To begin at the beginning, dear Reader, is to take us back to 1995, when the Royal Armouries came to the United States to film 18th Century linear warfare as performed by the community of living history buffs we fondly call our brothers in arms. Liaison between the Royal Armouries and the re-created Regiments was provided by Jim Daniel of the 6th North Carolina Regiment, who is also familiar to us as our contact for both Publick Times and now, the Under the Redcoat program for Colonial Williamsburg.
It came to pass that the Royal Armouries found that it could use the services of a small number of Revolutionary War reenactors at the opening of the Museum, and an invitation ended up in the hands of a few members of the 6th NC and the Colonel's Company of the 33rd. It took but a heartbeat for us to accept this invitation, especially in light of the fact that the Queen was to open the museum herself.
No one knew exactly what we were going to do, but we made preparations anyway. It was obvious that this was to be a full dress affair as no other. We busied ourselves with training for every imaginable contingency while also acquiring our white wigs and velvet neckstocks as the date drew rapidly nearer.
The logistics of traveling to England are similar to those of going to an event Back East, if you discount the necessity of arranging for UK Customs to calmly accept the presence of the various sharp, pointy, and legally controlled items we usually carry with us. The Royal Armouries picked up the tab for the musket permits issued by the West Yorkshire Police Department, and Judy had them clutched in her bag as we arrived at the British Air terminal at LAX on the morning of March 13th. Judy, Radford, George, Brett, Don, Coleen, Viv, and Mai piled their luggage in line to be checked in. It would be nice to say that things went without a hitch but some of us got excited and tried to get our luggage checked in before the security chief had been called. They started to search our luggage piece by piece while we tried to explain to earnest but befuddled baggage checkers why a musket lock was no menace to the public safety when it is wrapped in a baggie and separated from the stock and barrel. When you add in all the bayonets and swords, it came as a great relief that the security chief came by and announced that it had all been arranged in advance, and that we were fine.
The next time we had to deal with our baggage was when we landed. Our luggage arrived in good order, and we loaded it on to four of those ubiquitous carts they have at airports. Getting our passports stamped was a formality. We then trundled our carts down the hall - our silver musket case gleaming in the fluorescent light, expecting at any moment to have a friendly but firm customs inspector ask us to account for its contents. Said friendly inspectors were far more interested in the contents of a young travelers rucksack, and they waved us on. We kept trundling until we suddenly found ourselves in the passenger terminal at Heathrow Airport. Unlike our last trip in 1987 where our muskets were `detained' for a few days by the authorities, this time our muskets attracted no notice whatsoever.
There we stood in the terminal, staring at a phalanx of car hire drivers holding company placards with the names of the their presumable customers on them. We kept looking for the one with "Polinsky" on it, but the only one from the company we had arranged to rent a van from (Kendall Self Drive) was holding a placard that said "Ogilvie". Of course it was the one for us. We went outside to the car park and met the incredulous driver who helped us pack ourselves and enough kit in the van for a small army. Which is what we are. We then took the "ten minute drive" to the rental yard to fill out our papers.
Forty minutes later we pulled up to the Kendall Self Drive lot, where we got out, stretched, "rested", filled out the papers, got the keys, and were on our way!
Our destination was Carlton House, St. Mary's, York. Up the motorway we went. We missed taking the A18 directly to York, and instead went through Leeds, getting lost in downtown construction detours for a while until we finally found the A24 to York. At least it gave us our first view of the Royal Armouries Museum.
We arrived at Carlton House somewhat later than our original estimate of 5:00 p.m. Judy managed to get our keys, and after much heaving and grunting we got our baggage train sorted out and into our two apartments. Mixed in with the delights of unpacking and cleaning was the undeniable pleasure of microwaveable pork pies,and literally cases of Idris ginger beer "The Official Beverage of the Colonels' Company of the 33rd Foot". If they only knew. We were up until 1:00 a.m. with our exertions, and finally collapsed into bed.
