A MILITARY Battalion is to become the first from England to be handed the freedom of the city of Edinburgh.
The 3rd Battalion The Rifles will be granted the honour, also known as the “privilege”, because of its close ties to the Capital.
The Battalion, which is currently in Afghanistan, has suffered heavy losses on previous deployments there.
In 2010, 30 of the Battle Group were killed in action and, on their return, large crowds greeted them during a parade in the Royal Mile. A permanent memorial to the lost riflemen was subsequently built at Redford Barracks, in the shadow of the Pentland Hills.
The whole of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and the soon to be disbanded 40th Regiment Royal Artillery are also set to be recognised, under proposals put forward by Edinburgh City Council. It means soldiers will be allowed to parade through the Capital “with drums beating, bayonets fixed and colours flying”.
Battalions that do not enjoy the rare honour have to ask permission before they march, and are also not permitted to display their regalia or weapons in the same way.
Martine McNee, an Army spokesperson, said: “It is wonderful that Edinburgh City Council are considering this honour for these three units.
“All three have longstanding connections with Scotland, and with Edinburgh in particular, and, if bestowed, it will mean a lot to each and every soldier.”
Although recruited mainly from the north-east of England, the 3rd Battalion The Rifles have been based at Redford Barracks for ten years. They were formerly known as 2nd Battalion the Light Infantry.
The battalion has 127 married soldiers with families, who live in Edinburgh and have forged strong links with the local community. Many of the soldiers’ children attend Colinton Primary School, and army families make up a large part of Colinton Church’s congregation.
In 2009, the Evening News launched a Christmas appeal to treat families of soldiers, including those in 3rd Battalion The Rifles, who were stationed abroad during the festive period.
Eric Barry, a councillor for the Colinton and Fairmilehead ward, who welcomed the recent move, said: “These guys have earned any honour that the city cares to bestow. They deserve a greater honour than the freedom of the city.”
The privilege was given to the Edinburgh-based 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006. It is now proposed that it would be extended to the six other battallions in The Royal Regiment of Scotland. The 40th Regiment Royal Artillery, which fights under the Saltire, will also be granted freedom of the city. It is the only artillery regiment that recruits from Edinburgh and has an affiliation with the Capital going back 300 years.
It has fired in support of Scottish troops in Borneo, Malaya, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan, and has provided officers and soldiers for public duties at Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The regiment is due to disband in December, but will parade through the city in June, where the honour will be presented.
The Rt Hon George Grubb, Lord Lieutenant and Lord Provost of Edinburgh, said: “Conferring the ‘privilege’ on these three fine and historic regiments would be a clear and fitting demonstration of Edinburgh’s steadfast support for the brave men and women who put their lives at risk in service of this country.”
FROM ANCIENT ROME TO MODERN EDINBURGH
THE practice of granting the freedom of a city to military forces was established in ancient Rome and built upon in medieval Europe.
In Edinburgh, the privilege was enjoyed by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers for more than 300 years, and was then transferred to The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) in 1984.
It was then transferred to the Edinburgh-based 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006, and is now set to be extended to all Battalions in the regiment, as well as the 3rd Battalion The Rifles. HMS Edinburgh was granted the honour in 2006.
Although it is to will be disbanded in December, the 40th Regiment Royal Artillery will also be awarded the privilege.