SOLDIERS from one of the area’s main military HQs have pledged to build stronger links with the community and no longer be cooped away in their base.
The commitment was made yesterday by 11 (Sphinx) Battery of 16 Regiment Royal Artillery as they marched through Emsworth for the first time to mark St George’s Day.
A contingent of about 50 soldiers from the Thorney Island unit were joined by dozens of veterans and groups. They included veterans from the Korean War, Borneo conflict and Aden Emergency, RAF Association, the British Legion, South Atlantic Medal Association, the Pompey Paras and Royal Artillery.
Schoolchildren also joined in for the celebration.
The march comes after the men and women of the air defence squad returned from a six-month deployment defending the Falkland Islands.
Lieutenant John Baslington helped set up the parade – which was led by pipes and drums from 19 Regiment Royal Artillery (The Scottish Gunners).
He said it was important for the regiment to be a part of its community.
‘It is something we have let slip recently,’ Lt Baslington said. ‘We’re trying to rebuild these links. This engagement is hugely important for us.’
Hundreds of people, waving the red and white flag of St George, lined St Peter’s Square to cheer the procession, while bands and choirs provided live music.
As well as watching the parade, visitors were also treated to a rare chance to check out one of regiment’s state-of-the-art Rapier missile defence systems.
Among those watching the event was Yvonne Taylor, of Emsworth.
The 65-year-old said it was vital for the community to come out and show their support for the armed forces.
She said: ‘I think it’s unbelievable what they do. They have to be away from their families for months.
‘I can’t imagine what it is like to do that and for such a long time.’
Forming up outside The Lord Raglan pub in Queen Street, the procession marched down High Street and into St Peter’s Square before being addressed by the Havant mayor, Councillor Faith Ponsonby.
Cllr Ponsonby – whose father served as a gunner in the Royal Artillery during both world wars – presented troops and veterans with Emsworth roses in honour of their service. She also handed over a signed copy of Havant Borough Council’s armed forces covenant to Colonel Barry Jenkins, which she said was a ‘commitment’ by the council to caring for the area’s service personnel.
The soldiers from 16 Regiment Royal Artillery form a key part of the UK’s land-based air defence network and can shoot down supersonic aerial threats.