History and Future of the Mercian Regiment

Some would have thought that talking about the regiments of the Midlands over more than two hundred years of their existence would be a daunting task; seeing the enormous complexity of their transition from a growing group of locally attached soldiery, involved in almost every war that we have taken part in - from the wars of Louis XIV to those in Iraq and Afghanistan today. This by the way of the American wars; service in India and China; and World Wars I and II (and many more wars beside] to become the highly integrated force that we see today.

But above everything our speaker, Col. Stephen Ashworth, is the complete professional soldier and had an astonishing command of his subject, and with the aid of his graphics ably demonstrated the complex changes that the Mercians have had to go through to arrive a their present conformation, a union of many regiments, yet managed to make their development clear and understandable.

These regiments covered the very heart of England, from Cheshire to Nottingham via our own Staffordshire to Worcester and understandably accrued many layers of colourful tradition in the process, regarding uniforms, badges and customs that were highly meaningful as the glue that bound many generations of men together. Many acts of heroism were equally valuable in creating this bond, though Col. Ashworth had to admit that some of the earlier ones were of doubtful verity - did anyone really have the time to pluck oak leaves at Dettingen and were the 29th's officers really taken unawares by rebels when at mess? And how about the Worcester Regiment starting the American War of Independence with the 'Boston Massacre'?

The newly conformed Mercian Regiment is very much a trimmed down affair in response to present needs, with three battalions at three centres, yet still combining all the old traditions of its constituent parts while being a very modern force indeed. Maybe something of a change from WW I when the regiments consisted of 140 battalions, but still fully able to hold their ground in the difficult Afghanistan conflict as the notable honours recently won by two of their number demonstrated.

At the end of his talk Col. Ashworth handed round some colourful current recruiting literature. Were they about to create a new battalion, we wondered? More 'Granddad's Army' than 'Dad's Army' we thought. No one was disappointed to find it was just a handout for other, younger men, for inspection only.

A masterly presentation by a soldier marshalling every detail of a highly complicated march through many decades with admirable concision and clarity.

Alan Thompson
October 2008