Jim Daniel came by at 9:00 the next morning, to greet us and give us more information on the task ahead. Thursday's rehearsal wasn't due to begin until 5:00, so we had a chance to properly prepare ourselves. Some of us stayed and tended to our clothing and equipment, while others went out shopping for food and essentials At 1:00 Brett, George, and Viv took a walk through York's historic section, looking at antique shops. Viv was particularly effective, discovering York's militaria shop seemingly within minutes. Jim Daniel dropped by again, and we met some of the others from the 6th NC. They were planning to travel to Leeds by train, so we wouldn't have to make two trips because the van couldn't fit all of us.
By 3:00 we were dressed, coiffed,and ready to go. We hummed down the A24 back to Leeds, and found ourselves approaching the Museum. This museum was very, very, new. In fact, it wasn't even finished yet. Odd to Southern Californian eyes was the trash fire burning in an unpaved and un-landscaped area of the parking lot. We parked, got out, and went to check in at the security booth set up by the West Yorkshire Police Department. We entered the museum by a side door, dragging our equipment with us. A man in street clothes bustled up to Brett and Radford as they entered the main hall. "33rd? It's very good to meet you!" said Brigadier Dick Mundell, OBE, Colonel of the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment and one of the directors of the Royal Armouries. "If you have time later, we'd like you to take some photographs with the Duke." We said we would find the time.
We went to the assembly hall, and busied ourselves with unpacking and putting together our muskets, flagpole, etc. Swirling around us were the other participants in the opening festivities. Although starting with a musical medley from the West Yorkshire Police Band, and progressing through marches and bugle calls and the National Anthem and speeches by notables from the Royal Armouries, the main body of the opening was a Royal Masque. These other participants ranged in period from Roman Legionnaires to camouflaged squaddies from the Dukes.
The purpose of our rehearsal was to co-ordinate the timing and placement of the various elements involved. We were lined up in our respective order. At the beginning of the procession was the the Queen's escort, consisting of the Drum Major and two Drummers from the Dukes. Then came two schoolchildren (from the Bracken Edge Primary School), each carrying a "stoofed doove". Then two 14th Century Knights. Then two more dove handlers. Then George and Radford. Two more dove wielding grade schoolers. Two men from the 6th NC. Two more kids (with doves). The last two were soldiers from the Dukes, wearing DPM's and carrying SA 80's. After the escort came the main body of the procession, which had Romans, Shinto Priests, Sea Cadets, Knights, a party of Officers, Other Ranks, Music, and women from the 33rd Foot and the 6th North Carolina Regiment, and more too numerous to mention.
The first thing we had to do was figure out how to march to "The Dirge for Two Veterans". It's just as well we had had some practice with the Slow March, because this was the slowest march imaginable. The Queen was already scheduled to have been in place by the time we came out. We were to slow march down the Main Hall, at the end of which the children were to turn to the left, and the escort to the right toward the fire stairs, scurrying up them in hobnailed buckle shoes while stepping over the workmen who were still painting them. We then arranged ourselves in a semicircle behind the throne where the Queen was to sit. We arranged signals with the Drum Major who would cue us when to come to the Order and Rest. Once the Queen exited, the Masque was over. The first time we ran through it, the whole procession had gone by but there was still lots of music left. They had us take smaller steps.
We ran through this a number of times, and then the rehearsal was over. Or so we thought. We were released and told we had to be back for another run through at 10:00. At night. The women from the 6th NC wanted to go back to York, and who could blame them. Rather than have them take the train back at night in their 18th Century clothes, George and Radford volunteered to drive them back. There was just enough time for a round trip.
Meanwhile, back at the Museum...
There was no food. There was nothing to drink. They expected everyone to forage for themselves in the hours between rehearsals. The men of the 6th NC walked into Leeds in their red faced brown coats, looking for a pub.
