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HERITAGE - 45: UNDER ONE BANNER, The Rifles Regiment From Its Beginnings

Updated on August 8, 2017

Presenting an historical aspect of the British Army that began before Wellington took the British Army to Spain...

The Rifles TV recruitment header... Before we head into the Rifles of today, let's look at the regiment in its early days:
The Rifles TV recruitment header... Before we head into the Rifles of today, let's look at the regiment in its early days: | Source
Battle of the Alma, Crimea 1854. 2nd Rifle Brigade leads the Light Division (Infantry) across the River Alma
Battle of the Alma, Crimea 1854. 2nd Rifle Brigade leads the Light Division (Infantry) across the River Alma | Source
Part of the British Army? British 7/6th (Royal American Regiment (Robert Marrion)
Part of the British Army? British 7/6th (Royal American Regiment (Robert Marrion) | Source

UNDER ONE BANNER is not to glorify warfare or weaponry. It is a look at a regular army regiment that has served the crown since the time of the 'Iron Duke'

The British Army in general has undergone many changes in its history from when James, Duke of York (later James II) first paraded the regiments' colours of the army as it was then. The event at Horseguards, near his brother Charles II's London residence at St James' Palace, led to the current monarch's 'Trooping the Colours' . These 'Colours' are the regimental banners of the Household Division, and the purpose of 'trooping' them was for the other regiments to recognise them.

Humanitarian missions have been mounted over the years, such as rescue in the case of volcanoes or earthquakes around the world, not just in Commonwealth countries but in, say, the Balkan troubles in the 1980s to keep aggressors from their targeted victims, and to provide shelter for refugees. British soldiers also became victims of the political-historical spat between Croats and Serbs.

However, to be effective the Army has to be respected by aggressor and victim alike. The British Army has gained that respect in other hotspots, lately Afghanistan. In defending the rights of self-determination - the right of girls to be educated, for example - against the wishes of the Taliban and other feuding warlords who would like to keep the country in their pockets, and well and truly in the Middle Ages.

In World War One on the Western Front a rifleman of the Shropshire Regiment almost saved the world from another global headache. The story was pieced together some years ago and televised on a TV documentary that a certain messenger with the Bavarian regiment of the German army by the name of Adolf Hitler was wounded between the legs by a sniper bullet. Working back to who 'operated' between the lines with his rifle at the time, it was established who the British sniper was. Sorry - no names, no pack drill. But less than a quarter inch up at his end would've ended it all for the 'Bohemian corporal'. In the early days, when poachers were caught judges sent them to the Rifles where they might rub shoulders with ex-gamekeepers. A fearsome prospect for the French!

One regiment of the Army has excelled in its mission to protect rights and keep attackers at bay. This regiment is The Rifles. Training is intensive and it must show recruits the aims of the regiment they will serve in, teach them how to react in situations and not let circumstances dictate behaviour. I'll go into that at a later stage.

First let's look at the structure of The Rifles, where the different battalions are based and their numbers. I shall touch on purposes in relation to one of the eight battalions around Britain.

1 Rifles is based at Beachley Barracks just within England near Chepstow where five hundred and fifty Riflemen maintain a presence; 2 Rifles is based at Thiepval Barracks near Lisburn, Northern Ireland with another five hundred and fifty Riflemen; 3 Rifles with six hundred and fifty Riflemen is based at Dreghorn Barracks near Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2021 the battalion will move to Catterick Barracks near Richmond in North Yorkshire; 4 Rifles with two hundred men is based at New Normandy Barracks, Aldershot, Hampshire; 5 Rifles with five hundred Riflemen is based at Bulford Camp in Wilshire. This is an armoured infantry battalion and part of 20 Armoured Brigade within the 3rd (UK) Division, 'The Iron Division'; 6 Rifles Reserve of the South West is based with 1 Rifles and consists of five hundred part time Riflemen; 7 Rifles Reserve, of five hundred part time Riflemen is based in London and the South East with 5 Rifles; 8 Rifles Reserve draws from the North East, Yorkshire and West Midlands and it's five hundred part time Riflemen are based with 2 Rifles.

