Oxfordshire’s County Regiment, The Rifles, celebrated and commemorated

The county regiment of Oxfordshire, The RIFLES and its antecedent regiments, The Royal Green Jackets and The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were both celebrated and commemorated in the City of Oxford. The centre piece of the day’s events being a service of dedication for the regimental memorial book held amidst the grandeur of the city’s magnificent Christ Church Cathedral. The service marked the close affiliation the regiment has with Oxford dating back to 1782, the value it places on its links to the county, and the sacrifices made by those who serve in its ranks.

The day started with Oxford’s Saturday morning shoppers being entertained by the Waterloo Band and Bugles of The Rifles which performed in Leiden Square. The band comprises wholly of Army Reservist Musicians drawn from across the county. Led by WO2 Bob Ghigi, they played a medley of well-known military classics as well as more familiar tunes including ‘Sweet Caroline’ and a clap-along inducing theme from ‘Zorba the Greek’.

The whole day centred around the service of dedication for the regiment’s memorial book that takes pride of place inside Christ Church Cathedral. The book is a sombre roll of honour that names the 45 who gave their lives on operations with the Royal Green Jackets and the further 62 who served with the present day Rifles regiment.

“This was a memorable day for The RIFLES, to have this wonderful opportunity to be able to engage with the local community was very rewarding. Watching the crowds in the shopping centre singing along and being entertained was enjoyable. but it was the service in the cathedral that provided that very special moment of reflection and remembrance.” Major Tim Brown, 7 RIFLES

Speaking of the day Major Tim Brown, the Officer Commanding A Company, 7 RIFLES based at Edward Brooks Barracks in Abingdon said, “This was a memorable day for The Rifles, to have this wonderful opportunity to be able to engage with the local community was very rewarding. Watching the crowds in the shopping centre singing along and being entertained was enjoyable. but it was the service in the cathedral that provided that very special moment of reflection and remembrance.”

Twice a month, Christ Church holds an intimate service during which the page of the book is ceremonially turned to reveal the next set of names who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. On this occasion though the book received its blessing from the Assistant Bishop, John Meyrick in an extended version of the service.

The book was marched down the nave with 16 year-old Army Cadet Mahadere from Headington Detachment, Oxfordshire Army Cadet Force given the honour of carrying the book to be placed on the altar.

During the service veterans read out some of the names that sit on those pages. Names such as First World War soldier, 2nd Lieutenant Earnest Thomas from Oxford who was killed at the battle of Cambrai in 1917, Corporal Robert Bankier who died at the age of 25 whilst serving in Northern Ireland in 1971 and more recently in 2009, Rifleman Andrew Fentiman, a Reservist Soldier serving with A Company of 7th Battalion The Rifles from just down the road in Abingdon who was killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan at the age of 23.

Having received its blessing the new memorial book was slow-marched into the Cathedral’s Memorial Chapel where it will held for safekeeping alongside the rolls of honour that contain the names of 6921 soldiers of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who were killed in the two world wars.

The service concluded with the silver bugles playing the last post and wreaths being laid at the altar of the regimental chapel within the cathedral.

The finale to the day was a Sunset ceremony performed, again by the Waterloo Band in the grounds of Christ Church. Once a military bugle call that marked the end of the day for a soldier and that all his comrades had returned to their post; however, today it is purely symbolic and a fitting way to draw to a close a very special day.