IT was a spectacle few who witnessed it will ever forget as 200 infantry soldiers, representing the Royal Regiment of Scotland, marched, with bayonets fixed and colours flying, through the streets of Melrose on Saturday morning, writes Andrew Keddie.
In so doing, they were exercising the Freedom of the Scottish Borders, an honour conferred on their regiment earlier at a drizzly Gibson Park by Councillor Alasdair Hutton, who himself was a member of the Territorial Army Parachute regiment for more than 30 years.
Hundreds turned out for the ceremony and even more lined the streets, warmly applauding the soldiers, kilted and sporting the blackcock feather hackles which distinguish the Royal Scots Borderers, as they marched behind the Lowland Band of their regiment.
It was in his role as convener of Scottish Borders Council that Mr Hutton had granted the regiment the freedom of the whole of the Borders: a unique accolade.
The honour was enshrined in a framed scroll containing a citation, read out by David Hume, chief executive of SBC.
“We, the convener and members of Scottish Borders Council, appreciating the dedication to service by the Royal Regiment of Scotland and its antecedent regiments and in recognition of the formidable and loyal service to the crown and to the Borders area ... Do by These Presents, confer upon you the Freedom of Entry into all parts of the Scottish Borders administered by this council and its successors on ceremonial occasions with colours flying, in pursuance of the resolution passed by SBC on Thursday, March 24, 2011.
“In witness thereof we have caused the Common Seal of the council to be hereunto affixed this 11th day of June, 2011.”
The accolade was acknowledged as “a signal honour” by the regiment’s colonel, Lt General Andrew Graham, who received the CB (Companion of the Order of the Bath) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Earlier, Mr Hutton had told the gathering: “I can say without fear of contraction that this is a proud day for the Scottish Borders. Today, we welcome formally the Royal Regiment of Scotland as a distinguished regiment in its own right to receive the freedom to march through any part of our beautiful area when it chooses.
“This regiment had a difficult birth with members of the antecedent regiments firmly resolved that the long and distinguished histories which they cherished should not be swept aside.
“But in the five years since its creation, this regiment has been blooded in conflict and has distinguished itself in combat against ruthless foes in exactly the same way as its predecessors did on many battlefields in the past.
“We welcome here today members of 1 and 6SCOTS to represent the regiment. 1SCOTS The Royal Scots Borderers is the successor to the two regiments which previously recruited in the Borders area – The Royal Scots and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers – while 6SCOTS is the Territorial Army Battalion which covers this area.
“In the modern British Army, they fight together in combat and I am proud they are marching here together today.
“The Royal Scots, in which my grandfather fought in the First World War nearly a century ago, was always proud that it was the most senor infantry regiment of the line in the British Army, having been raised in 1633 and with battle honours stretching back to 1680.
“The King’s Own Scottish Borderers was not much younger, having been raised to defend Edinburgh against the Jacobites in 1689 and numbered the 25th Regiment of Foot.
“But the young men and women who are joining the Royal Regiment of Scotland today are proud of this regiment and know that behind them runs nearly 400 years of history and tradition; of courage and service. None of the antecedent regiments ever received the freedom of all the Borders, so this is an historic moment as the regiment becomes the first to have the right to march anywhere in our beautiful and historic area with colours flying.”
The ceremonial party also included the region’s three Lord Lieutenants: Captain Gerald Maitland Carew (Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale), Captain David Younger (Tweeddale) and Major Alexander Trotter (Berwickshire) who later joined Lt General Graham and Mr Hutton to take the salute as the soldiers, led by Parade Commander Major David Goodacre, marched past a platform outside the Town House as the band played Scotland The Brave.
Lt General Graham told us: “We are all very proud that the Borders is the first region to grant us freedom, lock stock and barrel. It is also appropriate because the Borders has been such a provider of fine soldiers – a tradition we are determined to maintain.”