We milled about for a while. Six cases of sandwiches were brought into the assembly area and immediately placed under guard. We were told the sandwiches were not for us. Almost an hour later they relented and said we could have the sandwiches after all. Rationing out the food at one half sandwich each, we managed to take the edge off our hunger.
We had ample time to meet and mingle. One man came up to us with a long narrow case inside which were two engraved solid silver long, straight trumpets. They were part of the Royal Armouries collection, having been made for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee The man and his friend were to use them to play the Royal Fanfare. They let Viv tootle on one.
By the time Radford and George got back, Brett and Don were practicing the Slow March along with the Wellesley Company, Army Cadet Force, under the watchful eye of a very gracious Dukes Sgt. Major.
The rehearsal began anew, minus a great number of the participants who had sense enough to go to bed. There was a new element added: the speaking performers who were portraying historical figures were now being blocked and placed At least they had the sense to wear street clothes. We, having been told this was a dress rehearsal, were in our full Winter Dress uniforms. Even though it was after midnight by the time we were released, we still had to drive an hour back to York, then clean and polish our kit in time to be back at the Museum by 8:30 in the morning. We didn't get much sleep that night.
Dawn broke crisp, clear and cold. Sheer adrenaline and excitement opened our eyes as we drove back to Leeds. We piled back out of the blue bus and were assaulted by an icy blast from the river. Judy started an uncontrollable shuddering shiver. The police had to hold her down so she could sign in. We checked in easily, and went to the assembly area. The transformation in the Museum was awesome. Obviously, others had stayed up all night getting ready as well. The same transformation had been worked on many of the other participants. Nobody was in their day-duty dress anymore. We were all fit to dazzle!
The Knights were in full plate armor The artillerymen were in dress blues. The Tudors were in ruffs and slashed tunics. The - who is that guy? He's in an 1814 33rd uniform! It turned out to be Robert Cooper, who we had met in 1987 at Audley End House, modeling the protoype uniform of the Napoleonic era 33rd.
We were in the "wait" phase of "hurry up and wait" when Brigadier Mundell came and took us out into the Hall of Steel. There waiting for us, was His Grace the Duke of Wellington, KG, LVO, OBE, MC, BA, DL in a civilian suit with a chest full of medals (many of them were recognizable from his WW2 service). We were posed for photos with the Duke, who then shook hands with each of us. When he got to Ensign Prym, he looked a bit puzzled. "It's an honor to meet you, Your Grace." said Judy, dressed and equipped as a teenaged officer on his first commission with the 33rd. "Really? Why?" said the Duke. At Judy's speechless astonishment, he smiled and moved on.
We went back into the assembly area, as the audience was beginning to come in The museum opening was a hot ticket, for there was seating for barely a thousand, and literally anyone who was anyone in the north wanted to attend. We lined up and stood by as the entry music was played. Then the Drums of the 1st Battalion, the Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding) beat a slow march. We could hardly hear any of this. The Queen was scheduled to arrive by barge at the landing on the canal adjacent to the Museum. The band struck up God Save the Queen. Sure, we've heard it hundreds of times but this time it was for real. There was the murmur of speeches, and then we were all cued to get ready.
Our entrance doors opened, and we heard the strains of the funereal music which had become all too familiar. We cleared the doorway by bringing our muskets from the Advance to the Shoulder as we had rehearsed. Step. Step. Our bodies gently swaying to the martial rhythm of what was known in our period as the Prussian Step. Step. Then Wheel into the Main Hall. Thursday night's empty chairs were now filled with handsomely dressed men and women, many with decorations for military service. Some uniforms could be seen sprinkled in the crowd. We took in the scene as best we could with our eyes fixed forward. There, seated in the center of what is now known as the Queen's Bridge, backlit by the morning light, was a small figure in a teal dress with a matching hat and handbag. Daring only a glance upward, we continued our somber procession down the Hall. We reached the end where the children went left. We went right, and made our way up the freshly painted stairway to the second floor where we re-formed and marched out, arranging ourselves in the semi-circular pattern which left room for two figures absent from the rehearsal: two Yeoman Warders in full State Dress. You hardly ever see the Beefeaters in their Red uniforms. The Drum Major brought us to the Order, and we had our chance to observe the rest of the procession.
