A GYPSY leader is to take part in a Remembrance Sunday parade for the first time, to commemorate the members of his family and community who fought in both world wars, and the Gypsies who died in the Holocaust.

Billy Welch, of Darlington, will march in the parade and lay a wreath this Sunday after being invited by the town’s Mayor Nick Wallis.

His great grandfather lost a leg on the Somme in the First World War, his grandfather landed in Normandy in the Second World War a few days after D-Day and fought through to Germany, and one of his uncles fought in Africa and Italy in that conflict.

Mr Welch said: “This is extremely important to me. I am absolutely over the moon.

“It is an honour and a privilege to be marching with the mayor and everyone else, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, just like our grandfathers went side by side, shoulder to shoulder with the settled community into war.

“To be recognised as people who have made a contribution to British society is very important.

"We have always played our part but it has never been spoken of in the past.

“We have been pushed to the side and ignored, but this shows how things are moving forward and getting better and we are not forgotten.”

Cllr Wallis said: “It is something I went to see Billy about, and we talked about his family’s wonderful record and the sacrifices they gave. The Gypsy community fought not just for Britain but also across Europe and many were very active in the resistance movement.

“It is a story that hasn’t been told and I think it is wonderful that Gypsies and travellers who were called into conflict are now being remembered. It is important to remember that they were not just victims of the Holocaust, but also active combatants against fascism in Europe.”

Mr Welch added: “We aren’t military people by nature, but when the country needs us, we are there. We don’t do any more or any less than anyone else, but we do our bit. We give our lives and our limbs, we win VCs and we suffer mental trauma like everyone else, so Remembrance Sunday is every bit as important to us as it is to anyone in the settled community.

“We are as much a part of British culture as anyone else.”