More than 200 sailors and airmen from RNAS Culdrose exercised their right to march through the borough of Helston with “swords drawn, bayonets fixed, bands playing and colours flying” last Wednesday.
The annual Freedom of Helston Parade brought the town to a standstill as schoolchildren and adults, cheering and enthusiastically waved Union flags, lined the ceremonial route bathed in sunshine.
Friends and families also turned out to see their loved ones march tall through the ancient Cornish streets.
HMS Seahawk Band marched at the head of the columns, which included a platoon from 857 Naval Air Squadron who have just returned from a 26 month deployment to Camp Bastion, where they were employed as the “Eye in the Sky” above Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
Among the relatives celebrating their return was 11-year-old Mackenzie Hall, who said: “I'm very proud of my dad and all of 857 Squadron members keeping us safe. I really, really missed him when he was away in Afghanistan and so happy when he came back.”
Other marching platoons represented officers, senior ratings and junior rates from across the air station.
Personnel from the air station had earlier been inspected by the mayor of Helston Mike Thomas, accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Jim Hall, commanding officer of 857 Squadron, who was impressed by their smart appearance and bearing.
Mr Thomas said: “RNAS Culdrose has been an established feature of our town for over 50 years; mayors have stood here and thanked you for your commitment and service and today I have the honour and privilege to be the 19th town mayor to thank you.
“Links between Helston and Culdrose make us strong and we are proud our town has on its door step such an esteemed and prestigious naval air station.”
HMS Seahawk was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Helston in 1958, and the air station annually exercises this right.
Taking the salute with Mr Thomas was HMS Seahawk's commanding officer Captain Mark Garratt and members of the town council.
A specially arranged flypast of aircraft from RNAS Culdrose coincided with the Queen's Colour passing the saluting party.
The tradition of conferring freedom of a town or city dates from when fortress walls were necessary to protect its inhabitants from outlaw bands and the attacks of feudal lords.
Bodies of armed men were refused entry into the town unless the citizens were confident that they meant no harm.
The granting of permission for a formed body of armed men to enter a town became a mark of trust and confidence in which that body was held by the citizens of the town.
To be granted freedom of a town or city is the greatest honour that can be bestowed on a unit within the armed forces.