HE entered the elegant ballroom to a standing ovation, and as the applause died down, he shouted, “don’t stop”.
A typical display of humour from former paratrooper Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, on the most untypical of days.
On Monday, the most seriously injured serviceman to survive the Afghanistan conflict was bestowed the highest honour his hometown can give - the Freedom of Doncaster.
L/Bombardier Parkinson, 33, lost both legs and suffered brain damage when the armoured Land Rover he was travelling in hit a mine in Helmand Province in September 2006. He was not expected to survive, but he did. He was told he would never walk or speak again but again, he did, defying doctors.
Since then, he has undertaken a series of challenges for charity, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds, including a 90-mile kayak in France and a trek through the Arctic.
He was made an MBE in 2015, but for L/Bombardier Parkinson, becoming a freeman of the borough in which he was born is one of his greatest achievements.
He told The Yorkshire Post. “I am very proud because I have been recognised by Doncaster, my home town.”
He said the people of Doncaster had been behind him “massively” since his injury
“For the people of Doncaster to say that I am one of them, is a very good feeling,” he said.
His thoughts were echoed by his mother Diane Dernie.
She said: “I am unbelievably proud of Ben, but this is something special, when it’s your hometown that is honouring him.
“We have always lived in the same area of Bessacarr, he was born in the Royal Infirmary.
“When he was first injured, one of my massive fears was how people would react to Ben. His injuries were very visible - with the wheelchair, and his speech, I was concerned how people would react.
“But the people of Doncaster treated him as their own from day one. They have always supported him and taken him to their hearts. This is why this honour is so special to us all.”
During the ceremony at the town’s Mansion House, Civic Mayor Coun George Derx paid tribute to L/Bombardier Parkinson’s family and friends, who had been there through his “darkest hour”. He said the former soldier had shown “indomitable spirit, tremendous drive and courage”, and had become an inspiration to thousands of people around the UK.
Coun Derx told L/Bombardier Parkinson: “I can’t think of a better ambassador for Doncaster.”
L/Bombardier Parkinson now joins an illustrious list of current Freemen of the Borough, including playwright Roy Clarke, opera singer Lesley Garrett and Olympian Sarah Stevenson.
Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones told of her nerves in the run up to a parachute jump with L/Bombardier Parkinson five years ago.
She said: “I thought, ‘if he can do, get a bit of backbone and do it’.
She added: “When I first met Ben he was in a remotely controlled wheelchair and using a voice synthesizer to speak - he has come so far.
“He is a true ambassador for Doncaster and a true friend. He is truly deserving of this honour. He really is ‘our Ben’.”
After being presented with the framed Freedom Scroll, L/Bombardier Parkinson said: “Everyone knows Doncaster is the best place in Yorkshire, and Yorkshire is the best place on Earth - so this really makes me a Freeman of the entire world.
“I don’t know what I can do as a Freeman - but when I find out, I promise you, I will do it.”
Ben Parkinson has begun a legal fight over his care, which is provided by a number of bodies including the Ministry of Defence (MoD), NHS England and Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group. His family and lawyers say they are not getting the support they need, and that the public bodies are in breach of the Armed Forces Covenant, which encapsulates the moral obligation owed towards to those who serve in the armed forces.
Mrs Dernie said the legal action took a step forward in the last few days when the bodies agreed to a meeting with the family to discuss her son’s care in September.
She told the Yorkshire Post: “This is not a victory, but a step forward.
“Ben needs 24-hour care. Ben is unendingly cheerful and positive, and always pushing himself, so people don’t realise that behind that is 24-hour care, and without that, Ben can’t function.
“We have never thought this should be the responsibility of the NHS, we believe it should be the MoDs. He was 22 when he was injured and he is 33 now, it is a long life to live when you are dependant on care and you don’t know where that funding will come from.”