Heroes welcome in Watton

The former head of the army last night thanked Watton businesses who have pledged to give the county's military heroes a warm welcome whenever they visit the town.

The Breckland community is the first in the district to adopt the Heroes Welcome scheme which aims to show the respect and pride they feel for the area's servicemen and women.

From the soldiers of the Light Dragoons at Swanton Morley to the under-threat airmen at RAF Marham, traders can issue a warm welcome by placing a Heroes Welcome sticker in their window.

Elsewhere in the country, where local authorities have also been introducing the national scheme, businesses have gone on to offer discounts and special offers to the heroes.

Although not able to attend yesterday's launch, General Sir Richard Dannatt sent a message of thanks to the town, which he congratulated for joining the campaign.

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He said: 'Watton and Breckland have a long association with the armed forces, now most obviously through support to RAF Marham and The Light Dragoons.

'Personnel from both units have taken part in difficult and dangerous operations on behalf of our nation in Afghanistan, and previously in Iraq, and thoroughly deserve our support in return. It is wonderful that Watton and Breckland are so firmly behind our people. Thank you.'

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Yesterday saw soldiers from the Light Dragoons join traders and councillors on the High Street to launch the scheme.

Speaking afterwards Lt Col Gus Fair, commanding officer for the Light Dragoons, said, while an obvious benefit would be gained from any discounts offered to troops, the message behind it was just as important.

'That demonstration of moral support for the servicemen and women and their families is really quite tremendous and almost more valuable to know the community in general is behind them,' he said.

Businesses and visitor attractions in West Norfolk are already supporting the scheme and Breckland plans to roll it out to the rest of the district if the Watton pilot proves successful.

So far two businesses have signed up for the scheme - Rudlings DIY and Salena Dawson Solicitors. Miss Dawson, who is also the chairman of the Wayland Chamber of Commerce, said she would be encouraging others to take part.

She added: 'The Watton area is so steeped in military history, it's nice to give something back.'

During the second world war, both the British air force and USAF were stationed at RAF Watton in nearby Carbrooke while every soldier who goes on to serve in Afghanistan will spend time at the Stanta battleground and Bodney training camp.

Lynda Turner, Breckland's executive support member for communities, said: 'It is so important to show our love and respect for the armed services and by starting this scheme, which we hope will spread round other shops and other towns, it shows the loyalty the people of Norfolk has to them.'

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