Down below, Judy and Gene Pfaff (the gentleman carrying the 6th NC Colors) had to work the trick of making a tight corner with a nine and a half foot staff under a low ceiling, then bringing the Colors smartly up as they came into the Hall. Brett, Don, and Viv completed the Color party of the 33rd, accompanied by the soldiers from the 6th NC,and Mai walked with the women. The one overriding emotion common to all was abject fear that someone would do something wrong. We had worked so hard to get to this moment, and no one wanted to do anything that would disgrace the Regiment. As the Color party passed down the hall Judy could hear whispers from the audience. Brett told her later that they were saying "33rd! 33rd!". Many of the old comrades from the Dukes had recognized the uniform and colors of their Regiment. Of course, having Viv carry a drum with a gold XXXIII didn't hurt, either. Jim Daniel gave Her Majesty a smart salute with his sword. The Color party finished with their part of the procession, and quickly departed for the upper galleries where they could watch the rest of the show.
After the procession came the performances. Actors portrayed figures from history and the arts. Ghandi. Churchill. Florence Nightingale. Sarah Bernhardt. An unnamed Elizabethan bowman. A WW One Officer. Queen Elizabeth the First speaking directly to Queen Elizabeth the Second about risk, honor, and duty. Each person concluded their speech with a plea, based on the theme of their particular subject, to "open this Museum." "Sarah Bernhardt" suggested that a more sane reaction to the insanity of war was "NOT to open this Museum". There was a modern interpretive dance done to Fantasy on War. A baritone sang Do You Ken John Peel?. There was more music and more singing.
Upstairs on the Queen's Bridge, George and Radford had been standing at Order, immobile, for 30 minutes. The art of fidgeting slowly is underrated. We tried to gauge the amount of allowable movement by the steadiness of the Beefeaters in front of us. At least we weren't wearing plate armor like the poor fellows next to us. We had ample time to study Her Majesty at length. Nice matching outfit. Sensible shoes. She kept crossing her ankles. She remained very aware of the proceedings, constantly checking her program.
Then it was her turn to speak (fanfare by the silver trumpets!). A Corporal from the Dukes in his red Dress uniform and Home Service Helmet marched smartly to the podium, and placed a stand with two pencil thin microphones in front of her. Executing a crisp About Face, he returned to his post. Queen Elizabeth defines the world class as a Head of State. She read with firm voice a good solid speech praising the virtues of the Museum and the lessons it has to teach us. She said some words on the tragic schoolyard killings which had just happened. Then she declared the Museum open, and rose to leave. We came to Present Arms, as she and her party left, making their way downstairs (we assume the Queen was allowed to use the elevator). Then came a magical moment seen in many movies, but done here for our first time in real life: As the Queen walked slowly down the Main Hall, the members of the audience rose and bowed or curtsied to her. Wow. It was a stately procession. We were so awed that we almost forgot that we were at Present Arms the whole time. Finally the Drum Major signaled us to come back to the Order, and we were Done! The Museum was open!
