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Re-affirming the Freedom of Blaenau Gwent

Having returned from Op CABRIT in Estonia in July and following a few weeks of post operational tour leave, A Company hit the ground running with an incredibly busy schedule in the run up to Christmas. With a two week long CSTTX in the simulators in Paderborn, Germany a few short weeks away, A Coy were up against it to prepare themselves for the Freedom of Blaenau Gwent parade on Saturday 22nd September.

Company Sergeant Major Burford was determined that A Coy would arrive in the town of Brynmawr ready to reaffirm 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh’s Freedom of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in the best light. Therefore, he was sure to make the most of any opportunity to get out on the drill square.

The first opportunity to blow the cobwebs off our drill movements fell in early September, but not again until the two days before the parade itself. In only a few short hours on Thursday and Friday we had to memorise the order of the parade, the drill movements and then prepare our uniforms. With a busier schedule than most, OC A Coy, Major Alex Rabbitt, also had the words of command to learn by heart. No pressure!

We departed from Tidworth at 6am on the day of the parade, arriving in rainy Brynmawr in time to get changed and warmed up for the parade beginning at 10:40. The Royal Welsh Band arrived just in the nick of time and the battalion goat, Llywelyn, dressed in his finery, led the parade the short distance to Market Square where, despite the torrential rain, the crowds had gathered. Following an inspection of the parade by dignitaries Col Didi Wheeler, Lord Lieutenant of Gwent Brigadier Aitken CBE and The Mayor of Blaenau Gwent, we heard poignant speeches from all three. The people of Blaenau Gwent looked on, probably wondering when the soldiers of A Coy would succumb to the testing weather. They never faltered and, following the National and Welsh National Anthems, A Coy exercised the right of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh to march through the town with ‘colours flying, drums beating and bayonets fixed’.

With the parade complete, the soldiers of A Coy had time to mingle with friends, family and the general public and have lunch before departing. However, a handful of members of the parade remained to unveil a memorial stone to commemorate the award of the Victoria Cross to Company Sergeant Major John H Williams VC DCM MM and Bar. This took place at Nantyglo Senior Citizen Hall with the dignitaries and family of CSM Williams in attendance.

CSM Williams is the most decorated Welsh NCO in history. Amongst other decorations, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Villers Outreaux in 1918. His unit came under fire from an enemy machine gun and were suffering heavy casualties. CSM Williams, without regard for his own life, rushed the machine gun position, secured it and took 15 prisoners. For his many other acts of bravery during the First World War he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal and Bar and the French equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the Medaille Militaire.

With a parade conducted without so much as a hiccup, the memorial stone to CSM Williams formally unveiled and the full support of the people of Blaenau Gwent felt by all members of A Coy, we arrived back in Tidworth that evening tired but satisfied. There was just enough time to re-pack, get some sleep and then get up ready to depart to Germany at 4am the next morning!

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