There is also a Band & Bugles section.

Recruitment, Training and Selection

US Marines Weapons Company train with 1st Battalion and Australian infantry at Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. Joint bilateral live fire training helps consolidate skills (L/Cpl K Howard
US Marines Weapons Company train with 1st Battalion and Australian infantry at Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. Joint bilateral live fire training helps consolidate skills (L/Cpl K Howard | Source
Back in time to WWII, Soviet snipers were recruited into a specific unit from all walks of life - city and rural, Western Russia to Siberia and the far east (Irkutsk, Kamchatka)
Back in time to WWII, Soviet snipers were recruited into a specific unit from all walks of life - city and rural, Western Russia to Siberia and the far east (Irkutsk, Kamchatka) | Source
The Canadian regiment of the Black Watch - they were first over the Rhine in 1945 - re-enacts a WWII Normandy scene with rifleman and spotter to confirm his 'hit'
The Canadian regiment of the Black Watch - they were first over the Rhine in 1945 - re-enacts a WWII Normandy scene with rifleman and spotter to confirm his 'hit' | Source
You'll doubtless see him at this range,  would you be able to pick him out against a backdrop of long grass? His gun is painted Army khaki to blend in, but he has to watch the sun doesn't reflect off his sights. The glass is set well in from the rim
You'll doubtless see him at this range, would you be able to pick him out against a backdrop of long grass? His gun is painted Army khaki to blend in, but he has to watch the sun doesn't reflect off his sights. The glass is set well in from the rim | Source

All Riflemen are trained at the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick (ITC Catterick)

Basic infantry skills are taught here, and recruits are imbued with the regimental ethos. Separate courses are run for standard entry, junior entry and reserve recruits. Senior or Standard Entry (SE) is a twenty-six week course that covers the skills a Rifleman is expected to master during his career as a Regular Army Rifleman. A driving course is provided for recruits with a standard DVLA driving licence. This induction is open to recruits of a minimum seventeen years. Recruits are Riflemen from the outset of training, and is in the hands of RIFLES Officers (Captain or Lieutenant, pron. 'leftenant') and Non-commissioned Officers (Serjeant and Corporals - note the older spelling, peculiar to certain regiments of the British Army, although 'sergeants' in general terms of reference).

The training teams have vast experience, and members of these teams have seen active duty on operations around the globe, not only in Commonwealth countries. Their aim is to help recruits through their basic training and preparation for a career as a Rifleman in a RIFLES Regular Battalion.

Junior Entrants (JE)

Progress to become a Rifleman begins at the Aremy Foundation College, Harrogate, Yorkshire (AFC Harrogate, about an hour's drive west from York). Recruits here should be between fifteen years, seven months and sixteen years, nine months on enlistment in order to qualify to start. These recruits train to be junior leaders on a forty-two week course. On completion of the course at AFC Harrogate training continues in the completion of a further twelve week course at ITC Catterick. Over these twelve weeks leadership skills will be nurtured and honed - they may after all train future recruits - and recruits will learn what is necessary to become a Rifleman in a RIFLES Regular Battalion.

Reservists from all walks of life and many different civilian professions or callings need to attend ITC Catterick after the completion of Training Course 1B at the Army Training Regiment, Pirbright, Surrey. At a time of the recruit's choosing they will need to be free of non-military commitments to attend the two-week course at ITC Catterick. Over this fortnight teaching will encompass the necessary knowledge to qualify to become a Rifleman in a RIFLES Reserve Battalion.

The Regimental Shepherd

The Rifles looks after - but does not nurse-maid - its recruits at ITC Catterick. The team is headed by a Serjeant known as the Regimental Shepherd. He might be contacted at a particular E-mail address, mobile phone (cell-phone) or landline telephone should recruits or friends have need of detailed information on the outlined courses, or with concerns about RIFLES recruits under training.

I looked into what the average recruit should expect from Army life with 3 Rifles (this is in connection with a STORYLINE project I have yet to finish writing in long-hand). See below.

