Hundreds of spectators lined the market square of Wiedenbrück as 26th Regiment Royal Artillery was awarded the Freedom of the City.
Supported by the Band of the Royal Artillery, 150 soldiers marched on to the square in glorious sunshine to receive one of the highest awards from a civic authority.
The soldiers were joined by a marching contingent and band of the St Sebastian Bürgerschützen celebrating their 525th anniversary.
In former times, the Schützen or Riflemen were raised to defend towns and cities from invaders. Today, the Schützen have a symbolic meaning which is rooted deep in German traditions.
“Fifteen years ago the Schützenverein Wiedenbrück asked whether we would like to form a relationship as we had mutual interests,” Maj Bertie Swan-Ingrey, Regimental Second-in-Command explained.
“We gave it a go and the relationship has developed. So, this year, and in view of the fact we will be leaving a few years, we felt it is a fitting occasion to formalise our relationship.
“The Mayor and council of Rheda-Wiedenbrück decided to award us with the Freedom of the City and today we shall fix bayonets and parade through the streets in recognition of this honour and 15 years of friendship.”
Federal and local politicians closed ranks to support the occasion which was attended on the British side by Master Gunner St James’ Park, Lt Gen Sir Andrew Gregory, Brig John Mead, Commander 1 Arty Bde and Brig Mike Elviss, Commander 20th Armd Inf Bde.
“We British soldiers in Gütersloh very much value our relationship with the Wiedenbrück Schützen,” said Gen Gregory, who retired from the Army in August 2016, “and I know that my officers and soldiers are very proud to march with them today, marching shoulder to shoulder which demonstrates the close relationship that exists between our nations.”
The Mayor of Wiedenbrück, Theo Mettenborg thanked the soldiers for their continued commitment to peace and security. “As the Schützen defended us all those many centuries ago, today it is the presence of the British military that guarantees peace and security. We must thank you all for this.”
The Freedom of the City scroll was then formally handed to 26 Regt RA who then fixed bayonets and marched through the streets to rapturous applause from the crowds.