Hundreds of people cheered soldiers as they paraded through Oakham after being given Freedom of Entry to the town.
The troops from 16th Regiment Royal Artillery based at St George’s Barracks, North Luffenham were bestowed the honour by Oakham Town Council. A scroll was presented by mayor Alf Dewis during a ceremony in the Market Place on Tuesday, which was St George’s Day.
It was the first Freedom of Entry parade in the town since 1988, when Oakham gave the honour to RAF Cottesmore.
The council made the honour to recognise the long-standing association, of more than 70 years, between the military base and the town.
The officer commanding 16th Regiment Royal Artillery, Lt Col Mark Pullan, who is also station commander at the barracks, said: “Receiving the award is a wonderful honour and cements the relationship between the barracks, the personnel and the town.
“If what you’re doing is recognised, it makes it all worthwhile. What Afghanistan and Iraq has done is put in the public eye the commitment and sacrifices these guys make every day and the Freedom of Oakham just recognises that.”
Gunner Kyle Jones said: “To get that recognition and hear that applause from people who have come out to see us just makes everything we do worthwhile. It has been a fantastic day.”
The Market Place was decorated with red, white and blue bunting, which flapped in the light breeze as the 200 soldiers on parade were inspected by the Lord Lieutenant of Rutland Dr Laurence Howard.
Then the parade left the square, turning left into the High Street, as the crowds applauded. They were accompanied by the Band of Corps of the Royal Engineers, adding to the sense of occasion.
The parade, led by a towed Rapier air missile, continued into Catmos Street and then South Street before turning right into Mill Street.
It then headed back to the High Street where Dr Howard took the salute at the junction of Church Street and High Street.
It then continued along High Street and then Northgate, before finishing in Church Street, where it was disbanded.
Along the route, crowds of people clapped, cheered and waved Union flags. Youngsters, many still wearing their school uniforms, perched on pavements to get a better view of the spectacle.
Among the crowds was Jack Pearce, 85, of the Sidings, Oakham, who served with the Royal Tank Regiment in Italy and Egypt.
He said: “It’s important to me to always come out and show my support for our armed forces. It was a very good parade, very colourful.”
Caroline Bartle-Jones, from Manton, was there with her seven-year-old son James, a pupil at Brooke Priory School in Oakham.
She said: “It is great for the children to see the parade and it’s appropriate that it is on St George’s Day. It is just a really nice occasion.”
Youngsters from St Mary and St John Primary School in North Luffenham were also there to see the parade.
Joshua Simons and Chantelle Powell, both 10, were questioning the soldiers as part of a journalism topic.
Joshua said: “It was good to see the parade. I asked the soldiers how long does it take to polish your boots and they said half an hour.”
Afterwards dignitaries and soldiers went onto enjoy a reception at the Victoria Hall.
The illuminated scroll presented to the troops will be on display at St George’s Barracks, while the sword carried Lt Col Pullan during the parade was presented to Oakham Town Council.
Coun Dewis said: “It was a super day and the weather treated us well. It was great to see so many people coming out to support the troops as well.
“The presentation of the ceremonial sword was a fantastic surprise and a great way to commemorate the day. We will be proud to display it in the council chambers at Victoria Hall.”
Leader of Rutland County Council Roger Begy (Con), who was also there, said: “We have been exceptionally lucky with the weather and it is an absolutely great crowd.
“It is lovely that people do make the effort to come out and recognise what these guys do for us because they do a lot.
“Congratulations go to Oakham Town Council for organising such a great event.”
Lt Col Pullan said the day had meant a lot to the soldiers on parade.
He said: “We are all very proud to be part of the community.
“A lot of my soldiers and officers are so operationally focused and we have got people in Afghanistan and in the Falklands at the moment and people here today who came back from Afghanistan two weeks ago. A day like today is so different to that and so special for them.”
Sgt Dave Thompson was among those on parade.
He said: “After two weeks of hard training for the parade, it was really good to see so many people. There were more people than we were all expecting. It makes you feel very proud.”
Prior to the parade, a service was held at All Saints Church in Oakham for dignitaries and invited guests.
Oakham has had a military presence since 1940 when the St George’s Barracks started life as RAF Luffenham. It was renamed St George’s Barracks in 1998 and the 16th Regiment Royal Artillery moved in in 2007. The regiment currently serves in an air defence role.