Birmingham association veterans mark 100 years of Brum’s regimental links.
Ron Groves, the buttons on his red tunic glinting in the sunshine, peered from under his bearskin at the throng of tourists gathered only feet from his sentry box.
Suddenly he became aware of a familiar face among the sightseers outside Buckingham Palace.
Striding towards him in stilettos was Hollywood sex symbol Ava Gardner. It was then the months of training kicked-in. Ron fought off a smile and stood statue-still as his favourite pin-up posed only inches from him for a typical holiday snap.
The pensioner, and Coldstream Guards veteran, treasures the memory of that brief encounter in 1954.
“If I shut my eyes,” he chuckled, “I can still smell her perfume. She really was a looker.”
Tomorrow, Ron and 70 colleagues celebrate a military milestone – the 100th anniversary of the Birmingham Coldstream Guards Association. Close to 200 people are expected at the anniversary lunch at Tally Ho Police Training Centre.
“In my day,” said Ron, 79, “there was no hiding place. The sentry boxes were outside the palace.
“Some people would try to get a reaction, try to get you to move, but your training takes over.”
Ron, from Stechford, was conscripted as an 18-year-old in 1952 into the Coldstream Guards. He finished in 1959 as a Lance Sergeant.
He said: “You walked through the gates of Caterham Barracks and it was a real shock to the system. You did 12 weeks doing foot drill and training.
“You learned about the regiment’s history. Every four weeks we had a passing out parade in front of a high ranking officer. If he thought you were up to scratch, you were sent on a weekend’s leave, if you weren’t good enough, you were back squaded a week. After 12 weeks you got a final passing out parage and then we were sent down to Pirbright Camp, where we did nine weeks.
“After that, we were sent to Pickering in Yorkshire for live ammunition training for two weeks.
“I was then sent to the 2nd Battalion in Germany.”
Ron said the best thing about being a Coldstreamer was the comradeship amongst the men.
He said: “We had so much pride, you never forget it. The comradeship and friendship that you built up was unbelievable. The training was very, very rigorous and we all went through it together.”
Ron is a long-serving committee member and secretary of the Birmingham branch. In 2003, they attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace and in 2011, he was presented to the Queen at Royal Chelsea Hospital.
His pal and association chairman Brian Owens, 70, from Perry Common, served as Lance Corporal from 1960 to 1969.
Brian said: “I went to Pirbright and trained 16 weeks there. I joined the 2nd Battalion in Kenya in 1961. There was a bit of trouble in Zanzibar and I served there as a peacekeeper. We also went to Tanzania for their independence parade.”
Brian also went to Yemen where they lost five members of his battalion in clashes. Despite this, he enjoyed his time in the army and the variety it offered.
He said: “The aim of the association is to look after the Coldstreamer. Since 2007, we have looked after the injured troops at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at the QE hospital.
“We take whatever they request for the injured troops and for their families. We have also raised more than £5,000 through street collections and charity stalls at markets.”
He added: “We have people donate money to us. We have a lot of help from other branches and clubs and members of the public.”
Norman French, 70, from Marston Green, served in places as far as South America and Yemen when he served as a Lance Corporal in the guards from 1961 to 1967.
He said: “When I was posted to Aden (Yemen), we went up to the Radfan Mountains, where we were occasionally attacked but our weapons were more advanced.”
He is now a welfare officer in the Birmingham Association. Norman said: “I keep in touch with members who are sick and see what we can do for them. We will help Coldstreamers who may not be in our branch.”
HISTORY OF THE COLDSTREAM GUARDS
The Coldstream Guards is one of the seven regiments in the Household Division – the personal troops of Her Majesty the Queen.
Formed in 1650 as part of the New Model Army during the English Civil War, the regiment swore allegiance to King Charles II in 1660 and has guarded the country’s monarchs since.
The Regiment’s motto is, ‘Nulli Secundus’ or ‘Second to None’.
The Coldstream Guards also contribute to ceremonial occasions, such as Changing of the Guard and Trooping the Colour and are distinctive for the black bearskin caps and red tunics worn by the five regiments of the Foot Guards.
THE COLDSTREAM GUARDS ASSOCIATION BIRMINGHAM
Around 175 people will be attending the 100th anniversary lunch of the Coldstream Guards Association Birmingham tomorrow at Tally Ho Police Training Centre off Pershore Road.
There are 71 paid up members and 24 serving soldiers of the branch which was formed in 1913.
All members will receive a commemorative tankard and ladies will get a photo frame.
The association helps members who are leaving or who have left to obtain employment and they help injured soldiers at the RCDM at the QE.
They meet every second Wednesday of the month at Tally Ho.
Members help with recruiting and participating in its annual dinner, memorial parade and other social events.
Sir Adrian Cadbury is president of the association and was a Coldstreamer.
See on www.birminghammail.co.uk