Two members of the Mercian Volunteers Regimental Association’s Walsall branch have supplied the Bugle with this story, which turns the clock back to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Amid those jubilee celebrations of the summer of 1977 was an especially proud day for the men of the 2nd Battalion Mercian Volunteers.
The photographs are from the collection of Philip Fairbrace while the words are by Robert Durbin.
“This year, being the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, brings back memories of when our battalion, the 2nd Battalion Mercian Volunteers, was presented with new colours by Her Majesty 35 years ago in her silver jubilee year, 1977.
“Throughout 1976 and 1977 the battalion spent most of its time practising foot and weapons drill for the presentation of the colours. We also had to be measured up for our new no.2 dress uniforms, our boots had to be bulled (highly polished) to a high standard, inspections were frequent and most other training was put to one side as the rehearsals for the parade were priority.
“On Saturday, 13th July, 1977, we arrived at Altcar training camp, near Liverpool, for one week. We travelled with all our kit, plus are no.2 dress uniform in suit carriers, and our now gleaming, bulled boots were carried separately for fear of damaging them after hours, if not days, of spit and polish.
“Our first week involved getting up earlier than our usual 5am. Washing and shaving, having had our breakfast, was followed by two hours of practicing foot and rifle drill on the parade ground in our respective rifle companies, all under the watchful eye of Regimental Sergeant Major J. McGarry. The rest of the day was spent honing our shooting skills on the rifle ranges, followed by our evening meal and more foot and rifle drill. This was the routine for nearly all of the first week, except no.2 dress and boot inspections were regularly taking place. On Friday afternoon there was a rehearsal on the parade ground, dressed in our combat suits, our standard issued rifle, the SLR, with fixed bayonets and members of the corps of drums of 1 Mercian Volunteers were present so the battalion could march to the same beat.
“On Saturday, 20th July, we moved from Altcar to St George’s Barracks, Sutton Coldfield. After settling in to our new environment, we were allowed free time off during the evenings over the weekend and quickly headed to the nearest pub, the Boot. First thing Monday morning, we entered our second week of rehearsals for the colour parade in Birmingham that would take place on Saturday, 27th July. The battalion was now formed into the parade format of three guards, escort to the colours and the colour party. We were accompanied by the band and corps of drums from 1 Mercian Volunteers. All foot and weapon drill would be practised as a battalion, but on the first morning we had an unexpected guest – the West Midlands police. The local residents living close to the barracks were phoning the police in their droves, complaining about the music being so loud early in the morning. Following this intervention we continued to practice with the band but now only with a single drummer tapping out the beat, but come 8 o’clock we practised with the full band again.
“The parade ground was rearranged to replicate the parade area in Birmingham and we practised marching on, the colour presentation, and marching off the parade ground. Time was given to iron our kit and polish our best boots. This was followed by dress inspections, ensuring our kit was of the high standard required for the parade.
“The routine was much the same on Tuesday but from that evening everyone had to go to bed early as for the next three days we would have to be up early, have a light breakfast, dress in our no.2 uniforms, but not our best boots and shirts, and board coaches to Birmingham city centre to practise the parade. All TA soldiers not taking part in the parade would have taken part in rifle and foot drill but were used instead as markers, guards and ushers at the parade ground.
“On Friday morning a final full dress rehearsal took place, where we all wore our uniform and best boots that we would wear for the colour parade. The presentation ofthe colours had to take place several times before RSM McGarry was satisfied.
“Rehearsals over, we returned to camp, where we had to pack up the remainder of our kit not being used, as after the colour parade and celebrations, the battalion would disperse and return to their TA centres around the Midlands.
“On the day of the parade we travelled to Birmingham. Once we had debussed we formed up in our respective guards that we had been rehearsing for the last few weeks. Three guards were formed. No.2 guard was spilt into two smaller guards of 22 soldiers, either side of the escort to the colour party. D Company 2 Mercian Walsall formed one these smaller guards, the remainder were from A Company Worcester, B Company Stoke-on-Trent, C Company Ellesmere Port, and HQ Company Shirley.
