A historic battle axe was paraded in the North East for the last time as part of a unique event dating back to the 19th century.
Soldiers from 74 Battery (The Battle Axe Company), part of 39 Regiment Royal Artillery, known as The Welsh Gunners, held their annual parade for the last time at Albemarle Barracks near Ouston in Northumberland.
The new Battle Axe Company will be based in Larkhill, Wiltshire, and is a specialised new unit designed to support the Unmanned Aerial Systems Regiments.
The tradition of Battle Axe day goes back to when the Battery helped in the capture of Martinique in 1809 from the French.
For its valour, the Force Commander wanted to give the Battery a captured French cannon. The Battery Commander petitioned that the gun be replaced by something more easily carried and two French trophies captured at Martinique were given in its place – a brass drum and a Battle Axe. The Battery has been known as The Battle Axe Company since that day.
As part of the parade, the Battle Axe is trooped through the ranks of the Company to commemorate the valour and sacrifices of the Battery’s forebears and to remind the serving soldiers of the standards they set and to encourage them to keep them. It is not known when the Battle Axe was first trooped, but it seems fairly certain that the custom was established by the time the Battery came home in 1822.
The tallest man in the Battery always carries the Battle Axe on parade and is known as the “Axe Man”. As a reminder of “les Moustaches” from whom the Battle Axe was taken, the bearer also wears a moustache.
Axe Man Lance Bombardier Martin Priestman, 26, from Middlesbrough, handed over the role to Sergeant Gareth Cahill, 31, from Newport Pagnell who will become the Axe Man for the UAS Support Battery.
“Being the Axe Man is a great honour,” said Martin who has been with the Battery for four years.
“You only have to look around at the veterans, some of whom fought in Korea, to see how much this means to them and to the Battery. “
Martin joins another Battery at the Regiment this week and, with the loss of the Axe Man title, it means his moustache will have to be shaved off.
“My girlfriend, Natasha, really doesn’t like my facial hair and so she won’t be sorry to see it go. I keep winding my new Battery up that I am going to keep the moustache,” said Martin, a former pupil of Gillbrook Technology College.
He handed over the Battle Axe to Sergeant Gareth Cahill during the parade on Saturday watched by the Regiment’s families.
This is one of the first phases of the disbandment of 39th Regiment which will see personnel move from Albemarle Barracks to Larkhill Garrison over the next three years.