We had been told that there would be refreshments for the participants somewhere on one of the upper floors. Radford locked his musket up while the rest went off to tour the Museum. Most of the group gathered in the 18th Century gallery, looking at the displays and admiring the video which made all of this possible. While we were thus occupied, a security officer came by and mentioned that "The Queen was going to be by in about five minutes, and perhaps we would like to arrange ourselves?" We tried to look casual. Judy laid the Colourstaff against the wall where it looked entirely too much like it belonged there, and the 33rd lined up opposite the 6th NC. True to her schedule, the Queen appeared about five minutes later, admiring the statuary in the center of the room. Her party made its way over to us, and Guy Wilson (Master of the Armouries) introduced her to Jim Daniel, explaining Jim's role in all of this. Jim was beaming and floating on air by the time the Queen walked over for a view of the video. She happened to catch it at a point where some Continentals are bayoneting a group of Redcoats, but she apparently realized its value, because she looked over her shoulder at Judy and said "It looks like a bit of fun." As the Queen departed the Princess of Kent came over and said "Smart outfit!" to young Chauncy Prym. The Officer following the Queen gave Judy a wink. With the Queen's exit, we all got a chance to exhale and put our hats back on.
We found the food, wolfed it down, and took a look around the Museum. Viv and Mai had the exotic experience of attending a Shinto tea ceremony. George spent time chatting with the knights who had been escort with us. They were both armourers for the Museum. We were having so much fun that the 6th NC, who had originally planned to ride back to Leeds with us, decided to take the train. We got to peek out the window as the Queen got into her Daimler and drove away. We then went down to the shop, where we met a Museum docent who took quite a shine to us. He invited us to tour the craft and workshops. The first stop was the gunsmith's shop,where we were treated to the rare pleasure of seeing a shotgun which had taken over two years to make. It was a commemorative of the opening of the Museum and featured intricately detailed gold engravings of scenes related to London, the Royal Armouries, and Leeds. It was as fine an example of the gunsmith's art as any we have seen. The gunsmiths showed Judy a few braces of pistols from their collection "Try this one. Feel the balance?". They offered to make a set for Judy. We tarried so long in the gunsmith's shop that the falconry and stables were closed. George had gone to the falconry first, and they let him hold one on his arm. He was impressed by its fierce raptor presence, and he declined their offer to let it hunt.
We had finally finished. The Museum was open, we had collected our souvenirs, and it was time to go back to Leeds. Of course, with all of the driving back and forth, we needed to get some fuel. We stopped at a station,and Radford got out to pay. The two West Yorkshire police officers in line at the counter were amused to see this figure in a wig, waxed cotton jacket, waistcoat, breeches, and buckle shoes walk in and pay for diesel fuel Radford explained about our participation in the Museum opening, and the conversation got friendly enough that Radford gave a business card to one of the officers who was planning a trip to Southern California. (PC Hazel never did call).
We crashed back into our apartments at York (almost literally, the van was darn near as wide as the alley to the parking lot) and went through another round of cleaning and prepping our gear for the next day's activities.
Saturday morning we were up and dressed in our service uniforms, putting away those white wigs and velvet neckstocks for another day. We drove through a drippy, misty morning to the Bankfield Museum in Halifax. As we rose higher into the hills of West Yorkshire, the rain turned into sleet, then huge moist snowflakes. Once safely at the Museum, we re-established our acquaintance with J.D. Spencer. J.D. is the curator of the Duke of Wellington's exhibit at the Bankfield Museum. We met him briefly in 1987 when he introduced himself to us at lunch with Kieth Matthews and Col. Robins. J.D. is also the man who made and sent a cartridge pouch to Jeff to replace the one Jeff lost in his fire.
We dressed upstairs, and then were invited to a session with the photographer from the Halifax Guardian. We were arrayed on the main staircase for a simply splendid photograph. After that, we went downstairs for our morning duty, which consisted of posting a sentry on the front door of the museum, and speaking with museum visitors in the lobby/gift shop. Those of us who weren't on post got to tour the rest of the museum.
While we were there, a meeting of "The 33rd Foot Society" was held upstairs. This is a group dedicated to recreating the 33rd Foot as it appeared in 1814-15. Of course we got along famously with them. We agreed to divide the regimental nicknames: we remain "the Pattern Regiment", while they get to be "the Havercake Lads".
