Tribute was paid to 50 courageous members of the Rifles Regiment, who paid the ultimate price, at a solemn ceremony to confer Poole’s highest honour.

The toll of Riflemen and officers who died in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2007, was read during the ceremony to grant the Freedom of the Borough of Poole.

Among those present were the proud mother and sister of Captain Mark Hale, 42, from Bournemouth, killed in August 2009, one of three Dorset soldiers to die in Afghanistan, along with Rifleman Phil Allen, 20, of Verwood, killed last November, and Rifleman Jonny Allott, 19, of Bournemouth, in March this year.

“They deserve this. We are very proud of them,” said Capt Hale’s mother Diana Russell after the ceremony at Poole Civic Centre, at which gifts were exchanged between the council and the regiment.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said his sister Jo Brodie.

“It’s not just The Rifles, they are a little wheel in a big cog. It’s all the other families as well.”

After accepting the Freedom Scroll and an inscribed commemorative sword from Poole’s Mayor, Cllr Charles Meachin, Brigadier Richard Toomey, Deputy Commandant, presented a silver bugle, the emblem of the regiment.

“We don’t actually need much sympathy, although we get plenty of it,” said Brigadier Toomey.

“This is what we chose – this is our way of serving society.

“What we do need and get, is support from the community we come from and live in.

“That means a huge amount to us,” he said.

The mayor, whose RN chaplain son Rev Mike Meachin goes to Afghanistan on Thursday, said: “I am delighted to be able to grant this much-deserved honour to the regiment on behalf of the people of Poole, in recognition of the men and women who serve this country with such bravery, commitment and dedication.”

The Rifles, formed in 2007 from the Devon and Dorsets, Royal Gloucestershire Berkshire and Wiltshires, Light Infantry and Royal Green Jackets, who were all represented, aim to parade through Poole in summer 2011.