Staffords’ proud record echoes through the ages

The Sentinel’s campaign to save the name of the Staffords is going from strength to strength and it has prompted me to delve into the archives.

I was proud to discover that this newspaper’s association with the Staffordshire Regiment goes back a long, long way.

In actual fact, Sentinel writers were reporting on the exploits of soldiers from our neck of the woods as far back as the Zulu War of 1879.

At the time it was known as the 80th Regiment of Foot (the Staffordshire Volunteers).

Our lads formed the front of the British square at the decisive Battle of Ulundi – with two of its soldiers, Private S. Wassall and Colour Sergeant A. Booth winning Victoria Crosses during the campaign.

Fast forward 100 years because I was particularly interested in what the Staffords were up to during the Eighties.

At the decade came to a close the 1st Battalion, The Staffordshire Regiment, as it was, was described ‘as a standard infantry unit of 650 men’.

Within the British Army in Germany it was known as an Armoured Infantry Battalion as every soldier was part of the crew of an Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

They completed two tours of Northern during the 1980s.

Indeed, that is how the decade began for the boys with the Staffordshire knot on their cap badges.

In September 1979 the First Battalion moved to Londonderry for sixteen months, accompanied by their families.

It was during this tour, on January 20, 1981, that Private Christopher Shenton was killed by an IRA sniper in the Bogside area of Londonderry.

In July of that year the Battalion and its families moved to Gibraltar for a two year tour which had to be reduced to 20 months because the Falklands Crisis and the Spanish elections limited the training opportunities.

The highlight of the tour to The Rock was the role played by the Battalion in the evacuation of British nationals from The Gambia.

After receiving new colours from the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire in 1983, the Battalion went on a training exercise to Canada to make up for training lost in Gibraltar.

The Battalion then returned to Northern Ireland in February 1984 and was deployed in South Armagh until June and during that time suffered another tragic loss.

On May 29, 1984, Lance Corporal Stephen Anderson was killed by an IRA landmine in Crossmaglen.

It was then off to Germany for our boys in the autumn for Exercise Lionheart – the biggest post-war exercise undertaken by the British Army.

The following year saw the Battalion deploy to Seattle in the U.S. for training and, on its return, it received the new Saxon Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC).

The autumn of that year was dominated by exercises; Exercise Brave Defender saw the Battalion deployed to northern Scotland and this was followed by Exercise Purple Warrior when the Battalion played enemy to 5 Airborne Brigade at Otterburn in Northumberland.

In January 1987, the Battalion deployed to Fallingbostel, West Germany as part of 7 Armoured Brigade. During the first three years of its tour, it repeatedly trained at BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Alberta, Canada.

By late 1988 the Staffords had been re-equipped as an Armoured Infantry Battalion using the new Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

In April 1988, the 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment was formed from the 1 Mercian Volunteers who were disbanded.

They were the direct descendant of the old 5 South and 5 North Territorial Army battalions who were disbanded in the 1960s to form the Mercian Volunteers.

1988 was also the year that the 1st Battalion were named the Army’s Grade 3 boxing champions.

In April of 1989, Her Majesty The Queen appointed her second son, His Royal Highness The Duke of York, as Colonel in Chief of the Regiment.

He visited the Battalion in Fallingbostel in Germany in July of that year.

Whatever decade I researched the stories were the same – reflecting gallantry and unstinting service which echoed the Staffords’ motto of ‘Stand Firm, Strike Hard’.

I would suggest the lads currently serving with 3 Mercian and the thousands who went before them, many of whom gave their lives for this country, deserve better than to be wiped from history at the stroke of a civil servant’s pen.

*If you agree with Martin you can sign our petition to save the name of the Staffords by logging on to: http://www.saveourstaffords.com

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Pay our brave soldiers the respect they deserve

It is a sad fact that the veterans of World War II won’t be with us for much longer to mark cataclysmic events such as the D-Day Landings.

This weekend’s incredibly poignant commemorations of the invasion which spelt the beginning of the end for the Nazi war machine involved old soldiers who are now in their mid to late eighties.

It is 65 years since they joined 160,000 allied troops in the largest ever, single day amphibious assault and, one by one, the last of that great generation are making their final salutes.

When you read their memories of that momentous time in history it is incredibly humbling.

None of them consider themselves heroes. They just “had a job to do”, as one Fenton veteran put it last week.

This statement seems patently ridiculous to most of us and is one which, perhaps, only servicemen and women can truly understand.

Suffice to say that it is because of such individuals that people like myself are able to sit around pontificating the rights and wrongs of major world events such as the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We may not always believe that the actions of our Armed Forces are justified.

However, the truth is that most of us have family or friends who have, at some point, risked their lives for Queen (or King) and country.

Take my own family, for instance. The bloke on the end of the bottom row on the picture above is my great grandfather, William Tansey. Or should I say, private William Tansey, of B Company, 1st Battalion, the North Staffs Regiment.

He died forty odd years before I was born.

However, his First World War medals – the 1914-18 ‘Mons Star’, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal – came into my possession when my nan died a few years ago.

They, and the picture of him with his comrades, taken before they shipped out to France, are among my most treasured possessions.

I never knew William Tansey but I have very fond recollections of another ex-serviceman in my family.

My mum’s brother, David Colclough, who lived in Cobridge all his life, was – to borrow a quaint phrase – one of the nicest men ever to put on a pair of shoes.

