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Their Land to Defend

PUBLISHED: 11:49 16 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:04 20 February 2013

The last Camp - Operation Wessex Express, Arlon, Belgium, 1994.

The last Camp - Operation Wessex Express, Arlon, Belgium, 1994.

The sun had set beyond yon hill,<br/>across yon dreary moor,<br/>When weary and lame a lad there came,<br/>up to the farmer's door,<br/>'Can you tell oi were oi might find<br/>some one who'll me employ<br/>To plow and sow and reap and mow<br/>and be a farmer's boy - and be a...

Acknowledged to be a 'very old ballad', with its origins in the farming days of Georgian England when lusty young sons of the soil and pretty milkmaids were immortalised in folklore and song, The Farmer's Boy was adopted as The Wessex Volunteers regimental quick march very early in its formation. Regarded as one of the best quick marches in the British Army, with its swinging traditional English tune and lilting refrain it had 'belonged' to both the Royal Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiments, and (perhaps unofficially) to The Royal Hampshires. The musical tenor, with its uplifting beat, was obviously of more importance than the lyrics in choosing the tale of the farming boy as a military march.


Defence of their land, or their lord and master's honour, was battled over in days of yore when feudal lords called on their retainers to take up arms with whatever weapons came to hand on local issues. The last private battle on English soil, a dramatic episode of the War of the Roses, was fought at Nibley Green in 1470 when Viscount Lisle was killed fighting his mortal enemy, William, Lord Berkeley. Their private armies were drawn mainly from their own tenantry under the direction of trained archers, lancers and swordsmen of neighbouring manors willing to fight for the cause. The consequences of that famous combat are famed more for sparking off the longest running case in English legal history than for the battle on the field. Its principle - of fighting not just for the day but the protection of rights and benefits for future generations, whether for lineage, land, culture, justice or freedom is still at the heart of any cause for which men have taken up arms.


The reserves of the British Army have their origins in the Militia and the Volunteers. According to an entry in the Cap of Honour, The Story of the Gloucestershire Regiment, in 1625 in Bristol there was:


.... A voluntary company of gentle, proper, martial and disciplined men who have their arms in a handsome Artillery House, newly built in the Castle yard, where once a year they entertain both earls and lords and many knights and gentry of rank and quality.


The Volunteers originated as private armies, raised locally mainly for defence but also to maintain civil law and order. Unlike the Militia they were neither an official part of the Army funded from a county based land tax, nor generally recognised by the government of the day, although, in some cases, Volunteer companies were formed as part of Militia regiments. It was these two groups that were the reserve support of the British Army by the end of the Boer War. Reorganisation and reform of the Army system were first mooted at the end of the Victorian era and rumbled on until the Territorial Army became the Reserve of the British Army in 1908 and by the end of the 1914-18 war the voluntary force had formed an astonishing total of 692 battalions reinforcing Kitchener's 'New' Regular Army. The contribution made by the Territorial Force was enormous, with some seventy-one Victoria Crosses being awarded to what Field Marshal Lord Kitchener had disparagingly referred to as the 'weekend' or 'town clerks' army. There was no effort made to put the volunteer soldiers on equal footing with their Regular counterparts. The only concession to acknowledging them as an official component of the British Army was that they wore the same uniform and from then on all battalions of a regiment bore the same battle honours on their Colours, whether they had been won by Regulars or Territorials.


From that time on the Gloster Territorial battalions were entitled to wear the famous Back Badge - an honour won by 'The Glorious Glosters', raised as a regiment from the 28th Foot Battalion in 1694, and accorded the privilege of bearing their cap badge Fore and Aft in recognition of their back to back battle of Alexandria in 1801. This unique military symbol was often worn by Queen Mary in the back of her hat when she was 'evacuated', as she put it, to Badminton for the duration of the Second World War. The Queen's interest in the history, and support of the Gloucestershire Regiment from which the Badminton Guard was drawn, have been recorded and preserved in the Regiment's personal scrapbook.


Two huge scrapbooks in The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum in the old Gloucester Docks, military journals and reports, libraries and personal reports and experiences have been meticulously combed and groomed with military precision to give what is possibly the first-ever history of a Territorial Army battalion over the whole of its existence. Involved with the TA, as it is generally known, for almost half a century, Colonel Martin Lee-Browne spent half of those years with 1 Wessex and became the Battalion's last Honorary Colonel. In his book, 1 Wessex A West Country Territorial Army Battalion 1967-1995, Martin Lee-Browne untangles the complex histories of the regiments involved together with the even more complicated routes of organisation and reorganisation of battalions, their politics and reforms; aims and purpose, camps and training, protocol and traditions explaining the Territorials' role and desire for 'proper soldiering'. There could be no better illustration of this commitment and military professionalism than in the bald statistics contained within the extraordinary total of some 1,600 Infantry battalions of the Territorial Army contributing to the winning of two world wars.


As acknowledgment to The Gloucestershire Regiment's long service the amalgamation of the Regiment with The Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment was postponed to allow the Glorious Glosters to celebrate their Tercentenary in 1994. The Farmer's Boy is still recorded as the Regimental quick march. It was from the TA elements of six of the famous Infantry regiments of the south-west of England that The Wessex Regiment was formed to become one of the finest of the 'NATO battalions', with its distinctive Wyvern of its badge dating back to the time of King Arthur. Political rather than military strategy defeated 1 Wessex as an individual battalion in the battlefields of power, it ended its life as it had lived it - professionally, cheerfully and with great style; even the decision as to where the Colours should be laid up exercised the diplomacy of the officers responsible for the ceremony. Accepting changes and amalgamation and stoically carrying on with their job of soldiering have been one of the great strengths of the Army, both the Regular Army and the Territorial Army in order (as The Wessex Regiment's motto declares) 'Their Land to Defend'.


