GUNFIRE rang out across Sunderland as the city’s adopted regiment celebrated 40 years of its freedom.
Hundreds of gunners from 4th Regiment Royal Artillery marched through the city centre, watched by proud family and friends.
As part of the ceremonies, eight of its 105mm light guns fired a round each from the terrace in Mowbray Park.
The parade on Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of the regiment being given freedom of what was then the Borough of Sunderland in 1974.
Led by the Band of the King Division, more than 200 gunners marched down from the Civic Centre to the war memorial in Burdon Road, where they were inspected by Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Stuart Porthouse, and the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Sir Nigel Sherlock, watched by veterans and dignitaries.
Another veteran was at the head of the procession – Northumbria Police horse Provost, a 21-year-old Irish draught chestnut gelding, who was a familiar sight at derby games.The 17-hand horse is hanging up his reins after helping police events all over the country, including the 2012 Olympics.
Once Provost and the gunners had marched past, the Mayor told the crowds it was an “honour and privilege” to welcome the North Yorkshire-based regiment.
He said: “I’m old enough to recall 1974 – believe it or not – and there have been many changes in Sunderland over those intervening years and I expect there’s been many, many changes in the British Army and the Royal Artillery.
“However, there are two things that I can categorically state that have not changed over 40 years.
“Firstly, the strong bonds and affection that the people of Sunderland and the wider North East have towards the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery.
“Secondly, what has not changed is the professionalism and commitment that you gunners – and indeed all the armed forces have – towards your roles in maintaining, protecting and preserving our security.”
Nicknamed the North East Gunners, as about two thirds of its members are from the region, the regiment has completed three tours of duty in Afghanistan.
After returning from its first tour in July 2008, the regiment fired its guns in Sunderland from Building Hill, Mowbray Park, next to the statue of General Henry Havelock.
Among them on Saturday was Bombardier Jamie Defty, 21, from Seaham, who marched at the Stadium of Light last year when gunners received their campaign medals.
The father-of-one, who is married to Lisa and has a one-year-old son, Hunter, said: “It is always an honour when you come to fire the guns in your home city.
“This is the second time we have done it in the last four years.
“My mam and dad and brother are here. We get a massive amount of support in Sunderland.”
Freedom of the city is a historic honour dating back to ancient Roman times, granted to martial organisations, allowing them the privilege to march into the city with drums beating and bayonets fixed.