- by Ed Ballard (15th June, 2010)
In amidst the glamour and celebration of May Week, hundreds turned out in central Cambridge yesterday evening for the homecoming parade of 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, marking the end of a sixth month tour in Afghanistan.
Beginning on Castle Hill, the troops marched down Bridge Street, through Market Square, then halting for an inspection on King's Parade by the Duke of Gloucester.
A centuries old tradition, such parades have become more widespread in recent years as the army has become more heavily involved in Afghanistan, but have often become focal points for conflicting views over the war.
The Royal Anglians hit the news after just such a parade in March last year when they were heckled as ‘Butchers of Basra’ and ‘Terrorists’ by a group of radical young Muslims as they marched through the streets of Luton. The events led directly to the formation of the English Defence League, the latest addition to Britain’s motley array of angry, ideologically confused, far-right political groups, who have become a feature of homecoming parades ever since. Yesterday's was no exception.
A grand total of six flag-waving EDL members yesterday showed that the ‘Cambridge Divison’, as they branded themselves, was really yet to get off its feet. Yet their presence yesterday was still felt.
So too was that of the small band of anti-war protesters who occupied a prominent position on King's Parade holding banners reading ‘End the War, Bring them Home’. Police were careful to separate the two as they came face to face and confrontation seemed to be looming.
Silent resolve from the anti-war demonstrators seemed to leave the slightly more verbose EDL supporters frustrated. None seemed to spot the irony as one skinned-headed lout turned to another to say ‘no wonder they’re against the war, look how his long hair is’.
As the crowds cheered the passing troops there was an over-riding air of warmth and pride in their accomplishments. Nevertheless a noticeable police presence throughout confirmed the fact that such marches increasingly offer a focal point for the divided views over Britain’s role in a conflict now approaching its tenth year.
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