Our next duty posting was Shibden Hall. Shibden Hall was (among many other things) the home of Jeremy Lister, Ensign of the 10th Foot, who wrote a vivid account of the happenings of 19th April 1775. We arrived there in a gently falling snow, which was beginning to stick. We were originally going to have lunch outside, but the weather forced us into the kitchen, where a wondrous meal awaited us. No grand and glorious feast - this was pure and simple soldier food of the finest local variety. We had a thick stew made of "whatever was in the kitchen". There was cheese. Not just any cheese: Wensley Dale cheese, made locally from unpasteurized milk "not available in any store". They offered tea, butter, apples, and havercakes! Yes, havercakes - the famous local delicacy which lured hundreds of unsuspecting youths into the warm embrace of Brown Bess. A havercake is little more than an oat pancake, but they had disappeared from Yorkshire, the last havercake bakery having closed in 1947. They started being made again commercially only last year. They are really quite good with butter, treacle, or a wedge of Wensley Dale cheese. We finished up with Parkin cake, very much like ginger bread, and also very good with Wensley Dale cheese. In fact, everything goes well with Wensley Dale cheese. We shared the meal with our host J.D., and some others who had joined us. There were some soldiers from the 47th Regiment (AWI period), and some shills from the 33rd Foot Society who were going to be the "recruits" for our recruiting party.
Shibden Hall had a full day of events planned. They were having a craft fair, with the craftsmen and dealers set up in former barns and stables. We were scheduled to do some exercise with the 47th Foot, and then have a recruiting party. We looked for a place out of the weather to recruit, but there were no places inside the Hall big enough. The snow was coming down gently enough that we decided to do it outside.
The stone courtyard of Shibden Hall once again echoed with the rattle of arms and the stamp of hobnailed shoes as we gave as crisp a demonstration of His Majesty's Manual Exercise of 1764 as you can with fingers going numb with cold and stocks getting slippery with melted snow. We segued gracefully into the recruiting speech, at which point J.D. brought out his motley collection of ruffians, layabouts, and malcontents. We engaged in some banter and them handed them some broomsticks. Their true colors began to show, for they handled the broomsticks far better than untrained louts should have been able to. We had so much fun we did it again.
In between, we had time to visit the craft fair. Potters, glaziers, weavers, woodcarvers, tinsmiths, and a fellow who tied fishing flies who took a particular affection for Ensign Prym. We were also dogged by two gentlemen in tweed caps and Burberrys who came up to us as we were leaving and introduced themselves as Mr. Norman and Mr. Bass. Bill Norman is a retired warrant officer from the Dukes who is now the regimental archivist. He was very impressed with our presentation. He insisted that we stay with him the next time we come to England, and that he would help us in any way he could as archivist. We have already exchanged correspondence with him.
There was half an inch of snow on the ground by the time we left Shibden Hall. It was a close thing getting up the driveway from the hall to the street. It was even closer when we made that wrong left turn into a cul-de-sac which was too small to turn around in and had to back all the way down into a busy street with a blind corner. Oh the joys of a right hand drive 15 passenger van on narrow English roads.
We did make it back to York. We took off our uniforms and kit for the last time. Our duty days were over, and the rest of the time was purely social. The first social thing we did was go out to dinner. We hadn't yet had a decent sit down dinner in the three days since we got to England. WE went out to a PUB. All of our preconceived notions about English cooking were shattered. We had good, hot, nourishing pub food which wasn't good because we were hungry,it was good because it was good. We were served cold beer. The potatos were rather disappointingly called "french fries" rather than "chips". But they were good. After a brisk walk around town (York is a real party town on Saturday night) we went back to our rooms and actually got a good night's sleep.
Sunday morning we were up and breakfasted in time to greet our host for the day - Major M. A. Lodge, who immediately insisted we call him Mark. Mark is a serving officer from the 1st Battalion of the Dukes (just back from Bosnia), who had begun writing to us several months before the England trip. Mark has a keen interest in the 33rd during the Revolution. He wrote articles on the AWI period strength, uniforms, and equipment of the 33rd, and the Battle of Brandywine for The IRON DUKE. After a show and tell of the gear that was draped around the apartment, we set off on our tour of York. Mark, having grown up in York, was to be our guide for the day. York is an engaging, beautiful city, compact and easily accessible by foot.
