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Battle axe 'beard off' to find new axe man

24 February 2014

L-R: Outgoing Axe Man Lance Bombardier Martin Priestman hands over the role to Sergeant Gareth Cahill. Image by Sgt Paul Morrison; Crown copyrightAn historic battle axe has been paraded in Northumberland for the last time as part of a unique event dating back to the 19th century.

Soldiers from 74 Battery (Battle Axe Company), part of 39 Regiment Royal Artillery, known as The Welsh Gunners, held their annual parade for the last time at Albemarle Barracks near Ouston. The new Battle Axe Company will be based at Larkhill in support of Unmanned Aerial Systems Regiments based in the south of England.

The tradition of Battle Axe day goes back to when the Battery helped in the capture of Martinique in 1809 from the French. Having distinguished itself, the Force Commander wished to give the Battery a captured French cannon. The Battery Commander petitioned that the gun be replaced by something more easily carried and two French trophies captured at Martinique were given in its place. These trophies were a brass drum and a Battle Axe. The Battery has been known as The Battle Axe Company since that day.

Tallest man

As part of the parade, the Battle Axe is trooped through the ranks of the Company to commemorate the valour and sacrifices of the Battery’s forebears and to remind the serving soldiers of the standards they set and to encourage them to keep them. It is not known when the Battle Axe was first trooped, but it seems fairly certain that the custom was established by the time the Battery came home in 1822.

The tallest man in the Battery always carries the Battle Axe on parade and is known as the Axe Man. As a reminder of 'les Moustaches' from whom the Battle Axe was taken, the bearer also wears a moustache.

Axe Man, Lance Bombardier Martin Priestman (26) from Middlesbrough, handed over the role to Sergeant Gareth Cahill (31) from Newport Pagnell who will become the Axe Man for the UAS Support Battery.

“Being the Axe Man is a great honour,” said Martin who has been with the Battery for four years and deployed on Operation HERRICK 18 where the Battle Axe was paraded but by another Battery member. “You only have to look around at the veterans, some of whom fought in Korea, to see how much this means to them and to the Battery."

'Beard off'

Martin joins another Battery at the Regiment this week and, with the loss of the Axe Man title, it means his moustache will have to be shaved off.  “My girlfriend, Natasha, really doesn’t like my facial hair and so she won’t be sorry to see it go.. My Battery Sergeant Major is a former 74 Battery member and I keep winding him up that I am going to keep the moustache,” said Martin.

He handed over the Battle Axe to Sergeant Gareth Cahill during the parade watched by the Regiment’s families. Gareth had received the title following a “beard off” of all the new Battery’s different capbadges.

“Receiving the Battle Axe and becoming the Axe Man is a huge honour, particularly as I am not a member of the Royal Artillery,” said Gareth, who is a member of the Army Air Corps. "With the Battle Axe passing to the new Battery, it will keep the tradition and many memories alive especially for the veterans. It wasn’t just a job for them, it was their life.”

The troops were inspected by the Royal Artillery’s Regimental Colonel; Colonel Roddy Lee who said that the Battery ethos and spirit would survive regardless of the change of role and move of locations. This is one of the first phases of the disbandment of 39th Regiment which will see personnel move from Albemarle Barracks to Larkhill Garrison over the next 3 years.

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