'Selfless and professional' Master Saddler stunned by MBE news

Warrant Officer Class Two (WO2) Godfrey Boyd Morris, Master Saddler, The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, is to be awarded the MBE. It was announced with the publication of the New Year Honours List 2023 in the London Gazette.

The award topped off a remarkable year in an already outstanding career for one of the Royal Artillery’s finest soldiers. WO2 Godfrey Morris, 48, is Master Saddler for The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, which is based in Woolwich, SE London.

On learning he was to be awarded an MBE, Godfrey said: “I’m very grateful and pleased, but very humbled at the same time. When I got the news, I was a little bit stunned, you don’t know what to say. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen to me.”

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1974, Godfrey spent six years in the Jamaican Defence Force but then, after moving to the UK at the age of 25 initially to study Mechanical Engineering, he had a change of heart after attending an Army Careers Office with a friend.

In 2001 he joined The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery in the British Army as a Mounted Gunner, working with horses, before going on to do an apprenticeship as a Saddler. He quickly qualified and is now a Master of his trade. He is one of the most important soldiers in the Regiment and is one of only two Master Saddlers employed across the whole of UK Defence.

WO2 Morris is a true master of his craft, an inspirational role model and a soldier who epitomises the British Army’s values and standards. I am delighted that he has received recognition for his many years of selfless commitment and professionalism. Major Fran Sykes, Commanding Officer, KTRHA

Throughout WO2 Morris’s 20-year career in the British Army, mostly completing State Ceremonial and Public Duties, he has had the weighty responsibility for the maintenance of saddlery within the Regiment, as well as the training of and the safety of all horses and personnel when riding in harness. The output of his role is highly visible and attracts global attention.

He rebuilt the saddlery capability in The King’s Troop from scratch after the previous Master Saddler left the service. His tireless efforts have ensured a secure future for the trade by inspiring a whole new generation of soldiers to train as saddlers. It takes a minimum of three years to train as a saddler and a further three years, once qualified, working in trade, to achieve Master status but Godfrey has created a thriving department of able and enthusiastic craftspeople.

“Keeping the tradition alive in the military sense, you’re looking at a role that was used when horses were the main source of transport for the military,” said Godfrey. “And my unit being a ceremonial unit has kept that tradition. In many ways, for me, it’s like doing my hobby, to be able to do the sort of job that’s been done by so many people in the past. I find it an absolute privilege to be doing something like that.”

A civilian Master Saddler would normally work on a ratio of 1:1 with an apprentice; but since 2018 WO2 Morris has been simultaneously training three apprentices, none of whom had any previous saddlery experience, whilst he has been carrying the sole burden of maintaining the saddlery of 170 personnel and 120 horses in The King’s Troop.

Godfrey said: “It’s such a privilege for me to pass on that knowledge to the next generation of saddlers, so you know the trade lives on. It’s been passed on from generation to generation because someone also invested their time in me in the past.”

He has been an inspirational role model for these soldiers; imbuing them with a passion for their craft, a desire to achieve the highest standard and an insatiable appetite for professional development. All have progressed remarkably quickly, demonstrated by winning a plethora of awards at the National Saddlery Competition, organised by the Society of Master Saddlers, in 2021. Last year, he took on a fourth apprentice; providing the more experienced apprentices with an opportunity to develop their coaching techniques. This will ensure a secure legacy of capability that will endure beyond his career.

Godfrey’s day-to-day role includes making bespoke saddlery items and repairing and maintaining the leather saddles, which are bespoke hand-made leather items costing up to £2,500 to make each. They are famously made in Walsall, reflecting Walsall’s status as a traditional centre for saddle manufacture, and the reason the Walsall Football Club is nicknamed “The Saddlers”.

Morris is responsible for safety when horses are driven in harnesses. He remains on the ground keeping a watchful eye on the gun teams. If any horses get tangled in a harness, it is his responsibility to rescue the animal and its rider.

His Commanding Officer, Major Fran Sykes, said: “WO2 Morris is a true master of his craft, an inspirational role model and a soldier who epitomises the British Army’s values and standards. I am delighted that he has received recognition for his many years of selfless commitment and professionalism. By receiving formal recognition, his legacy will live on in the unit and he will continue to inspire the future generations of Mounted Gunners that follow in his footsteps. This award could not have gone to a more deserving, or humble, candidate. The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery simply could not have been on parade without him.”

WO2 Morris has given a lifetime of service to the Crown and to the nation. He has taken part in multiple ceremonial occasions attended by the Queen, including attending 17 Queen’s Birthday Parades, and with each Ceremonial Gun Salute fired he has witnessed significant moments of history marked throughout the decades.

He has fond memories of discussing saddlery with Her Majesty The Queen, who was something of an expert, during her many visits to The Kings Troop at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

He said: “‘I am fortunate to have met Her Majesty on a few occasions at her residence in Windsor. While visiting our saddlery workshop she said “The work is absolutely beautiful” – this was quite humbling for me. To then be part of the Platinum Jubilee Trooping the Colour Parade, the Procession, the Coronation anniversary and Birthday Gun Salutes – a once in a millennia achievement - was an all-round privilege and honour.”

He treasures two official photographs taken with Her Majesty during visits to his unit at St John’s Wood Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess and at Woolwich Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess.

In September 2022, WO2 Morris was responsible for all the saddles, harnesses and bridles of the horses taking part in the 10-day operation for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, from delivering the Death Gun Salute announcing Her passing, to the day of the funeral itself. Most crucially, he was responsible for the saddlery involved in the procession of Her Late Majesty The Queen to Her Lying in State in Westminster Hall in which Her coffin was borne on a Gun carriage of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. This was not just about ensuring everything looked immaculate; it was about the safety, security and stability of that move, on which the eyes of the whole world were fixed.

WO2 Morris walked beside her coffin on the procession, and it was one of the most privileged and honoured moments of his life.

He has been the Master Saddler for eight years and has just one year left to serve in the Army. In the last year his tremendous achievements in encouraging, mentoring and training the current and next generations of saddlers were professionally recognised at the highest level when he was made a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers. When he retires from service he is planning to set up his own company making and selling leather goods.