HAC Journal article, Spring 2004

In 1864, at the time of the formation, of the Light Cavalry of the Honourable Artillery Company, the official standards of fitness were extremely high. Good strong arms, a well formed chest and straight legs (i.e. the recruit was not suffering from rickets) were considered important. The chief London staff surgeon told the Hotham Commission that he often passed men fit for the infantry whom he would have rejected for the mounted branch. During a period of crisis however, such as that of the Mutiny, instructions were issued to relax the regulations, especially with respect to varicose veins, flat feet, relaxation of abdominal rings and loss of teeth (see A History of the British Cavalry Anglesey Vol. 2 Archon Books). Possible recruits to the present‑day Light Cavalry may care to be reassured that the period of crisis is still considered to exist, and although the current OC of the Light Cavalry may cast a perfunctory eye over the person of a recruit, the presence of four functional limbs, the ability to discriminate between light and dark, a sense of humour and continence, are all that is required.

Horses, of course, are the focus of even an amateur cavalryman's attention, and these we continue to improve in number and in quality. We now have twelve at Windsor and one, in rotation, resting. The privilege of horses on loan or as gifts from the Royal Mews is enormously appreciated. Some horses do not settle immediately to carriage work and to London life: a period at Flemish Farm seems to settle some: it certainly benefits us. Some of our old and faithful servants are nearing the end of their working life, so we may see much change in our stables in the next year.

Change we have seen in the stables themselves, and in the tack room. On the principle that in the HAC there is always someone who can turn his hand to what is needed, Trooper David Whitehead, who seems to fulfil the role of Troop Carpenter, has doubled the size of our tack room and completely rebuilt the roofs of two of the stables, at the same time extending them so that staff can work under cover. We now occupy the whole of the block adjacent to the riding school. Watch this space for further developments.

The foundation of all equestrian activity is the flat‑work, and the foundation of all cavalry drill is the footwork, that is to say the marching and sword drill on foot. Every month, from Lincolnshire comes our Sergeant‑Major Instructor Philip Wright who for twenty‑five years now has inculcated the Light Cavalry with the principles of cavalry drill, which before, as a Corporal‑of‑Horse Rough Rider, he inculcated into the horses and troops of the Household Cavalry, and for which he was awarded the (alas, now discontinued) BEM.

Accepting the difficulty for some in gaining access to Windsor from London for an hour or so of an evening, cavalry courses are being held at weekends. The courses are open to all: enquiry need only be made at the stables (tel 01753 622291).

As is becoming our habit (a very agreeable one, it must he said), we provided guards to hold the ground and to ride past the Royal Box at the Guards' Polo Club on the days of important competitions. Added pleasures are the opportunity for the dismounted troop to act as ushers and doorkeepers of the Royal Box; and, on a sunny day, the ride from Flemish Farm to Smith's Lawn through the splendours of the Great Park.

The current, enormous cost of transporting horses and the shortage of funds of many of the organisations and events which invite our participation limit those we are able to attend. Were any kind member of the Company to feel inclined to donate a nine‑horse lorry the problem would be solved!

The Cross‑Country Team Chase team again competed in autumn competitions. At the Cotswold Hunt event, where we won the cup for the best military team two years ago, there was, this year, more competition, with teams from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, King's Troop RHA, and other TA units. Over two‑and‑a‑half miles and twenty‑six fixed obstacles, the team, consisting of the OC and troopers Southey, Thomas and Waters, was the fastest by far. Alas! The cup was given to the team nearest to a very slow bogie time, so not to us this year. Next year the fastest team will win; let us hope it is the Light Cavalry!

The autumn witnessed our annual Inspection. Lieutenant General Sir Robert Hayman‑Joyce KCB CBE, who while President of the Army Saddle Clubs Association graced our first annual dinner, generously consented to carry out this onerous task on 27th September 2003. We had scorching sunny days for the practices, and viewed with apprehension the possibility of rain clouds overshadowing the day and spoiling the haute couture of the spectators. Clouds there were but of just the right density to allow a ray of sunshine to enliven the event while sparing us ungentlemanly perspiration.

Sir Robert is an extremely accomplished horseman, having met with great success in competition in the eventing world and latterly in dressage: we had expected to get away with nothing, and we didn't! The General was mounted and accompanied by the Crown Equerry, Major Felix Wheeler, who is also an accomplished rider and has a keen interest in how we look after and ride the Captain‑General's horses.

We were privileged to have among the spectators Lady Hayman‑Joyce, Alderman and Mrs Robert Finch (the forthcoming Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress), several members of the Court with their ladies, and of course our own ladies, supporters and friends. (When regiments went to India they were allowed to take with them twelve wives for every hundred men. Potential recruits may be heartened to know that we do not apply that restriction!)

All of the twenty horses on parade were provided from our own resources, hunters and event horses of the members being added to our own complement, together with Corporal Barwick's heavy horses and carriage. Alas! There was no band this year; 'Ascot Brass', who have previously served us so well, had an unavoidable engagement. Whilst music does seem to make horses move in rhythm, at least they are not expected to keep in step!

