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Wednesday 10 November 2010

Crowds Salute Mercian Heroes

 Tony Smith cheers on the soldiers

The people of Cheshire East turned out in their hundreds to salute the bravery of the battle-hardened ‘Cheshires’ on their return from Afghanistan.

A total of 550 soldiers of 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) proudly paraded through Macclesfield and Crewe with fixed bayonets, colours flying and band playing.

Crewe Mercians 69

Crowds of people waving Union Flags clapped and cheered the troops as they marched through the towns on Monday (November 8).

The soldiers gave salutes in each town before being presented with the Freedom of the Borough by Cheshire East Council.

1 Mercian has just returned from active service on the frontline in war-torn Helmand Province. The regiment – whose motto is ‘Stand firm, strike hard’ – suffered 12 fatalities during its six-month tour of duty.

Cheshire East Mayor Gordon Baxendale had put forward a motion before the Council to honour ‘The Cheshires’ and the three other Mercian battalions – and it was unanimously backed by councillors last month.

The Freedom of the Borough is the first granted by Cheshire East Council, which came into being on April 1, 2009.

A Freedom of the Borough scroll was presented by Mayor Baxendale to Brigadier John Donnelly and his troops during the official homecoming parades. The troops and their families were then treated to civic receptions in each town.

Cllr Fitzgerald said before the ceremonies: “The bravery and dedication of the troops of 1 Mercian in Afghanistan has been inspirational and the Council is deeply proud of its links with, and support for, the regiment.”

Mayor Baxendale said: “It was fantastic to see so many people brave the dreadful weather and show their appreciation and gratitude to the servicemen and women of 1 Mercian.

“The soldiers have been magnificent – and the Council is deeply proud of its links with The Mercians. We are thrilled and honoured to cement Cheshire East’s friendship with our locally-recruited regiment by giving them the very first Freedom of the Borough.”

The servicemen and women of 1 Mercian are recruited from Congleton, Crewe, Holmes Chapel, Middlewich, Macclesfield, Sandbach and across Cheshire West.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Hadfield, Commanding Officer 1 Mercian, has previously praised the work done by Cheshire East and its residents to raise the morale of troops during their tour of duty in a war zone.

He particularly praised those responsible for organising and helping the ‘Jiffy bag’ scheme, which collected thousands of parcels of treats to send to 1 Mercian troops in Helmand.

Cheshire East Council collections led to more than 750 parcels being donated, with average contents costing £10 per bag. Further collections of DVDs and video games have also boosted troops in hospital recovering from injuries.

Lt Col Hadfield said: “It really has meant a great deal to our troops to know they have had the full support of the people of East Cheshire – they really appreciated it. Being granted the Freedom of the Borough is a great honour.”

Major Eddie Pickering MBE, the Assistant Regimental Secretary, said: “I have been astonished at the generosity of people from every corner of the county, who have supported our troops these last six months – and there have been none as generous as the people of Cheshire East, from fundraising and sending out packages of comforts, to visiting our injured soldiers in hospital.”

The Cheshire’s main role in Helmand is to mentor local security forces and provide security on the ground as part of the development of creating normal, everyday life in Afghanistan.

Cllr Baxendale has named ABF The Soldiers’ Charity as one of the organisations he is fundraising for during his tenure as mayor.

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