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Wales forever! The Welsh Guards celebrate St David’s Day

The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards celebrated St David’s Day in Windsor today, with the first visit of their new Royal Colonel, Prince William, Prince of Wales, to the Battalion. He was accompanied on his inaugural visit by His wife, The Princess of Wales.

Addressing the whole battalion of Welsh Guards, HRH The Prince of Wales said: “I am both honoured and delighted to be standing here in front of you today as your new Colonel.”

Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel John Livesey said: “St David’s Day is a particularly key date for the Welsh Guards, as it was on the 1st March 1915 that we mounted our first King’s Guard and began our service to the Monarch. It is therefore particularly special and fitting that on St David’s Day we get to welcome HRH The Prince Of Wales into the family as our new Royal Colonel. Cymru Am Byth (Wales forever).”

I am both honoured and delighted to be standing here in front of you today as your new Colonel HRH The Prince of Wales, Colonel Welsh Guards

St David’s Day represents the central attribute of the Welsh Guards’ ethos and fighting spirit: their inimitable Welshness – 91% of the Battalion is Welsh. 

Dark Age tradition honoured

Every year the Officers and Soldiers are presented with their beautifully handmade leeks which they then proudly wear in their caps or on their chests. It’s an age-old tradition that dates back to the Dark Age Welsh King Cadwaladr, who, when faced with an enemy looking remarkably similar to his own people, ordered his soldiers to identify themselves as his troops on the battlefield by placing the leeks that were growing nearby in their helmets.

Leeks are an emblem worn not just on St David’s day but every day by the Welsh Guards, as the symbol is now an integral permanent part of their uniform, helping to identify them from the other four regiments of Foot Guards. The Leek symbol can be seen decorating the Welsh Guards’ buttons, tunic collars and their cap badges.

Fit and tanned after operational training

The Welsh Guards were looking fit and tanned, despite the chilly March morning. Number 2 Company returned from jungle training in Jamaica with the Jamaican Defence Force yesterday and will be supplying reciprocal leadership training for the Jamaicans in the UK later this month.

All the soldiers have had a very busy two years involved in operational training and deployments, including support to the multinational operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Kurdistan, Kuwait and Cyprus, combat infantry training in Kenya, Belize, counter poaching operations in Zambia, and providing training to the Ugandan Armed Forces for their UN mission in Somalia. The Battalion has also given their support to training Ukrainian recruits in the UK, enabling them to protect their homeland.

Joined by their Australian comrades

Today, the Welsh Guards home at last, paraded smartly on the square at Combermere Barracks in Windsor. They were accompanied by the Band of the Welsh Guards playing rousing Welsh tunes. Also joining them on parade were Veterans from the Welsh Guards Association, and soldiers from the 5th Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR) of the Australian Army, with whom the Welsh Guards are closely affiliated. 5RAR were also founded on St David's Day but this is the first time they have been able to celebrate the anniversary on parade with the Welsh Guards.

Training Ukrainian recruits

The Australians are currently in the UK working as part of an international team helping to train the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Welsh Guards helped develop and deliver the initial training programme for the Ukrainians in the UK which began last year. More than 10,000 Ukrainian troops have completed the UK training programme.

it was the camaraderie, the togetherness, and of course the banter of the Welsh Guards that got me through that period, and it’s a time I look back on fondly. HRH The Prince of Wales, Colonel Welsh Guards

Today, the soldiers on parade were presented with St David’s Day leeks by HRH The Prince of Wales. Meanwhile, The Princess of Wales, who was presented with her own personal leek by Welsh Guards Captain Michael Parry, handed out leeks to the Welsh Guards' families so no one was left out.

Camaraderie

The Prince of Wales then gave a speech in which he recalled special memories of his time with the Welsh Guards: once with the sniper platoon in awful weather when he witnessed their professionalism and good humour, and another on exercise in the jungle of Belize when he was waiting to receive his A Level results over the Bowman radio.

He explained: “Many of you will know the feeling of being in the jungle; you’re incredibly hot, continuously soaking wet and with nowhere to hide from potentially horrendous results, it could have been a really bad day! Ultimately though, it was the camaraderie, the togetherness, and of course the banter of the Welsh Guards that got me through that period, and it’s a time I look back on fondly. I believe it’s only with these bonds and this ‘togetherness’, that you can create a strong body of professional soldiers.”

Three cheers for The Prince of Wales

After a rousing three cheers for their new Royal Colonel, the Welsh Guards marched off parade led by the Prince of Wales’ Company, to continue the celebrations with their families.

A formal photograph to mark the historic day was taken with the Prince and Princess of Wales with The Prince of Wales’ Company. The Company was originally named in 1980 by King Charles III when He was Prince of Wales and Colonel of the Welsh Guards, and Prince William announced today that they will keep their name.

The Prince of Wales’ Company’s Company Commander, Major Alexander Major and the Company Sergeant Major Colour Sergeant Matthew Green then escorted the Prince and Princess to a reception in the Officers’ Mess garden. There they met members of the Regiment and their families and discussed what the Guards have been up to in the last year. It was a wonderful opportunity for the Royal Couple to meet the whole Welsh Guards “Regimental family” informally. 

A busy summer of ceremonial to come

St David’s Day traditionally marks the start of Spring and this year for the Guards it is a marker of their change of role from operational to ceremonial duties. After two years fully committed to their combat infantry role across the world, now begins a countdown to demonstrating their ceremonial excellence in front of a global audience. The dual role soldiers will soon begin preparations for the new King’s Birthday Parade at which they will Troop their Colour (when their ceremonial flag covered in their battle honours is paraded through the ranks in front of their sovereign). They are also looking forward to the Coronation of their former Royal Colonel, now their Colonel in Chief, The King.

As Wales’s Senior Infantry Regiment, with a formidable reputation forged throughout the last century, Welsh Guardsmen are famed as much for their recent bravery protecting the United Kingdom and defending our freedom on battlefields around the world, as they are in their ceremonial excellence in London and Windsor, guarding The King at the Royal Palaces. This year, in which they will play such a prominent and public part, promises to exemplify that dual role more than most and will be one for all to remember.