The inspection concluded, the march past at the walk proved good and was followed by the trot past: that too was good. In the Nineteenth Century there was much controversy as to whether the trot should be performed rising or sitting. The "English Trot” was the name given to rising in the stirrups at the trot. It was, and remains, the ordinary way in which civilians rode. "Bumping" was the opposite: sitting as if glued to the saddle without moving up and down. Until 1870 bumping was officially taught by Riding Masters; later it was kept for formal parades. Like so much that was traditional in the cavalry, bumping was a matter not of efficiency but of regimentation and appearance. It was, and is, not only excruciating to the men but ruinous, if not performed properly, for the horse, being a major cause of sore backs (for horse and rider). A body of troops looked much smarter sitting down to a trot, the effect of each man bobbing up and down in time with his horses movements did not look at all well. Our trot past was at the sitting trot!

Confident from the practice and the trot past, the OC elected to risk a canter past, the first we have ever dared to attempt. It is a risk, because the horses only come together for one practice and for the parade: they do not always like each other (or the rider), and sometimes in close formation misbehave. Ninety‑five percent of the horses behaved immaculately; one however, in the rear section, having passed the General, decided that was enough of dressing and took his own line. The General afterwards, besides offering his congratulations on turn‑out, remarked that the walk and the trot past had been immaculate, and the canter past memorable!

A demonstration of tent‑pegging this year lacked the dash of Colonel/Trooper Godbold, who, in practising for just such an event, had given the orthopaedic, and the general, surgeons some employment. Corporal Aston, an exponent of the art with sword, lance and revolver, had at last persuaded his lovely lady that, after twenty years together, marriage was inevitable, and was somewhere in the Caribbean!

A barbecue for all was provided by the ever ­loyal family of the Adjutant. To include all ages, Master Allison toddled up with a very nice bouquet, and the grandchildren of the OC, with much ­practised curtsey and bow, presented Lady Hayman‑Joyce with a gift of Champagne glasses.

The riding facility at Flemish Farm is fast becoming a Company facility and the Inspection is becoming a Company event, with the full and active participation of the HAC Saddle Club, who hold a show‑jumping competition in the afternoon. The horses are there for all members of the Company to use. It is very good to see them used, and the increasing support of the Saddle Club is greatly appreciated.

It seems that no sooner is the Inspection over than preparation for the Lord Mayor's Procession begins. Horse furniture must be re‑polished: it takes hours to bring a head kit up to parade standard. For the Procession, horses must be brought from Windsor, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire to make up the complement of twenty, and be ready to leave Armoury House by 09.30 hrs. We were ready, and it wasn't raining!

There was something of a crowd in Gresham Street where Light Cavalry, the Escort to the Lord Mayor and Mounted Band of the Household Cavalry found themselves somewhat closely herded by the marshals. The amity that exists between our respective organisations was thankfully reflected in the behaviour of our horses: apart from a rather scrappy drawing of swords by the Light Cavalry, no incident ensued.

Lord Mayor's Show 2003
At Mansion House, to which we had escorted the Lady Mayoress, we were entertained by the arrival of the Lord Mayor's coach at a very good pace, accompanied by the Pikemen & Musketeers very nearly at the trot. We were disappointed that the Captain had not fulfilled his threat to be mounted, despite our offer yet again of a suitable mount! We were most pleased, however, that the Rum Ceremony now occurs at Mansion House before the procession instead of at Millbank during it. The officer dispensing the rum must make his way past us as we wait in Walbrook. A cry of "Splice the Mainbrace", uttered by a nameless corporal, produced the desired effect. A warming tot was dispensed to each of us! That is another tradition we hope to establish!

It has apparently become the custom for the Lady Mayoress, as well as the Lord Mayor, to be blessed at St Paul's. It is an innovation much welcomed by the Light Cavalry since the Lady Mayoress is delayed by the blessing, and she and we must catch up with the procession. So we "Bump" ceremonially from St Paul's to the Law Courts, thereby gaining applause and warmth at the same time.

Socially too we continue to thrive, thanks to our Master Sutler. The Christmas Party at the Bisley Hut is ever a joyful occasion, enlivened by the Ascot Brass Band, and some impromptu performances by various members and wives.

The reader, if there is one still, will note Anglesee's obligation to the scholarship of the Marquis of Anglesey (has anyone ever noticed the pun?) in writing this contribution to the Journal, and I quote further from his volumes: "Colonel FitzWigram of the 15th Hussars told the Dalhousie Commission in 1866 that he would like to see every man leave the regiment at the end of twelve or fourteen years. Beside the fact that it saved the army paying him a pension, “We find that the old soldiers do all they can to get out of riding We get good work out of our men up to fourteen years' service, but after that time they will get into any berth to get out of riding. Officers may get perfectly good and broken horses, but we are obliged to put our men onto such troopers as here happen to be, and some of them are rough and some are vicious. Most soldiers, long before they have completed twenty‑four years' service, get nervous and, if possible get out of all duties on horseback. ­From the efficiency point of view there was much to be said for getting rid of bad characters or broken down men. A Commanding Officer would say, should a man attempt to re‑enlist, "No! You have been a troublesome fellow, I will not have you.”

Anglesee, your correspondent, has completed such service with the Light Cavalry, is anxious find an easy berth and to get out of riding, so this his swansong. He thanks his readers for patience if they have ever read thus far.

Note: Pictures of some of these activities can be found in the Photo Galleries on the Light Cavalry website.

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