Last hurrah for homecoming troops
Hundreds of troops from the West Midlands and Staffordshire are set to march into the history books next week.
The 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment (3Mercian) - formerly The Staffords - will cease to exist on Saturday.
Over the next seven days its soldiers are due to parade through towns and cities in the area in celebration of the recent completion of their second tour of duty in three years on the front line in Afghanistan.
The gruelling nine month long operation in trouble torn Helmand Province cost the life of Sergeant Major Ian Fisher who was killed by a suicide bomber.
The Brigade Advisory Team - the final element of the Battalion to leave Afghanistan - returned home two weeks ago. It included its Commanding Officer Lt Col Chris Davies.
The emotional homecoming parades will mark both the end of gruelling tour of duty in trouble torn Helmand Province and the closing of another chapter in the proud annals of a 309 year old fighting unit.
They will finish with a special ceremony at Lichfield Cathedral and a final walk to the nearby Kings Head pub where the militia that ultimately morphed into 3Mercian was first raised in 1705.
3Mercian - formed in 2007 when The Staffordshire Regiment joined other units to create the Mercian Regiment - will now merge with the 1st and 2nd Battalions Mercian Regiment as part of plans to cut the strength of the regular British Army by 20,000.
Some of the 550 troops involved have already moved and the 380 who deployed to Afghanistan will start switching to their new battalion the day after the Lichfield parade.
Lt Col Chris Davies, who will lead the parades, insisted: "Both the Ist and 2nd Battalions will have the name of the Staffords in their title. This is not the death of the old Staffords. It is the birth of two new ones each with Staffordshire soldiers in them."
They parades will also include a ceremony during which the Mercian Regiment will be awarded the freedom of Cannock. Cllr George Adamson, Leader of Cannock Chase Council, explained: "With the centenary of the start of the First World War almost upon us, it has never been more important to show our respect and gratitude to serving soldiers and veterans of our Armed Forces.
"I hope people will turn out in huge numbers. The Freedom honour and parade through the town is a wonderful opportunity for everyone in the District to show their support for serving soldiers and veterans, who will be marching side by side."
A military band will accompany the soldiers as will the Mercian Regiment's mascot, a Swaledale Ram called Private Derby. They will also be joined by their families and members of the Staffordshire Regiment Association on the final mile of their Journey Home to the Kings Head since all have been involved in a joint fund raising effort to complete challenges that add up to the 4,520 miles from Helmand to Lichfield.
Quote from Dave Gouldingay(corr) from the Lichfield Branch Staffordshire Regiment Association, said: "As another chapter in the Regiment's great history comes to a close, so does The Journey Home Event, which troops from 3Mercian (The Staffords) and members of the Staffordshire Regiment Association will finish together as Staffords.
"Sadly this will be the last time that past and present Staffords will parade together under the Staffords name before yet another merger. My own personal thoughts are that the government have made a grave error firstly by disbanding our county regiments and now with the new 2020 reform, I just hope and pray that our armed forces members don't pay the price for our governments incompetence. As the Mercian Regiment is now part of our future I think I can safely say that they will continue to get full support from The Staffordshire Regimental Association."
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