Friday, 28 July 2017

Castles and ceremony: an English weekend

I know that a lot of US readers enjoy this blog, so I thought I would write about a ridiculously English weekend so you could all feel jealous. Some UK readers might enjoy it too.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the building of the Army’s main ammunition depot at Kineton, near Warwick. The regiment there has been awarded the Freedom of the City of Warwick and, to mark their anniversary, this Saturday they held a parade through the town. As parades go, it was quite a small affair because it takes surprisingly few military personnel to run an ammunition depot, but it was a big event for those concerned and we were invited to see them form up for the parade.

Warwick Castle

They formed up in Warwick Castle. There has been a castle on this site since 1068, though it has gone through many changes since then. The defences were significantly enhanced in 1330-60, with additional towers added in the 15th century and, although the defences were allowed to decay, it did see action in the Civil War when it was held for Parliament against the Royalists. It provided a suitably martial backdrop for the 21st century military ceremony we had come to watch.

Seeing a regiment (even a very small regiment) form up is a piece of pure theatre. To the music of the Corps band, men (and a few women) marched, stamped their feet, moved rifles about, and then stood "at ease" while the Colonel of the Regiment and the Lord Lieutenant of the County (representing the Queen) inspected them. One of the officers in the inspection party explained to me that he had three jokes and told them to each man in rotation in a reasonably successful effort to make them laugh on the parade.

The Lord Lieutenant of the county (representing the Queen) inspects the troops

After the compulsory small talk, the troops marched out, led by the officers with their swords drawn.
It was an impressive display by people whose primary role is that they are ammunition technicians.

After the public theatre of forming up, the troops vanished out of sight where, after a pause while spectators were shuffled about and police cleared the roads, they formed up for the actual parade – a private process which was probably accompanied by rather less shouting and stamping of feet. Still, as they marched through the streets of Warwick they made an impressive sight. The bandsmen led the way in their number-one uniforms. Then came the officers with their swords still drawn and men with fixed bayonets (apparently ceremonially significant in the whole Freemen of the City business) with an array of military and civic dignitaries in a variety of splendid uniforms bringing up the rear.

Afterwards there was tea and cake with the Lord Mayor and even a proclamation by the town crier who really did start with “Oyez, oyez, oyez!” It was terribly British and everyone, spectators and soldiers alike, seems to thoroughly enjoy it. The hours spent in parade drill and the tedium of polishing buttons and belts was forgotten. Everyone loves a parade and military ceremonial has always been an important part of our national life. It is easy to forget, perhaps, that the staff at Kineton are responsible for horrific amounts of munitions. It’s not a ceremonial role at all.

The Town Crier doing his stuff

We left Warwick after our tea and cakes and drove south to another castle.

Herstmonceaux was the first brick-built castle in England. It was put up in the 15th century, when brick built castles were the latest thing in France and hence viewed as very fashionable in England. It was designed as a symbol of the power and prestige of the Herstmonceux family rather than a serious defensive castle, being built in an exposed spot of no real strategic value. It was, though, always a place of considerable beauty. It was used as a family home until the 18th-century, when the decision was made to demolish the interior, leaving only the walls to fall into ruin. Even in its partially ruined state, the castle remained very beautiful and the construction of a railway line to Brighton made it an attractive spot for visitors.

In the 20th century the building was restored as a private residence and was then briefly the home of the Greenwich Observatory before becoming an international study centre attached to Queen’s University of Ontario, Canada.


We were at the castle for a weekend of dancing, which had no historic or ceremonial significance whatsoever, but which did benefit from the sheer beauty of the building and its surrounding gardens.

What, no book plug?

You may have noticed the absence of any book plug in my blog post. That's because I'm between publishers. I've left Accent Press, who therefore don't sell my books any more, and I've signed with Endeavour, who will have my books back on line in the autumn. Feel free to write and let them know how much you are looking forward to reading them.

My books are available in the US through Simon & Schuster. I know this blog gets a lot of readers in the States. It would be really nice if some of you bought the books. Thanks.

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