Our first tourist activity was a walk on the wall. York still has much of its medieval wall encircling it, and a walk along the wall is a must see for any one who visits. When Judy gently inquired why Mark needed to keep referring to a guide book to point out sites on the wall, he sheepishly confessed that he had spent most of his school class trips to the wall in the back of the line "chatting up the girls".
We next went to the Jorvik Viking Centre. Excavations had revealed a large Viking settlement, founded when London was still a swamp. The Jorvik Centre has a tram ride tour which takes you through a detailed recreation of the settlement, including sights, sounds, and smells. The tram then takes you through the actual excavated site. After that, proceed upstairs to displays of artifacts and archaeology.
We stopped for tea with Mark and his wife Jackie at Betty's. Betty's is famous throughout the north for its pastries. Now we know why.
The centerpiece of York is York Minster. Solemn and awe inspiring inside and out, we were led to the Duke of Wellington's Regimental Chapel. Mark got the key from the attendant, and we went inside. The case containing the books with the names of the fallen from the First and Second World Wars was opened for us. Handsomely leather bound and painstakingly hand calligraphed, these objects of beauty and craftsmanship are the record of great loss, grief, and sorrow, and yet as well - duty, honor and service to King and Country. The Second World War book had over a thousand names in it. The First World War book had over eight thousand names in it. We were quiet for a while, each of us in our own way realizing and accepting that what we do for fun touches on the memory of all who served, and that we must not do them the injustice of taking their sacrifice lightly.
Mark and Jackie had to leave, so we went on to York Castle Museum by ourselves. York Castle Museum features displays of artifacts of life in York and the North Country. It is run by our old friend Kieth Matthews, but sadly, Keith was not there that day. We then did as much shopping as we could manage late on a Sunday afternoon. It was both St. Patrick's Day and Mother's Day, but we managed to end up with a splendid meal at the Hole in the Wall Pub.
Monday was out last full day in England. We met Mark again, who led us south to Sheffield, where we met David Harrap. David (the Regimental Secretary for the Dukes) had arranged a tour through Cutler's Hall, which is the Guild Hall for the Cutler's Guild. The Hall was built in 1832, with additions since then. It is the site of the annual Cutler's Ball, which makes it the social center of the North of England. We were treated to a dazzling display of every manner of silversmithing and knifemaking, for the Cutler's Guild is still very much involved in the maintenance of exacting standards of craftsmanship among Sheffield's metalworkers. One of the Chief Cutlers of the mid-nineteenth Century turns out to have been the man who built Endcliff Hall, which was our next stop. Endcliff Hall is the Headquarters of the Third Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment. The Third Battalion is the Territorial Army battalion of the Dukes, roughly equivalent to our National Guard. When you think of an American army regimental HQ, you think of offices in a low, straight, barracks like structure. The English know how to do it with style. The Third Battalion HQ is in a nineteenth century industrial baron's mansion, lovingly and expensively restored by the Ministry of Defense. We were met at the door by Captain J.H. Purcell (James), who showed us in and introduced us to the officer commanding 3rd Battalion, Lt. Col. A.H.S. Drake MBE, who was in his DPM trousers and wooly pully. After shaking hands all round, he pulled one of our coat buttons out of a pocket and reminded us that we had met him at Publick Times in 1992. Judy took a stern look at his button and remarked that "nobody had polished it lately". He immediately began buffing it against his sweater. He apologized that he couldn't stay longer, but he was about to leave for Scotland to arrange the 3rd Battalion's training exercise there.
