Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Riflemen, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a huge pleasure to join you all this evening, for the first time as your proud Colonel-in-Chief. It is always a daunting task to take over from a former Colonel-in-Chief, but in my case, to step into the boots of my much-missed, late father-in-law, The Duke of Edinburgh, is quite frankly terrifying! I know it was a role that he cherished and of which he was immensely proud and it is one of the greatest honours of my life to have followed him into this illustrious role.
As we gather in this magnificent building, we are surrounded by the weight of history. It was here that Thomas Cranmer and Lady Jane Grey stood trial; these stones have survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. You may also have noticed that we are to eat under some very watchful eyes – including those of the great Duke of Wellington. It was he, of course, who commanded the British Forces at the Battle of Salamanca over two hundred years ago: a battle in which each of our antecedent regiments fought. The Duke had a healthy respect for his soldiers: he is quoted as saying, “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me”. I wonder if your Colonel Commandant has ever felt the same…?
So far, on my visits to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Battalions, you have, very kindly, refrained from frightening me – although I would certainly not wish to face any of you on the battlefield. You have, on the other hand, impressed and inspired me with your swift devotion to duty, your bold determination to be the best at whatever you turn your hands to, and, of course, your irrepressible Riflemen humour.
I never cease to be amazed at how busy you all are. Throughout my short tenure as Colonel-in-Chief, Riflemen have constantly been deployed overseas, often in harm’s way. Those who were not abroad have served at home, joining the national effort against the pandemic. You have also shown remarkable fortitude in the face of change. I was delighted to hear, during my visit to the 4th Battalion last month, such infectious optimism ahead of their redesignation to The Ranger Regiment.
I said just now that you impressed and inspired me, so I should like to take this opportunity to speak to you of another who shared these sentiments wholeheartedly.
Towards the end of the Second World War, my father, a highly-decorated officer with the 12th Lancers, was captured and held as a Prisoner of War in Germany. He managed to escape, spending several days and nights hiding in the woods from the Hitler Youth, along with Edward Rose, a Lieutenant from the Green Jackets, whom I was lucky enough to meet four years ago in Canada. Edward left a significant impression on my father, who forever afterwards admired the Rifle regiments, and made sure to pass that admiration on to me.
In concluding, let me turn once again to the Iron Duke. The inscription on the statue which you see over there tells us that he “served his country at home and abroad, in peace and war. Wisdom, duty, honour”. These are words that, surely, apply to every single Rifleman.
Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Riflemen, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am now reminded of a precept that my father learnt at Sandhurst: “if the officers’ mess drinks, then the sergeants’ mess drinks, so do the corporals and in fact the whole regiment drinks”. Let us paraphrase that for our motto this evening: if the Royal Colonels drink, then the Colonel Commandant drinks, so do all Riflemen and all who support them. So as your very proud Colonel-in-Chief, I raise my glass to salute you all.