Serious Purpose to Military Celebration in Woodbridge
A celebration of the close connections between Woodbridge and soldiers based in the town had the serious purpose of building links to local veterans.
Amid cheering crowds, 23 Engr Regt (Air Assault) paraded through Woodbridge on 7th June to exercise their Freedom of the Town. The unit then took over Elmhurst Park to run a veterans’ outreach session, with representatives from SPVA and military charities on hand to give advice and link veterans to support available locally.
The freedom parade saw some 180 soldiers ‘with swords drawn, bayonets fixed, drums beating, bands playing and Colours flying’ parade through the town, with music from The Band of the Parachute Regiment. Mayor of Woodbridge Cllr Patty Mulcahy and Col Jackson, Dep Cdr of 16 (Air Asslt) Bde, took the salute.
23 Engr Regt (Air Asslt), based at Rock Barracks, was granted the Freedom of Woodbridge in 2006 and Friday’s parade was the fourth time it has been exercised.
CO Lt Col Jason Hones said: “As a Regiment, we live behind a fence four miles out of Woodbridge and spend a lot of time away training as part of the Army’s airborne high readiness brigade. This parade has been a fantastic opportunity to come out in our community, show people who we are and what we are about and thank them for their support. We have an excellent relationship with Woodbridge and there was a brilliant turnout, everyone from schoolchildren to pensioners out on the streets. It was quite an emotional experience to lead the Regiment through town and feel the warmth and support from people clapping and cheering us along.”
L/Cpl Alex Walsh said: “The crowd was much bigger than I expected and it’s a massive boost to see the support that we have from Woodbridge.”
The veterans’ session was organised and funded through the Woodbridge Armed Forces Community Covenant, which was signed in 2011 as a statement of mutual support between the civilian community in Woodbridge and its Armed Forces. More than 100 veterans from the Royal Navy, Army and RAF with service from the Second World War to recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan attended. As well as displays of military equipment, charities represented included The Royal British Legion, SSAFA, Help 4 Heroes and BLESMA.
Lt Col Hones said: “Through the Community Covenant we are keenly aware of our responsibilities towards veterans. Ex-service personnel have unique needs and this event is about joining up the dots between veterans and the support that is available for them.”
Among the veterans attending was Nicola Taylor, who left the Army in April after serving for 14 years, including three tours of Iraq. The 31-year-old said: “Because of my age I don’t see myself as a veteran but as an ex-soldier. It is difficult to make the transition from military to civilian life but there is a lot of support out there. I volunteer for SSAFA to support veterans and service leavers, because I know the background they’re coming from and the challenges they’re facing.”
The day concluded with the park opened to the public for a Beating Retreat by The Band of the Parachute Regiment.