The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards are world famous for their State ceremonial excellence but first and foremost these soldiers are Light Role Infantry, deploying on operations around the world. Despite the pandemic, and in many ways because of it, the past 14 months have been busier than most for the men and women serving in the battalion, so there was a lot to catch up on.
As members of the COVID Support Force, Welsh Guardsmen were among the first to roll out COVID-19 testing in the UK. Together with the Royal Anglian Regiment and the Grenadier Guards, in March 2020 they set up the first test sites and mobile testing units in England.
In June 2020, the Welsh Guards performed a birthday tribute at Windsor Castle for Her Majesty The Queen, a unique event incorporating innovative socially distanced drill moves.
A period of intense operational training immediately followed, and the Battalion had to adapt to new ways of working which allowed them to train effectively in their warfighting role but still remain COVID compliant.
As the pandemic worsened its grip The Prince of Wales’s Company deployed on Christmas Day in 2020 to deliver mass testing and welfare to over 4,000 stranded lorry drivers in the Dover area.
I was so enormously proud of those of you who formed part of the complement during my father’s funeral recently The Prince of Wales
This year the Battalion has deployed to the Falkland Islands, Nigeria and Kenya. Of those that remain the Prince of Wales’s Company is preparing for an operational tour in Iraq on Op SHADER, the UK’s contribution to the US led mission to counter Daesh by advising, supporting and working alongside local forces. Other members of the Battalion will deploy imminently to Africa on Op CORDED as part of the MOD’s ongoing mission to counter endangered wildlife poaching operations.
His Royal Highness was welcomed to the Windsor Barracks by a Quarter Guard, before being received by the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Llewelyn-Usher. His Royal Highness presented three medals to members of the battalion and then, in the Officers’ Mess Garden, he met and chatted with soldiers and officers in three socially distanced groups comprising of The Prince of Wales’s Company; Number Two Company; Number Three Company; and Headquarter Company Welsh Guards.
Today’s visit, the Prince’s first formal engagement following the death of his father, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, meant a great deal to all the soldiers involved, many of whom had lined the North and East sides of the Windsor Castle Quadrangle at HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral last month. The late Prince Philip, as a former Colonel of the Regiment, had been head of the Welsh Guards’ Regimental family from 1953 to 1975, when he then handed the title and responsibility on to his son, Charles, Prince of Wales.
Before he bid them goodbye, Prince Charles paused to reflect at the new Welsh Guards Memorial which was unveiled by Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie in December last year. The stone memorial weighs over a ton and was cut especially for the Welsh Guards from Gloddfa Ganol slate quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Some 30 hours were spent cutting, polishing and engraving the stone before it made its journey from Wales to be unveiled in its new home for all to enjoy. It is a poignant reminder of the selfless duty and the sacrifice of all Welsh Guardsmen who have served the United Kingdom since the unit was founded in February 1915.
Speaking in the Officers’ Mess garden of Combermere Barracks, Prince Charles said: “I was so enormously proud of those of you who formed part of the complement during my father’s funeral recently. If I may say so, what a wonderful credit not only to the Welsh Guards but also the Household Division and all those who were on parade, for what you all did. I know my family and I were deeply moved by the way you all performed your duties. People from other countries rang me up to say that they had never seen anything quite so marvellous, so beautifully done and with such dignity and style.
“Of course it is something with which you are all rightly famed, but I know my father would have been also enormously touched because he had dreamt up this particular way he wanted it done.”
Guardsman Philips, 22, from Swansea was part of the Welsh Guards contingent at the funeral and met the Prince today. He said “It was amazing to be involved and when my parents and my grandparents found out they were overwhelmed as they’re such ardent Royalists, they couldn’t believe it, they were so proud. I really felt the history on that day it was a big moment”.
He added: “I’ve only been in the Welsh Guards just over a year and I’ve already done so much, experienced such incredible things - this time last year I was doing COVID-19 testing in London now I’m getting ready to go to Iraq. It’s been amazing”.