Words: Richard Beecham
The 4th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (4PARA) has today been awarded the city’s highest civic honour, in recognition of their many years of service and its historic association with Leeds.
Established in 1942, 4PARA is the first military service unit to be given honorary freedom of Leeds since HMS Ark Royal received the honour in 1973.
Based in Thornbury Barracks, Pudsey, 4PARA has supported the Lord Mayor’s Civic Remembrance Sunday commemorations as the key military lead for the parade, as well as being involved with the city’s Armed Forces Day
The unit was recognised this evening at a special virtual ceremony, attended by HM Lord Lieutenant for West Yorkshire, Ed Anderson, with the commanding officer for 4PARA, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Lewin, receiving the award on behalf of the unit alongside Colonel John Handford OBE.
The honorary status will also be recognised with a permanent inscription in Leeds Civic Hall and, once it is safe to do so, 4PARA will be invited to the city to celebrate with a freedom parade.
Leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake paid tribute to the regiment. She said:
“Over the years, the council has had the distinct pleasure of bestowing freedom status to a select few who have achieved something very special in their respective fields.
“Given the long and distinguished military history of Leeds, it is our great honour to recognise 4PARA, allowing their efforts to be remembered and celebrated for many years to come. In a year where we haven’t been able to come together in our usual ways to honour the heroic service of our Armed Forces, we hope that bestowing this status on the battalion helps underline our tremendous respect for all they do to keep us safe.”
Coun Andrew Carter (Calverley & Farsley), leader of the Leeds Conservative group, added his congratulations. He said:
“While we have not been able to mark the occasion as we usually would, granting honorary freedom of the city is always a special and unique occasion, and we are delighted to support the nomination of 4PARA for their many years of devoted service. I hope we are able to welcome the battalion to the city next year to celebrate with the parade they deserve.”
Coun Stewart Golton, leader of Leeds Liberal Democrats group, said: “Granting Freedom of Entry is a tremendous way to recognise and honour our Armed Forces in Leeds, which is why we are proud to support the nomination of 4PARA.
“Even if just virtually for now, it has been great to come together to celebrate both the important role the battalion play in their local community and their deserved place in the city’s military history.”
Lieutenant Colonel Rick Lewin, the Commanding Officer of 4PARA, said:
“As a battalion, we relish the chance to work alongside Leeds City Council to celebrate and remember the work of our Armed Forces. Over our many years at Thornbury Barracks, Leeds has always been so welcoming and supportive, so to be recognised with the city’s highest civic honour, freedom of entry, fills us all with extreme pride.
“During the pandemic, it has been our great honour to support the city we call home, working in our local community to help deliver vital mobile testing sites. We have seen first-hand the heart and resilience of the people of Leeds – and we cannot wait to be able to enjoy this achievement with them when it is safe to do so.”
The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Coun Eileen Taylor, said: “As a city, we are extremely proud of our military personnel, both past and present, with many residents across Leeds coming together for the annual Armed Forces Day celebrations and Remembrance Sunday commemorations.
“As dedicated supporters of the council’s work to honour our Armed Forces, I am delighted to see 4PARA being awarded Honorary Freedom and hope to see them parading through Leeds as soon as it is safe to do so.”