“No.2 Guard D. Company 2 Mercian: Captain Jim Bridges, CSM Fred Benton, CSgt Powell, Cpl Dave Forrester, Cpl Steve Weller, LCpl Robert Durbin, LCpl Skippy Beardsmore, LCpl Parton, LCpl Harry Cotterill, Pte Terry Plimmer, Pte Eddie Newell, Pte Dave Evans, Pte Roy Mayo, Pte Dickie Powell, Pte Delroy Harris, plus ten other members of the company.
“14 officers and 142 other ranks took part, all volunteers, along with their training PSIs.
“Under the command of RSM McGarry, we marched to the paradeground with the band playing. We halted and waited for Her Majesty to arrive.
“The senior officers were: “Honorary Colonel, Major General J.H.S. Majury, CB, MBE; Regimental Aide-de- Camp, Major M.S. Rainbow, TD (OC D Company); 2 Mercian Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel E.R. Vines, TD; Second-in-Command, Major P.E. Boulton, TD; Adjutant, Captain C.A.C. Heron; Field Officers handling new colours to Her Majesty, Major P.E. Boulton, TD, and Major E.C. Dodsworth, TD.
“The colour party was made up of: “2nd Lieutenant R.S. Scott (Queen’s colour); L.F. Uren (regimental colour); Colour Guard Sergeant, WO2 Brian D. Sayers; Colour Sergeant (Queen’s colour) John A. Kirk; Colour Sergeant (regimental colours) J.C. Perks; Uncasing the new colours, Lieutenant (QM) Ken Noakes.
“The guard officers were: “No.1 Guard, Major D.E. Collins, 2nd Lieutenant B.A. Bramford and 2nd Lieutenant A.E. Cox.
“No.2 Guard, Major J.R. Murley, TD, and Captain J.H. Bridges.
“No.3 Guard, Major E.C. Dodsworth, TD, 2nd Lieutenant S.N. Middleton and 2nd Lieutenant W.G. Wright.
“The bandmaster was WO1 A. Sears and the drum major was WO D.N. Bridges.
“The presentation of colours by Her Majesty the Queen to 2 Mercian Volunteers was the first time she had presented colours to a TAVR battalion as opposed to a TA battalion.
“Dark skies and rain threatened early on in the morning but by lunchtime the sun was shining, which greeted the arrival of Her Majesty. The presentation was made in the Hall of Memory Gardens, which had been beautifully prepared for the occasion. The Queen was accompanied by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.
“The colours were consecrated by the Venerable Archdeacon Peter Mallet, QHC, AKC, Chaplain General of the forces. He was attended by the Right Reverend Monsignor Donald McMillan, Reverend Peter Whiting and Reverend Dennis Spiller, the regimental chaplain.
“In her address the Queen said, ‘Lieutenant-Colonel Vines, Officers and men of the 2nd Battalion Mercian Volunteers, I am pleased that in my silver jubilee year I have had this opportunity to present colours for the first time to a battalion of the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve, and I congratulate you all on the high standards that you have achieved. You have volunteered to play a vital role, not only as a reserve force, but as a major part of the defence of our country and of Europe. Although you are a newly formed battalion, you represent the old county regiments of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire, and have inherited the history of loyal service to the crown, spanning more than 200 years. I remember the occasion in 1962 when I presented colours for the North and south Staffordshire battalions in Wolverhampton and no doubt many of you here now were also present on that occasion. I look upon these colours as a symbol of the spirit of your regiment and I am sure that they will serves as an inspiration to those of you on parade and those that will follow afterwards.’
