering, waving flags and shouting an excited welcome as the lads marched smartly past, ‘eyes right’ as they passed the Mayor and Council House, flanked by local veterans with standards grounded in their honour.
More cheers were raised for the popular ‘unofficial’ mascot of the Staffords, ‘Watchman V’, a young black Staffordshire Bull Terrier, with his handler Colour Sergeant Greg Hedges, and the Regimental Colours which he preceded.
The troops then marched along lower Bridge Street and around the block, returning via Darwall Street and Leicester Street, before falling out and being welcomed by the Mayor, Councillor Gary Perry, to a reception in the Town Hall, where he later presented these local heroes with their campaign medals.
Children from Pelsall Village School were also present, and had entertained the Mayor’s guests prior to the parade.
The Mayor later said it had been “an unforgettable day.”
“I don’t think there was a single person watching the parade who didn’t get a lump in their throat or a tear in their eye as we applauded those brave soldiers,” he said.
“Many commented how young the troops looked and seeing them march past really brought home to us all that they are someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s husband, and they are putting their lives on the line.
“It was a real privilege for Walsall to host this parade, it was an unforgettable day.
“Our good wishes and prayers go with the troops as they continue their work and our thoughts are also with the families they have to leave behind.”
The people of Walsall Metropolitan Borough certainly did them proud as well, this day.