Members of the Regimental family and Guests. In a few minutes a new Regiment will enter the line of battle of the British Army. This solemn and historic occasion will mark the start of another chapter in the long story of loyal service to the crown that is the history of the English County Regiments. Over the three hundred years of this service the Regiments on parade here today have changed their titles and their insignia many times. They began life named for the Colonels who raised and commanded them. Later they became numbered Regiments of Foot. Later still, they were affiliated to the counties from where they still draw their strength. Although each of these changes has, I know, caused real heartache, the Regiments have marched on regardless and gained fame under their new names. This latest change will be no different.
It is therefore with great pride that I am able to join you here today as Colonel-in-Chief of this new Regiment. Having had the privilege of being Colonel-in-Chief of the Cheshire Regiment for the past thirty years, I have no doubt that the Mercian Regiment will Stand Firm and Strike Hard just as its predecessor Regiments did in all four corners of the world. Although serving under a new cap badge, the men on parade here today are the successors of those who fought at Meeanee, at the Alma and at Arnhem. They are still united by the same bonds of comradeship and come from the same great industrial cities and manufacturing towns between the Severn, the Trent and the Mersey, bound together by the golden threads of their history. It is good to see many of those towns and counties continuing to support the Regiment as they have its predecessors and the extent of that support is shown by the civic representatives joining us here today. The golden threads will be carried forward by the new Regiment in its dress and traditions. These range from the Derby Ram, to the oak leaves worn proudly on special occasions and from the entwined knot and glider arm badges, to the motto “Firm” on the collar below the acorn emblem.
It is, perhaps, appropriate that we should see the birth of the Mercians at this special place of Tamworth, the ancient capital of Saxon Mercia. The Borough Council of Tamworth has played a great part in making today possible and this kind of loyal support is typical of the bonds that link our counties to our Regiment. Another kind of bond – the bond of the wider Regimental family - is also displayed today. The serving regular and territorial soldiers are supported by the families, the cadets and the Old Comrades. All are here to demonstrate that whatever changes the Regiment undergoes, its roots are deep in the soil of the Midlands and its branches, however wide they spread, are still firmly attached to the trunk. The roots are the young people of Cheshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, from whom the Regiment draws its great strength. The branches are the Old Comrades who, whatever they go on to do and wherever they go – are still inextricably linked to the men who continue to serve and continue to represent these five counties on foreign fields.
The Mercian Regiment is being born in an era when the British Army is displaying daily the very best qualities of bravery, loyalty and dogged perseverance in the most impossible and dangerous of circumstances. The Cheshire Regiment, soon to be 1 MERCIAN are, even now, preparing for operations in Iraq. The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, soon to be 2 MERCIAN, are serving today on the dusty plains and in the barren mountains of Afghanistan. The Staffordshire Regiment, soon to be 3 MERCIAN, returned a few months ago from a busy and successful tour in the hazardous streets and alleyways of Basra, in Iraq. All three Battalions were supported and will continue to be even more closely supported in the future by the West Midland Regiment, soon to be 4 MERCIAN. I have nothing but the most profound admiration for the sheer resilience being displayed by all our people on operations, we must never take it for granted.
It only remains for me to wish everyone here on parade, in the audience or with us in spirit alongside the men who still serve, my very best wishes for your future under the double-headed eagle badge. Whatever that future holds, I am confident you will rise to meet its challenges as your forbears did at Mons, at Gheluvelt and at Ferozeshah and I can assure you of my unswerving support at all times.