To me, he was just uncle Dave – the man who made me bacon and potato pie, let me watch The Lone Ranger on Saturday mornings while my mum was out shopping (back when Burslem had shops and an indoor market) and taught me to recite all the ranks in the British Army off by heart.

He never spoke of his war service but I know his glass eye was the result of a shrapnel wound and that he was held captive in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

Uncle Dave died in 1994 but my grandfather’s brother – my great uncle Dennis Tideswell – is still going strong.

Dennis, who lives in Bucknall, is a veteran of the Malayan Emergency, when he fought in the jungle with the Worcestershire Regiment, and he often speaks with great fondness of his old pals in the forces.

He has an infectious enthusiasm which he channels into organising reunions for ‘the lads’, as he calls them, and is involved in organising the annual veterans’ celebrations in the city.

Dennis is a true gentleman and, like my great-grandfather and my uncle Dave, I am extremely proud of him.

As you read this, many of our servicemen and women continue to risk their lives in the heat of the Middle East.

It is in recognition of these brave men and women, as well as all those before them who have fought for us in various wars and conflicts around the globe, that the Armed Forces Day parades will take place across the country later this month.

So, on June 27, let us pay them the respect they deserve and show them just how grateful we are.

Moreover, when you next visit Morrison’s supermarket at Festival Park, rather than being solely focused on your shopping list, make a point of clocking the roundabout and say a little prayer of thanks for our own Victoria Cross winner, Lance-Sergeant Jack Baskeyfield, whose bravery at Arnhem is immortalised with that impressive statue.

And, when you next see a soldier, smile at him or her or, better still, buy them a drink.

They are special people for special circumstances and, irrespective of the passing of time, this is something we must never forget.

We must be more proud of our stunningly-rich heritage

Until this week I thought I was reasonably well versed in the history of the Potteries.

Then I met the Reverend Robert Mountford, founder of City Vision Ministries in Burslem and a passionate local historian.

He’s a bit like TV favourite Simon Schama… having taken the drug ‘speed’.

In 25 minutes Robert raced through his presentation on the history of what we now call ‘the Potteries’ from the time of the Celts to 2009.

The truth is, he could have talked for hours. And hours. Such is the fascinating story of how North Staffordshire became the unique, diverse and ultimately flawed conurbation it is today.

Simple things stood out for me. For example – do you know where the name Stoke-on-Trent originates and what it means?

I have to confess, I didn’t.

Well, the first centre of Christian preaching and worship in the area (as early as the 7th Century AD) was situated in the valley at the place where the infant River Trent met the even smaller Fowlea Brook.

Stoke Minster now stands on this site. The name given to this ancient place of meeting and worship was ‘Stoke-upon-Trent’.

The name ‘Trent’ was originally Celtic and meant ‘the trespasser’ or ‘the flooding river’. ‘Stoke’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘stoc’, which meant in the first instance ‘a place’, but carried the usual, secondary meanings of ‘a religious place, a holy place, a church’, and ‘a dependent settlement’.

Thus the name Stoke-on-Trent could actually be translated as ‘the holy place upon the flooding river’.

I don’t know about you, but I quite like the sound of that. And the fact that the city’s roots can be traced back more than 1,400 years.

Of course, North Staffordshire’s history goes back much further than that.

Chesterton was a Roman fortress which archaeologists estimate was probably occupied from the late 1st to early 2nd Century AD.

Which means we have almost 2,000 years of history to talk about.

So why don’t we? Why are we so poor at trumpeting our rich past?

Is it because we are so often told that we shouldn’t keep harping on about the past?

Is it because critics blame our current social and economic difficulties on our inability to embrace change?

‘Why call yourselves the Potteries’, they say, ‘when there is so little of that industry left to be proud of’?

We may be resistant to change, but – conversely – there is certainly also something in the DNA of the average potter which makes him or her reluctant to crow about the area’s history and achievements.

Why? We should be shouting it from the rooftops.

Why isn’t every local school teaching Roman history through the eyes of the legionnaries based at Chesterton during the Flavian period?

Why aren’t all our children taught about the monks of Hulton Abbey?

Why isn’t the most important period in North Staffordshire’s history a bigger part of the curriculum in local schools? Aren’t Josiah Wedgwood, his mate James Brindley and the roots of the Methodist Church (which have direct links to trade unionism in this country) worth talking up?

What about the stories of the tens of thousands of local people who lived and died around the pits and pots on which the city built its worldwide reputation?

What about Burslem’s Second World War Victoria Cross winner Lance-Sergeant Jack Baskeyfield, and Butt Lane’s Reginald Mitchell whose Spitfire turned the tide of the Battle of Britain?

Shouldn’t they be lauded in our classrooms? I think so.

I had a truly brilliant history teacher at Holden Lane High, to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. (That’s you, Geoff Ball).

Thus, this isn’t a criticism of the teaching profession. It’s more a plea for us, as a city, to strike the right balance between history and progress.

I suspect more tourists would visit us if we simply made more of our heritage.

“Come to see our factory shops”, we should say. “But don’t miss out on our interactive history trail.

“Learn about the Celts and Romans who lived here, sample the ruins of our Cistercian monastery, walk in the footsteps of the great pioneers of the Industrial Revolution, visit the birthplaces of the captain of the Titanic, an Arnhem hero, and the man whose aircraft defied the Luftwaffe.

“Oh, and don’t forget to pop in for a drink at Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor’s pub, drive past Robbie Williams’s old house and have your picture taken alongside Sir Stan’s statue. Have a nice trip!”

Welcome to North Staffordshire. (Not just that place on the way to Alton Towers).

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday