A Report by the Master:
The 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment Medal Parade and Service of Thanksgiving, and Presentation of a Pipe Banner by the Worshipful Company of Broderers, at the Clive Barracks, Tern Hill, Market Drayton, Shropshire, on Saturday 19 August 2017.
We only had 5 days advance notice of the parade, so the Clerk was relieved that I could attend. The reason for the short notice was that B and C Company had only just been released from their tour of duty in Kabul and, in fact, only arrived back in barracks on the Friday afternoon. (A and D Company had returned 3 months previously) Each tour in Kabul is for up to 8 months and consists of two "rotations", with half of the men there at any one time. Their next tour is scheduled for August 2019-April 2020. The Regiment was elated as they had suffered no casualties and all their equipment was accounted for, thus making the Quartermaster happy! The men cannot drink whilst in Afghanistan, so lose on average 2 stones each, which is the main reason that the parade was conducted in "MTP" - multi-terrain pattern, or camouflage; the excuse being that their uniforms no longer fit! The return flight is via Cyprus where all are limited to 4 cans of lager!
I arrived via taxi from Stoke on Trent station (only 1hr 24 mins from Euston), 35 mins and 18 miles to Tern Hill. The welcome in the Officers' Mess was exceptional and the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Graham Shannon, and his second in command, Major Dan Moore, greeted me. I wanted for nothing and was looked after by the Adjutant, Capt. Wes Brown. The CO is leaving the Regiment shortly and a new CO takes over w/c 02 October, in time to attend our Associated Companies Dinner on 18 October. I was also well looked after by the Colonel of the Regiment, Brigadier Joe O'Sullivan, recently retired from the Army and now working as a special adviser to W. Midlands police. He is due to stand down from his honorary role in 15 months.
The day's events were a military parade at 11.00, including the presentation of medals and speeches from the Commanding Officer and the Commander Field Army (responsible for all combat troops), one Lt General Patrick Sanders (no relation!) followed by a drumhead Service of Thanksgiving and a short sermon. A Luncheon reception in the Mess followed. Tern Hill barracks sits alongside RAF Shawbury, which is basically a Conning Tower and a large airfield. The parade ground was the taxiway, so nice and exposed.
Typical of our English summer, the heavens opened at precisely 11.00 and a heavy squall with accompanying cold wind ensued for 20 minutes or so. The contrast for the men - referred to as "Rangers" - from the conditions in Kabul only a day or so previously, was profound and many could be seen shivering. There were 630 on parade, including bandsmen from the 2nd (TA) battalion in N. Ireland. Your Master was seated in the front row of a covered viewing area alongside the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire and his wife, and assorted "top brass'. Unfortunately, there was a major design fault with the marquee, in that the rain was channelled down to the front and poured on to our feet and legs! Remedial action was called for as trouser turn-ups and shoes were filling fast, so the seats were unceremoniously moved back a foot in to the laps of the second row!
The weather having improved for the Service and the sermon - the sun actually shone on the righteous - the Chaplain - the event concluded with a mass march past and we adjourned to lunch at 12.45. The Broderers gift of a Pipe Banner was the focus of a formal presentation at 13.30 in the Officers Mess, captured by the official photographer. One Corporal Lewis marched in with pipes at full volume and halted in front of me with a salute. He had been tasked with this great honour, having joined the Regiment from the Irish Army last year, as he had just qualified that week as a Pipe Major - a much-coveted position.
Finally; a note about the future. Our Letter of Association, signed by Past Master Toler and Brigadier O'Sullivan on 14 April 2014, at a ceremony in the Guards Museum, cements our relationship, one that they are especially proud of. However, we need to activate some of the aspirations listed, such as making an annual award at the very ceremony I attended that morning. Meanwhile, the Royal Irish face more changes, additional to preparing for their next tour in 2 years’ time.
From 2020, they become part of a new Infantry Division, joining with the Royal Welsh and the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Tern Hill is to close in 2022 (their home since 2007) although RAF Shawbury remains. Rumour has it that they will move to either Edinburgh or S. Wales, with the former much favoured. More imminently, they are to be presented with new Regimental Colours in 2018 by their Colonel in Chief, HRH Prince Andrew. A date is not yet fixed but new Colours are only granted every 20 or 25 years apparently, and cost upwards of £25,000 - all from their budget! We can expect an invitation I am sure!
All in all, an exceptional day from my point of view and the bravery of soldiers serving in theatres of war, whether declared or not, is to be applauded. Their camaraderie was especially noticeable, with soldiers recruited from every county of Ireland, both north and south. The Broderers should be proud of this wonderful affiliation.
Roger Sanders OBE