“In his reply Lt-Col Vines said, ‘Your Majesty, the honour which you have conferred upon the 2nd Battalion Mercian Volunteers by presented us with our colours is not only appreciated by all ranks at present serving, but future generations of Midlands soldiers will learn of what has happened on this parade today, in this jubilee year, and look upon the occasion with the greatest pride. Your Majesty has referred to the services of the 2nd Battalion Mercian Volunteers and to the officers and men whom it is my privilege and honour to command. On behalf of all ranks of the battalion, I beg to offer you my sincere thanks for presented us with these colours and for the gracious words you have addressed to us. Under our new colours, I assure Your Majesty, it will be the aim of every one of us to reach and maintain the highest possible standards of service in a practical way our devotion and loyalty to our sovereign and to the defence of our country.’
“After the presentation of the colours, the battalion, the colour party and escort trooped the new colours through the ranks of the guards. At the end of the parade all ranks on parade gave a rousing three cheers for Her Majesty. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh then left the parade and the guards and new colours marched off to the regimental march of the Mercian Volunteers, Under the Double Eagle. The drill on the day was faultless.
“After the ceremony the battalion returned to Sutton Coldfield where receptions were held for families and guests of the three different messes.
“During the evening a reception was held for the officers, warrant officers and sergeants at the barracks. The new colours were marched into the reception room by the colour party and laid upon the silver drums of 1 Mercian. As the festivities were well underway, the colours were guarded by four corporals from D Company Walsall; Kevin Beardsmore, Harry Cotterill, Robert Durbin and Steve Weller. At the end of the evening, the guard under the supervision of the RSM and Colour Sergeant John Kirk returned the colours to HQ Company Shirley for safekeeping.
“From the earliest times flags or banners (colours) were used as rallying points for soldiers in battle, to identify their units.
“The colours were carried by young ensigns and escorted closely by colour sergeants, a rank which continues in the army today.
“Colours were last carried in battle by the British army in the late 19th century, and before then they were ‘trooped’ through the ranks of their respective regprior to an engagement, so that the men could recognise them and rally to them, according to the fortunes of battle.
“Although the colours are no longer carried in battle they still constitute the sacred symbol of the battalion’s honour and devotion to duty and depict, in the battle honours emblazoned upon them, the courage, sacrifice and steadfastness of those who came before.
“The colours presented to 2nd Battalion Mercian Volunteers were similar to those presented on 13th May, 1972, to 1st Battalion Mercian Volunteers by Lieutenant General Sir Napier Crookenden, KCB, DCO, OBE. 1st Mercian had TA centres in Kidderminster, Wolverhampton, Burton-on-Trent, Nottingham, Rugeley and Stockport.
“You may have noticed that the colours of 1 and 2 Mercian do not carry battle honours. It was not possible to include the great many battle honours won by the former volunteer regiments of the Midlands, so the regimental colours are simply embroidered in each corner with the badges of the infantry regiments of the Midlands, the Cheshire Regiment, Worcester Forester Regiment and the Staffordshire Regiment.
“In 1988 1 and 2 Mercian ceased to exist when they were replaced by our county regiments again.
“In the early 2000s, exmembers of 1 and 2 Mercian set up the Mercian Volunteers Regimental Association (MVRA). We now have branches in Burton-on-Trent, Kidderminster, Nottingham, Rugeley, Stockport, Walsall and Wolverhampton, with hopes of forming branches in Shirley, Ellesmere Port and Worcester. The MVRA was formed to help ex-members in times of hardship but also attends many functions and raises money for charities such as Help for Heroes, Troop Aid, Combat Stress and the Forces Children’s Trust. We also support service personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“All the association’s new standards were consecrated at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas.
“MVRA branches attend many functions, like Remembrance Sunday and Anzac Day. A curry evening is held annually in Burton-on-Trent and the association hopes to organise a battlefield tour in 2013.
“If you are an ex-member of 1 or 2 Mercian and wish to see old comrades for a drink or chat over old times, visit our website www.mercians.org to find a branch near you.
“The Walsall branch will meet on the last Thursday of September and November at Rock Steady Eddie’s, Stafford Street, Walsall. The Christmas function will be held there on 8th December.”