SOLDIERS from The Royal Gloucestershire Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry (RGBW LI) marched through the centre of Salisbury for the last time on Saturday with colours flying, bayonets fixed and band playing.

The Freedom Parade is a long tradition, which the regiments associated with the city have exercised since the beginning of the last century, when the 2nd Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment marched to the Guildhall on its return from the Boer war.

Regiments have been merged, amalgamated and disbanded since then and The Wiltshires have been absorbed into other regiments, finally resolving into its current incarnation after it was formed in 1994 by the merger of the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire and Wiltshire) and The Gloucestershire Regiment, assuming its present title in July 2005.

It was presented with the Freedom of the City in October 2004 and Saturday's celebration of that honour is a particularly poignant one.

It is, in effect, the last hurrah of a regiment that has boasted the county title in its heritage for more than two centuries.

For although the RGBW LI is one of the youngest regiments in the British Army, it is also one of the shortest lived as it will become the 1st Battalion The Rifles on February 1 next year, and the county names of Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshire will disappear from its title, consigned to military history.

From The Wiltshires' point of view, it's a history that stretches back to its formation 250 years ago.

Although it has for years drawn its ranks from the men of Wiltshire, it was raised in Devon in 1756 at the start of the Seven Years War.

Originally known as the 4th of Foot, the battalion was bound for Canada when it was renamed the 62nd Regiment of Foot.

It won its first battle honours at the Battle of Louisburg in 1758 (although it was not awarded until 150 years later) and fought in the American War of Independence under General Burgoyne at Saratoga, where they earned the nickname The Springers.

It seems the lure of the land of the free was overwhelming to many and few of the regiment returned to England - it was said that the regimental band volunteered its service to a Boston regiment.

But some of the officers and men returned home and started to reform the regiment.

In 1782, when regiments were invited to take the name of counties, the 62nd opted to be known as the 62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment.

Led by the Duke of Wellington, the 2/62 served with distinction during the Peninsular War against Napoleon and in the first Sikh War in India.

At the Battle of Ferozeshah, the battalion lost most of its officers on the first day and sergeants took over command. This is commemorated annually on December 21 at a ceremonial parade when the regimental colours are handed over to the Warrant Officers and Sergeants for the rest of the day and then returned, Cinderella-like, at midnight.

The Wiltshires served in the Crimea in 1854-56 and in Nova Scotia in 1858.

There they had to cross New Brunswick by train, which became stuck in ferocious snowstorms.

Stranded, they were forced to complete the journey by sledge when it was reported that it was eight men to a sledge with two blankets between them in sub-zero temperatures.

Under the Cardwell reforms in 1881, the 62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment was linked with the 99th (Duke of Edinburgh's) Regiment to become the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the (Duke of Edinburgh's) Wiltshire Regiment.

The 99ths had a reputation for sartorial elegance, which is said to have given rise to the expression "dressed to the nines".

When the Great War broke out, The Wiltshires raised eleven battalions of men who fought in major actions in France, Gallipoli, Salonika, and Mesopotamia (where they were the first to enter Baghdad in 1917) and were heavily engaged in the Battle of the Somme.

Some 5,000 men were lost over the course of the war.

In 1919, the 1st Battalion the Wiltshire Regiment was greeted by dignitaries and the people of Salisbury on its return from the fighting in Europe. The regiment changed its title to The Wiltshire Regiment (Duke of Edinburgh's) in 1920, but otherwise followed the usual pattern of service until war broke out once more in 1938.

Six battalions were raised, of which four saw active service in France It4aly Burma India and Germany, where the soldiers were involved in the liberation of Belsen concentration camp.

Post war service took the regiment (both battalions amalgamated in 1948) to Hong Kong and Korea and to Cyprus and the EOKA campaign, where it earned the distinction of being the longest serving infantry regiment on the island.

The Wiltshires joined with the Royal Berkshires to form the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire and Wiltshire) in 1959 and 35 years later, in 1994, the Gloucestershire Regiment merged with it to form the Royal Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment.

Through all the changes, the county name of the Moonrakers has stayed enshrined in the regimental title, but it will disappear forever when it becomes the 1st Battalion The Rifles on February 1, 2007.

The regiment's decision to exercise its right to march through the city for the first and last time as the RGBW LI is its way of saying farewell.

The Freedom Parade started at 2pm in the Cathedral Close and passed through St Ann's Gate and marched to a reception at the Guildhall via New Street, High Street, Silver Street, Minster Street and Blue Boar Row.

Old comrades who served in the past, members of the Territorial Army and the Army Cadets also took part and the regiment was cheered on its way by the people of south Wiltshire who contributed so many men to its ranks.

Commanding Officer of RGBW LI Colonel David Brown said: "This is a wonderful way to say thank you to the people of Salisbury for providing so many of our excellent soldiers in the past.

"It gives us great pleasure to exercise our Freedom of Salisbury, maintaining our proud heritage and regional links.