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1956: Commonwealth heads honoured

VIDEO : BBC News clip of the Freeman ceremony

The prime ministers of India and New Zealand have been made Freemen of the City of London.

Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Sir Sidney Holland of New Zealand were honoured in a ceremony at the Guildhall in the British capital.

The two Commonwealth leaders signed the roll of fame and were given the documents of the Freedom, contained in ornamental caskets, in a service presided over by the Principal Clerk to the Chamberlain.

Witnessed by the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, the pair took the Freeman's oath to be true to the Queen and keep peace in the City.

At a special luncheon held at Mansion House afterwards Mr Nehru paid tribute to the British Government, the Labour Opposition and Lord and Lady Mountbatten.

Words of friendship

"Whatever good or evil there may have been in the past, the result was good...due in part to the good qualities of the British people and perhaps the Indian people," he said.

Speaking of the Mountbattens - his lordship was the last viceroy of India - Mr Nehru said they: "performed the remarkable feat of becoming the rivals of our Indian leaders in the favour of our people."

He explained his attachment to London developed in his youth, after being educated at Harrow School and Cambridge University.

When asked about the future of the Commonwealth Mr Nehru responded: "I cannot peek into history; but I would say, looking into past years, that it has led us closer to each other. I presume it will lead us closer still."

Mr Holland pledged his and his country's allegiance to the UK "in war or in peace".

He explained: "When we New Zealanders come here we say we are going home. When we leave here, we say we are going home."

The tradition of Freedom of the City of London dates back to the 13th century when it attracted privileges including being allowed to go about the city with a drawn sword.

In Context
Until 1996 Freedom of the City was only granted to British or Commonwealth citizens of good character over the age of 21.

Since then, any nationality is eligible through nomination. An average of 1,800 people per year were becoming freemen by 2002, although it no longer attracts any real privileges.

Women also have a long tradition of freedom of the city - initially they were known as 'free sisters'.

Jawaharlal Nehru continued as Prime Minister of India until he died in 1964.

Sir Sidney Holland retired from office in 1957 and the National Party - which he led - lost power that year. He died in 1961.


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