Swashbuckling dvd series of Peninsular War drama with Yorkshireman Sean Bean as the eponymous hero - a departure from Bernard Cornwell's books, where he's portrayed as a dark haired Londoner, but who's counting when the stories gallop onward - who wins hearts and trophies in Wellington's advance across the Iberian Peninsula from Portugal to the border with France. Sterling stuff!

3 Rifles is a Regular Army Infantry Battalion based at Dreghorn Barracks, Edinburgh

Serviceman, C Company, 3rd Battalion The Rifles. He will have undergone extensive weapons handling and he will need to be fit to carry this rifle
Serviceman, C Company, 3rd Battalion The Rifles. He will have undergone extensive weapons handling and he will need to be fit to carry this rifle | Source
British sniper or 'Markman' (a peculiarity of The Rifles is they are not given the usual title 'marksman')
British sniper or 'Markman' (a peculiarity of The Rifles is they are not given the usual title 'marksman') | Source
The current mode of armoured troop transport, a Foxhound PMV, painted for desert conditions
The current mode of armoured troop transport, a Foxhound PMV, painted for desert conditions | Source
A British sniper and his spotter, like a secondman who verifies a hit. Conditions in Afghanistan demanded accurate spotting, as a miss betrayed the sniper's whereabouts
A British sniper and his spotter, like a secondman who verifies a hit. Conditions in Afghanistan demanded accurate spotting, as a miss betrayed the sniper's whereabouts | Source

The Battalion will move to Catterick, North Yorkshire in 2021 as one of a selected few units in the Army's new Strike Brigades in the 3rd (UK) DivisionB

This is the 'Iron Division', the only division at constant operational readiness. 3 Rifles will be one of four 'Strike Battalions' within the Infantry and equipped with the new Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) to provide a better, more protected, agile force that can self-deploy half a world away with minimal logistical support. It is an exciting new role that plays to the strengths of The Rifles, in which Riflemen are known for their ability to operate on their own initiative deep inside a battlefield zone.

3 Rifles consists of around six hundred and fifty Riflemen who deploy from their base location on global training and operations. The Battalion is currently equipped with Foxhound Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMVs) but will convert to Mastiff and then the new MIV when it comes into service.

Since The Rifles formed in 2007 from a number of county regiments due to low recruitment figures, 3 Rifles has been deployed on five tours to Iraq and Afghanistan together with a number of other operations and training missions abroad.

Both Edinburgh and Catterick have very good transport connections to their recruiting grounds in the North East and Yorkshire, allowing Riflemen to get home more easily most weekends.

The regiment holds 913 battle honours, going back over 250 years to their inception before the Napoleonic Wars. A world record 117 Victoria Crosses have been won, with a living history second to none. First Riflemen were recruited when the British Army under Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, needed quick-thinking, intelligent and tough sharp-shooters capable of fighting on their own initiative. If asked, from the most senior officer to the newest recruit the men will answer, "I am a Rifleman".

Battalions of the Rifles do not carry flags, otherwise known as 'colours'. Instead battle honours are entrusted to each and every man, who wears a representative selection on his belt badge. The Rifles Collection explains this as it takes the visitor through the regiment's remarkable history. Of special note is the blank scroll in the bottom right of the belt badge. This scroll remains blank awaiting future Riflemen to follow their forefathers into the unique history of a regiment that has always looked ahead and been famed for its professional excellence.

The Battle of the Alma took place during the Crimean War (1854) when Britain and France together sent forces as allies of the Turks, who feared incursions of the 'Russian Bear' into the Balkans. In July 1908 Colonel Willoughby Verner visited a dying Crimean War Rifle veteran at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Rifleman Salter lay in the infirmary when Verner last saw him. Later the Colonel recalled telling the old soldier,

"Now, Salter, we'll drink to the Victory of the Alma and success to the Rifles".

He held a cup to Salter's lips and as he drank Verner heard him mutter,

"And many more of 'em... And many more like 'em". Salter had joined his comrades-in-arms.

"For honour to come..."

The Rifles belt buckle badge with that space for a new battle honour (lower right beside the stem of the cross)
The Rifles belt buckle badge with that space for a new battle honour (lower right beside the stem of the cross) | Source

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