50th Anniversary Parade of the Battle of the Marne
Rheims, France

IT was late afternoon on Friday, 28th August, that the decision was made that the11th Regiment and the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals would provide a contingent at a parade to be held in Rheims on Sunday, the 6th September, 1964. Fifty years before, the British Expeditionary Force in France was fighting alongside the Belgium and French Forces in defence of the French capital. The line of battle was the Marne. The German advance was held and the threat to Paris was averted.

It was to mark this 50th Anniversary that a parade was to be held before the President of France at Rheims.

This left six days to prepare the Guard before the move. Luckily about thirty per cent, of the Guard of Honour who had represented the Corps at the ceremony of the Freedom of Richmond were still in the Regiment and these were ably sup ported by two very good troops who had passed out shortly before. They were mindful of their great responsibility and so determined not to let down their Corps that they drilled and prepared their kit as they had never done before.

By Friday all was ready and the Guard moved off on an uneventful and perfectly organised move to Rheims by train, boat and coach. In Rheims accommodation was provided by the French Air Force who did everything possible to ensure that the British contingent were comfortable.

On Sunday a large and spectacular parade was drawn up in the main Boulevard of Rheims with the saluting dais on the steps of the Palais de Justice.

The troops were drawn up for inspection by the left (this is customary in the French Army) with the French Guard of Honour and Band first, then followed a detachment from the Belgian Services with their Band, the Corps Band was next in line and stood out being the only troops on parade nor in khaki. Next came our Guard of Honour and then stretching half a mile in distance, company after company of French troops.

The arrival of General D Gaulle was heralded by a fanfare of trumpets; hundreds of veterans lowered their standards in salute and the General paid tribute to the Colour Parties. The National Anthem was played and the General began his drive of inspection. Then followed the march past, our Guard of Honour the only one with swords drawn and bayonets fixed stood out when compared to the other contingents on parade and the crowd were not slow to show their appreciation.

As our contingent entered the Square the Band struck up “Tipperary” and while the Guard saluted General De Gaulle, the French Standards were lowered in honour. Old men’s eyes were damp and pretty girls sang “Tipperary “in a never-to-be forgotten moment.

Later that night the Corps Band played in the Boulevard and was heard not only by many thousands of French citizens but also by our Guard of Honour. Later 550 very proud soldier and bandsmen were busy trying out their French in numerous, cafes where they very rapidly made friends both with the local population and the Belgian contingent, who were also “on the town.”

At the official reception General Pin who commanded the parade praised our soldiers for their most impressive display and said that the French Army was proud to march behind such a magnificent Band.

The contingent returned to Catterick tired but prouder than ever before of their uniforms, yet very mindful of those who had died to prove this fact.

Text courtesy of: The Wire,  The Royal Signals Magazine

Photographs courtesy: Lt Col Richard Drew (rtd)