It isn't everyday that we empty our school to line the streets of Ashbourne and wave Union flags at a regiment of Her Majesty's armed forces, but that is exactly what happened today.
Formed on 1st September 2007, when the Cheshire Regiment merged with the Staffordshire Regiment and the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, the Mercian is a light infantry battalion which can be deployed anywhere in the world and has recently returned from a tour of duty in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The 2nd Battalion - The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) are mainly drawn from the English counties of Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire - and Derby itself has a long association with the Foresters; their regimental headquarters having once been located at Normanton Barracks, within a couple of miles of where I grew up. I don't remember the soldiers, the barracks having closed in 1963, but I do remember the buildings, which remained until they were demolished in 1981.
In January of this year, the Mercian Regiment was granted the freedom of the Derbyshire Dales by the Derbyshire Dales District Council. One of the privileges of such an honour is that the regiment is now able to march with bayonets fixed, colours flying and band playing. There were no bayonets in evidence today, but the band played and the soldiers marched behind their colours, while the children waved the Union Flags and cheered them on.
Whatever our opinions of the rights and wrongs of war, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere around the world, our soldiers risk their lives to defend our country and I was happy to be there with the children to honour their bravery.
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