Acknowledged to be a 'very old ballad', with its origins in the farming days of Georgian England when lusty young sons of the soil and pretty milkmaids were immortalised in folklore and song, The Farmer's Boy was adopted as The Wessex Volunteers regimental quick march very early in its formation. Regarded as one of the best quick marches in the British Army, with its swinging traditional English tune and lilting refrain it had 'belonged' to both the Royal Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiments, and (perhaps unofficially) to The Royal Hampshires. The musical tenor, with its uplifting beat, was obviously of more importance than the lyrics in choosing the tale of the farming boy as a military march.


Defence of their land, or their lord and master's honour, was battled over in days of yore when feudal lords called on their retainers to take up arms with whatever weapons came to hand on local issues. The last private battle on English soil, a dramatic episode of the War of the Roses, was fought at Nibley Green in 1470 when Viscount Lisle was killed fighting his mortal enemy, William, Lord Berkeley. Their private armies were drawn mainly from their own tenantry under the direction of trained archers, lancers and swordsmen of neighbouring manors willing to fight for the cause. The consequences of that famous combat are famed more for sparking off the longest running case in English legal history than for the battle on the field. Its principle - of fighting not just for the day but the protection of rights and benefits for future generations, whether for lineage, land, culture, justice or freedom is still at the heart of any cause for which men have taken up arms.


The reserves of the British Army have their origins in the Militia and the Volunteers. According to an entry in the Cap of Honour, The Story of the Gloucestershire Regiment, in 1625 in Bristol there was:


.... A voluntary company of gentle, proper, martial and disciplined men who have their arms in a handsome Artillery House, newly built in the Castle yard, where once a year they entertain both earls and lords and many knights and gentry of rank and quality.


The Volunteers originated as private armies, raised locally mainly for defence but also to maintain civil law and order. Unlike the Militia they were neither an official part of the Army funded from a county based land tax, nor generally recognised by the government of the day, although, in some cases, Volunteer companies were formed as part of Militia regiments. It was these two groups that were the reserve support of the British Army by the end of the Boer War. Reorganisation and reform of the Army system were first mooted at the end of the Victorian era and rumbled on until the Territorial Army became the Reserve of the British Army in 1908 and by the end of the 1914-18 war the voluntary force had formed an astonishing total of 692 battalions reinforcing Kitchener's 'New' Regular Army. The contribution made by the Territorial Force was enormous, with some seventy-one Victoria Crosses being awarded to what Field Marshal Lord Kitchener had disparagingly referred to as the 'weekend' or 'town clerks' army. There was no effort made to put the volunteer soldiers on equal footing with their Regular counterparts. The only concession to acknowledging them as an official component of the British Army was that they wore the same uniform and from then on all battalions of a regiment bore the same battle honours on their Colours, whether they had been won by Regulars or Territorials.


From that time on the Gloster Territorial battalions were entitled to wear the famous Back Badge - an honour won by 'The Glorious Glosters', raised as a regiment from the 28th Foot Battalion in 1694, and accorded the privilege of bearing their cap badge Fore and Aft in recognition of their back to back battle of Alexandria in 1801. This unique military symbol was often worn by Queen Mary in the back of her hat when she was 'evacuated', as she put it, to Badminton for the duration of the Second World War. The Queen's interest in the history, and support of the Gloucestershire Regiment from which the Badminton Guard was drawn, have been recorded and preserved in the Regiment's personal scrapbook.


Two huge scrapbooks in The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum in the old Gloucester Docks, military journals and reports, libraries and personal reports and experiences have been meticulously combed and groomed with military precision to give what is possibly the first-ever history of a Territorial Army battalion over the whole of its existence. Involved with the TA, as it is generally known, for almost half a century, Colonel Martin Lee-Browne spent half of those years with 1 Wessex and became the Battalion's last Honorary Colonel. In his book, 1 Wessex A West Country Territorial Army Battalion 1967-1995, Martin Lee-Browne untangles the complex histories of the regiments involved together with the even more complicated routes of organisation and reorganisation of battalions, their politics and reforms; aims and purpose, camps and training, protocol and traditions explaining the Territorials' role and desire for 'proper soldiering'. There could be no better illustration of this commitment and military professionalism than in the bald statistics contained within the extraordinary total of some 1,600 Infantry battalions of the Territorial Army contributing to the winning of two world wars.


As acknowledgment to The Gloucestershire Regiment's long service the amalgamation of the Regiment with The Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment was postponed to allow the Glorious Glosters to celebrate their Tercentenary in 1994. The Farmer's Boy is still recorded as the Regimental quick march. It was from the TA elements of six of the famous Infantry regiments of the south-west of England that The Wessex Regiment was formed to become one of the finest of the 'NATO battalions', with its distinctive Wyvern of its badge dating back to the time of King Arthur. Political rather than military strategy defeated 1 Wessex as an individual battalion in the battlefields of power, it ended its life as it had lived it - professionally, cheerfully and with great style; even the decision as to where the Colours should be laid up exercised the diplomacy of the officers responsible for the ceremony. Accepting changes and amalgamation and stoically carrying on with their job of soldiering have been one of the great strengths of the Army, both the Regular Army and the Territorial Army in order (as The Wessex Regiment's motto declares) 'Their Land to Defend'.

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