James took us to a sitting room and gave us some of the history of the Hall and the grounds, after which we were taken into the dining room for tea. Who was all this food for? There was a side table loaded with sandwiches, salads, chicken nuggets, chips and salsa (!), cakes, pies - all being lovingly fussed over by a mess Sergeant. The table was laid out with several pieces of regimental silver. Some were from the Dukes, but the rest were from other now disbanded formations which had used Endcliff Hall as RHQ. Set in the window was a stand of two sets of crossed Colours which belonged to the Territorial Army formations which had merged to become the 3rd battalion. It dawned on us that all of this effort had been taken strictly for us. We were amazed.
James then escorted us on a brief tour of the rest of the Hall,including the Grand Ballroom and Main Hall. We then went "below stair" to the offices where the Battalion's real work went on. The highlight was being taken to the storeroom where we were allowed to purchase caps and insignia and t-shirts and postcards and STUFF!James then apologized that for liability reasons the MOD won't allow civilians to handle firearms, but he offered us the next best thing. He walked us over to the laser rifle simulator range. Inside another building on the property is a sloped platform with four full scale full weight mostly real SA 80 rifles. Rather than firing bullets, they shoot laser pulses at a screen. The computer hookup can graph such things as butt pressure, trigger pull and pressure, the angle the rifle is being held at, and point of impact. Soldiers using this simulator wear headphones which the operator can use to speak to and correct each trainee's fire individually. We were invited to try our hand. The Warrant Officer (WO2) set us up so we didn't have to fiddle with magazines or charging handles. The computer was set for the "sighting in" exercise, where the passing grade was to fire a group less than 150mm at a distance of 100 meters. This looks easy enough. Lie down, feet spread, tuck the butt into your shoulder, peek through the scope, Where's the target? "It's the white marker on top of the sandbag." WHAT! That tiny white speck? Ok. Sqeeeeze the trigger and BAM! a speaker on the wall barks out and the rifle punches into your shoulder. The simulator is connected to a compressed air cylinder which gives you a realistic recoil. Above each target is an enlarged view of the impact area so you can see where your shots hit. We each filled up our targets with five green dots, and then the WO2 announced the scores. Two of us were under 150mm. The WO2 put up the graphs displaying the various actions, and showing us how he could use the information to improve the shooter's performance. We went another round, and the WO2's correction showed up in tighter scores.
The next stop on our tour of the 3rd Battalion was the former carriage house, where they had set up a display of equipment for us to inspect. The WO2 described the contents of a table laid out with the weapons of an infantry squad, from 9mm pistol through Self Loading Rifle, sniper weapons, machine guns, to shoulder launched anti tank rockets. A Signals Corporal ran us through a display of radios, starting with a hand held unit the size of a cellular phone, and ending up with the largest backpack unit one man can carry. James finished up with a display of a typical soldier's personal equipment and everything in between.
Our tour of the 3rd Battalion was over. We were standing by the Blue Bus thanking everybody for their extraordinary hospitality. We had our hands full of loot - souvenirs from the storeroom plus a packet of posters and pamphlets that James had given us. Mark presented us with a wall plaque of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment badge, and an inscribed copy of the regimental history. We asked if we would be allowed to purchase the gift items listed on the back page of the IRON DUKE (post cards, Christmas cards, horse brasses, lapel pins, Regimental badges, Regimental ties), and, if we might be allowed to wear the Regimental items. "Of course." said David Harrap, Regimental Secretary, "You're part of the family."
Our five days of breathless travel over the main highways and back roads, cities and farms, town and country, left us exhausted but proud. We have been seen and approved by the Colonel of the Regiment, the Duke of Wellington, and Her Majesty the Queen. We have shown the Regiment that we respect and honor the soldiers who served in these uniforms.
Everyone we met associated with the Dukes, from the Duke himself to the Lance Corporal at the Royal Opening treated us with the utmost kindness and hospitality. The new friends we met, and the warm welcome from the Regiment are the true measure of the success of the trip, for if you are known by the company you keep, then we are very well known indeed.