The Prince of Wales, Colonel in Chief of the Parachute Regiment, presented the Army’s world-renowned airborne battalions with new Colours at Merville Barracks, Colchester today.
It was a momentous and historic occasion: the last time Colours (elaborately embroidered military ceremonial flags) were presented to the Regiment was in 1998, and this month marks the 50th anniversary of HRH’s first parachute jump.
COVID-19 restrictions meant the once in a generation parade had to be socially distanced, and special dispensation had to be granted to allow for the 500 guests to attend in family bubbles, with prior testing for all.
The Prince was accompanied at the ceremony by the Parachute Regiment’s Colonel Commandant, Lieutenant General Sir John Lorimer. It was Sir John’s final event in the role. After 39 years of service with the Parachute Regiment and Ministry of Defence, he has been appointed the next Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man.
The Parachute Regiment was formed in 1942 during the height of WWII and, with the exception of 1968, has been in constant action since. Determined and courageous, they earned the nickname “Red Devils” from German Parachutists in North Africa. Heroic actions in Normandy, Arnhem, the Falklands, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan are cemented in regimental folklore.
All Paratroopers are trained to conduct a range of missions, from peace support to complex, high intensity war fighting. Their watchwords are professionalism, resilience, discipline, versatility, courage and self-reliance.
Drill may not be the first priority for the operationally focussed troops, but they can step up and produce an immaculate parade when they need to. The Parachute Regiment has a long association with the Foot Guards and the Guards Parachute Platoon serve as an integral part of the battalion.
At the start of the ceremony, the Old Colours were marched off parade, as the British Army Band Colchester played Auld Lang Syne. 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery Guns fired a salute for the arrival of the Prince of Wales and the National Anthem was played.
His Royal Highness inspected the front rank of the parade, taking an avid interest in talking to the paratroopers representing the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Parachute Regiment.
After the inspection, The Prince undertook the formal presentation of the new Regimental Colours. The Colours were blessed, and he laid his hand on each as they were handed reverentially to the battalions.
Colours have huge significance to infantry regiments of the British Army. A rallying point in the heat and smoke of ancient battle, soldiers would sacrifice everything to protect and save the Colour from enemy capture. Colours are exquisitely handmade of precious silks, silver and gilt threads, are used on the Regiment’s most important occasions, and bear the battle honours and symbols of the battalions. They are consequently believed to carry the spirits of all those who fought and died in their name since the founding of the regiment.
To mark the solemnity and importance of the moment a flypast took place over the parade square charting the aerial heritage and future of the Regiment, from the Tiger Moth to the modern-day Apache helicopter and the A400 transporter.
Parachute Regimental Mascot, Shetland Pony, Pegasus, led the band off parade. Then, adding real drama to the event, the Red Devils Parachute Display Team dropped smoke and parachuted into the square for a nail-biting finish. Corporal Masters, the Left Marker, dropped in with a surprise package for the Colonel in Chief: a Denison Smock, cut to fit, which HRH can wear on future visits to the Regiment.
His Royal Highness made his first parachute drop (aged 23 years) 50 years ago this month on 29th July 1971 from an Andover aircraft into Studland Bay, Dorset. Upon his appointment as Colonel in Chief of The Parachute Regiment in 1977, The Prince requested to join a Parachute Training Course at RAF Brize Norton in 1978.
He regularly visits the Regiment and takes a close personal interest in supporting bereaved families and the wounded. In 2017, a real highlight was when The Prince of Wales celebrated his 40th anniversary as Colonel in Chief with the Regiment in Colchester.
After today’s Parade and displays, His Royal Highness joined a socially distanced reception outside to meet veterans, serving officers and soldiers with their families.
Many of the Paras were unable to take part in the parade due to their overseas operational commitments. The 1st Battalion is permanently under the command of the Director Special Forces in the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). The SFSG takes part in large-scale offensive operations alongside Special Forces, seals off areas in which the latter operate, provides extra firepower from land or air, and carries out diversionary raids. It also supports domestic anti-terrorism operations and trains foreign allied forces.
The other battalions are the parachute infantry component of the British Army's rapid response formation, 16 Air Assault Brigade.
2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment has just completed Joint Theatre Entry Air Manoeuvre Battle Group parachuting exercises in Jordan as the Lead Assault Force in the British Army's Global Response Force. They are now conducting interoperability training with the Jordanian Quick Reaction Brigade with a company from 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, who also has a Company deployed on jungle training in Belize.
4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, the Reserve Battalion, has just returned from a training exercise in the United States with soldiers held as High Readiness Reserves to deploy with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
All were sad to say farewell to Lt Gen Sir John Lorimer who handed over the baton of Colonel Commandant to Major General Andrew Harrison. Sir John Lorimer has served 39 years in the British Army in all three regular Parachute Regiment battalions, completing numerous tours in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. A former Chief of Joint Operations for the armed forces, he has spent the last three years as Defence Senior Adviser Middle East to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff.