Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a particular pleasure for my wife and myself to be with you today and to have the opportunity to meet representatives of Indian Army Regiments which have a special affiliation with the British Army Regiments of which we are both Colonels-in-Chief or Royal Colonels.
If I may I did just want to say a few words about why, during a very brief programme of engagements in India after Opening the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi over the weekend, which was a very remarkable initiative and most wonderful cultural performance, we were both determined to make time to include a visit to the Cantonment in Jodhpur.
As you will know far better than me, our armies have very deep historic bonds. Our forbears have fought together, lived together and died together. After inaugurating the new, deeply poignant Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Northern France in July this year – the first to have been constructed in more than 50 years – my wife and I went straight to the nearby Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle. We did so because we wanted to remind people in Britain and around the World that we owe an incalculable debt to the Armed Forces from South Asia who fought in the First and Second World Wars with such outstanding dedication, resilience and bravery, in defence of our shared values. I am afraid that this is too little remembered in our history books. In view of the fact that many people in Britain originate from South Asia, I am extremely keen to rectify the situation.
I, for one, am enormously proud of the shared history and traditions of our respective Armed Forces. In the British Army, and in the Royal Navy, we have vocabulary and working practices which have come directly from India. It is not just our soldiers and sailors who use words such as dhobi, pukkah, cushy, dekko and loot. I know from my sons – who are both Officers serving in the British Armed Forces – that the peculiarly Indian word, “Chuddies,” has also entered the mainstream English language! And, of course, our Messes are remarkably similar to yours: you are now as likely to find Chicken Tikka on the menu as Roast Beef!
But it is not just a shared history that binds us. We share a set of values that underpin the way our Military works. We believe in democracy, in civilian control, in human rights and free speech. These values have guided us in the past and will continue to shape our relationship. Through our regimental associations, the bonds between our Armies have endured over the decades. I know that many of our regiments have sustained a programme of regular visits from both old comrades and serving personnel. But, of course, these old comrades, who served together in the pre-Independence Indian Army, are now few in number and struggle to travel. They are passing the baton to those who serve today in both our Armies to nurture these important historical links and to ensure that they remain relevant to today’s circumstances.
Against this background, it is hardly surprising that our defence relationship is flourishing across the full spectrum of activity. Links between our Armies are growing and activity between the two has increased at a terrific rate in the past five or so years, be it in terms of defence equipment or exchanges of instructors, students and, of course, high level military visits. If I may say so, I was particularly pleased to learn of the success of Exercise Shamsheer Bugle earlier this year. My wife, as Royal Colonel of 4th Battalion, The Rifles, followed this exercise with particularly keen interest, and we are both delighted to see that representatives of 18th Battalion, The Sikh Regiment, who hosted B Company, 4 Rifles so generously, are here today.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me just conclude by thanking you again most warmly, on behalf of us both, for your extraordinarily warm hospitality and for this opportunity to celebrate – with you – a singularly successful and productive friendship.