It was Marlborough’s big day. And the rain was held at bay as the Light Cavalry Band ceremoniously marched up the High Street playing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary as a prelude to a special event in the town’s long history.
Scores of flag waving schoolchildren greeted the sparkling band, and behind it, marching in public for the very first time, came 160 troops of the Bulford-based 4 Military Intelligence Battalion, in three uniformed ranks, wearing either green or claret-coloured berets.
For some of them it was a home-coming after returning from active service in Afghanistan and a moment too for the presentation of campaign medals to mark their service in the hard terrain of mountains thousands of miles away.
They halted and stood to attention outside Lloyds Bank where, standing on a raised dais, they were greeted by the red-robed Mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, bewigged town clerk, Liam Costello, and Major General Shaun Burley.
Mr Costello then read the historic announcement that Marlborough has awarded the battalion the Freedom of Entry to the Town and its right to march with short, sharp fixed bayonets added to their rifles.
Performing that dramatic task under the shouted orders of Regimental Sergeant Major Oz Smith was the next highlight. The band played When the Saints Go Marching In — and off their marched again, to the cheers and applause of the crowd.
Past Marlborough town hall they marched, along Oxford Street, down Barn Street, as shopkeepers and residents came out to watch, before turning as they passed the War Memorial at the roundabout.
Then it was up the rise and back into the High Street to more cheers before returning to the grounds of Marlborough College to fall out, where the colourful event had began with an inspection of the troops prior to the march past.
Marlborough town council is particularly proud of the links that have been forged with the Battalion over the past two years, initiated by Councillor Nick Fogg and promoted by former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross, the event being seen as a significant honour for the town as much as an honour for the military.
Welcoming the Battalion when it paraded at Marlborough College, the Mayor declared: “I congratulate you on both the smartness of your turnout and on the snappiness of your drill. The day has started well.
“During the ceremony in the High Street, I will feel particularly honoured, as the representative of the crown, to award campaign medals to those who have served in Afghanistan. As chief citizen of the town, I express our admiration for your loyal service in that theatre. Our respect for you remains constant and undimmed.”
And Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ben Kite, said:
“Having built up a strong relationship between 4 MI Battalion and the town of Marlborough, it is a particular honour to receive the freedom of the town. This is the first time that an Army battalion has received such recognition since Marlborough was given its Royal Charter in 1204 and it confirms the strong link between the people of Marlborough and the personnel of 4 MI Battalion.
“The ceremony comes at a time when many of the Battalion’s soldiers are currently deployed on operations over the summer in Helmand. Others are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in the autumn. On top of these commitments, the Battalion maintains a constant focus on providing intelligence and understanding to units across the British Armed Forces through the Land Forces Intelligence Fusion Centre, a key part of the Battalion.
“In light of these commitments, our affiliation with Marlborough has offered us valuable support. Initiatives such as the annual dinner held for 4 MI Battalion personnel in Marlborough town hall have been truly welcome and it is these links that make the Battalion feel part of the community. “And the awarding of medals for soldiers and officers recently returned from Afghanistan at the freedom parade is a particularly fitting tribute. I hope that today will lay the foundations for a continued strong relationship between the town and Battalion over the years to come.”
Afterwards there will be a reception in the town hall for the Commanding Officer and guests and an informal buffet at Marlborough Football Club.
Speaking at the buffet, the Mayor told Colonel Ben Kite: “All of us who have met your soldiers have been impressed by their intelligence and articulacy, and indeed by what pleasant young people they are as well. And it is good to see that when the occasion demands they are even good at drill.”
Referring to their specialist intelligence skills, he added: “You prepare wonderful background material for all troops deploying to Afghanistan, placing our involvement in its unpromising historical and social context. You naturally provide and collate intelligence at brigade and higher formation level.
“But you also provide Intelligence Corps people at infantry company level, often patrolling with those soldiers. This provides a wealth of recorded and collated information on the minutiae of life in the areas where the British army is operating.”
He presented the Battalion with a framed statement of the Freedom of Entry document and a silver greyhound trophy – Marlborough’s coat of arms displays two greyhound symbols – donated by the mayor’s ceremonial officer, David Sherratt, as a permanent souvenir.