AT least 1,000 people gathered in the High Street to cheer on the crew of HMS Ledbury as they were offered the Freedom of the Town.

The band of the Royal Marines led to the way, their white pith helmets shining in the rain and with batons whirling and drums beating.

A sea of multi-coloured umbrellas waited in the town centre as the band, crew, Ledbury sea cadets and army cadets marched in perfect time along Bye Street, towards an expectant quiet in the High Street.

Watching by the Market House, in full naval uniform from half a century ago, was Nigel Jones, of Cradley, former boson's mate of HMS Vidal and a veteran of the Suez conflict and North Atlantic Cod War.

He said: "I wouldn't have missed this. It is a proud day for the area, and it almost brings a lump to your throat."

The crew of HMS Ledbury were put through their drill and clearly relished their military precision.

There was respectful silence in the crowd in between the orders, before Ledbury town crier Bill Turberfield rang his bell and announced the arrival of the mayor Coun Kay Swinburne and town council delegates.

Coun Swinburne was invited to inspect the ship's company, while the Band of the Royal Marine's went through its paces, marching up to the traffic lights and back and playing Men of Harlech and The British Grenadiers.

On the podium by the war memorial, Coun Swinburne offered the scroll that granted the Freedom of the Town to the crew to the ship's captain, Lt Cmdr Paul Russell.

She said: "It is a great honour to place on record our appreciation of the glorious tradition of HMS Ledbury."

She praised the close links between the ship and town, before the captain accepted the scroll and placed it in a casket of oak.

With the Freedom of the Town granted, the crew fixed bayonets to their modern automatic rifles while the Royal Marine's played a snatch of Rule Britannia. Then the crew gave the salute to the people of Ledbury.

The party marched to the sound of A Life on the Ocean Waves to Top Cross and back, before turning into Church Street for a special thanksgiving service in the church.

A reception in the Community Hall followed and on Thursday morning, the crew went to the Led-bury Hunt kennels at Egg Tump, where they were given presents of cider, sweatshirts and polo shirts.

The Hunt class minsesweeper is named after the Ledbury Hunt.