THOUSANDS of well-wishers lined the streets of Accrington, waving Union Jack flags as soldiers marched to the town hall yesterday.
The 120 soldiers, from the Duke of Lancaster Regiment, made their way through the town’s streets in 21 degree heat to the town centre, where they were greeted by dignitaries from across Lancashire. The 1st Battalion soldiers were exercising their right to march in Hyndburn, a honour bestowed upon them after the Accrington Pals’ great sacrifice 98 years ago yesterday.
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On July 1 1916, the Pals suffered huge losses after they went over the top of the trenches during the First World War.
The anniversary was poignantly remembered by the troops, several of whom live in the town, and by local leaders under the baking summer sun.
The signifance of yesterday’s march was not lost on the troops or their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel George Maund.
He said: “To exercise the freedom of the borough was a proud occasion. There is no more appropriate day to have marched than July 1.
“Almost 100 years ago soldiers were losing their lives as we speak, and as we were parading, we had that in our minds.”
A special service was held at St John the Evangelist Church, in Addison Church, before the march started at noon.
Primary schoolchildren, local workers, residents, and pensioners waving Union Jack flags and cameraphones, clapping and cheering the soldiers - many of whom were wearing medals from combat in Afghanistan - as they made their way to the town hall in dress uniform.
With bayonets fixed to their rifles, they were led by the Band of the King’s Division, a full 32-piece marching band.
Legendary runner Ron Hill attended the service, and said: “The military were in there with their colours. It was a well run occasion and a good service.
“It’s important to remember the Pals. They sacrificed a hell of a lot. They call it a war but it was a slaughter.”
Kingsman John Alderson, who lives in Washington Street, Accrington, was watched by his wife Michelle, 32, as he marched.
The 28-year-old dad-of-one said: “It’s a small town and everybody knows everybody, so it was good to hear people calling my name.”
Kingsman Russell Sykes, from Great Harwood, added: “I did two weeks solid of practicing for the parade. We had inspections every day to make sure our kit was impeccable.
“People came out in great numbers and we had to give them something good to look at.”
Brierfield soldier, Corporal William Owen, 31, admitted it had been a ‘long week’ getting ready for the parade.
The husband and father-of-three said: “We have been practicising once or twice a day, for two to four hours, but it only made it better on the day.