1. In 1951 the Colonel of the Regiment, General Sir Bernard Paget, G.C.B., D.S.O., M.C., bearing in mind that the Regiment in the past has depended in great measure for its efficiency on manners and customs dating back in many instances to its earliest days, directed that a record of these old customs be made, in so far as they still apply, for the benefit of present and future generations.
Orders of all kinds become out of date as time passes and conditions change. Customs, however, for the most part continue for generations and modifications become necessary only at infrequent intervals.
Many of these Regimental customs have never before been set out in print, though they have been observed since the early years of our history. Their object is, and has always been, to provide the basis for a code of conduct throughout the Regiment, calculated to produce a high standard of leadership and morale.
In modern times it is necessary to go one step further. Officers and other ranks today frequently find themselves attached for duty to other regiments. In such cases it is incumbent upon them while giving silent pride of place to their own established customs, to honour as well those of the regiment to which they are attached.
The information contained in this memorandum has been collected from officers and other ranks of the regiment, who have served in it during the past fifty years, and from appropriate extracts in the Chronicle. Over so long a period of time it is inevitable that there may be omissions. Moreover, it must be remembered that the 43rd and 52nd did not always accept each other's rules, though broadly speaking they were the same in principle, and differed only in detail. What follows, therefore, is designed to give some historical record of the past, which can be accepted as long as conditions apply, and be modified or abandoned when they are no longer practicable. But no modification or omission of existing customs will be allowed and no new custom introduced without the authority of the Colonel of the Regiment.
2 It is the custom for the Commanding Officer, to be saluted by other officers, when met for the first time in the day, and on no other occasion except on parade. No other officer is saluted by a junior officer at any time except when on parade. Other than the Commanding Officer, all officers are known and referred to by name and not by their rank. It is important to remember that this custom is not observed in the majority of other Regiments and Corps, and where this is so officers of the Regiment will pay the usual compliments to officers of Field rank and above.
3 (a) The conduct of the officers and Serjeants messes reflects itself in the correct behaviour of the whole Regiment. Members are expected to behave in their mess as they would in their own homes, or in the houses of their friends.
(b) In the officers mess, however, certain customs are observed. No fines are imposed for any reason whatever. No standing of drinks is allowed in the officers mess.
(c) The mess staff are the servants of the Mess President, to whom any complaint must be directed. In no circumstances, except where immediate disciplinary action is necessary, should an individual member of the mess reprimand a mess servant.
(d) The Sovereign's health is never drunk in mess, unless a representative of the Sovereign, e.g. a Governor of a Colony or State or a member of the Royal Family is present. There is no firm historical authority for this custom. At the annual Regimental Dinner, the Sovereign's health is always drunk.
(e) When the National Anthem is played by the Band at the conclusion of its programme after dinner, officers and visitors do not stand at attention if they are within the mess premises, save in the presence of the Sovereign, the Sovereign's representative, or a member of the Royal Family.
(f) If a clergyman is present at dinner it is customary to ask him to say grace before sitting down. In the 52nd in the absence of a clergyman, the President says grace before dinner.
(g) When wine is drunk after dinner, it is passed round twice before smoking is permitted. Smoking is then allowed, but the President or other officer does not say 'Gentlemen, you may smoke', or words to that effect.
(h) In the dining-room or ante-room no seat or chair is reserved for any particular officer, whatever his seniority. In the 52nd, however, a President and Vice-President are detailed weekly to sit at the top and bottom of the table respectively at dinner, and a card is affixed each Monday on the notice board, giving the names of the officers appointed, and the two next for duty.
(i) When the Band is playing at dinner it is customary for the President to invite the Bandmaster to drink a glass of wine after it has been passed round once. He is provided with a seat next to the President, or senior officer present.
(j) Only in exceptional circumstances will an officer, including the orderly officer, enter the Serjeants mess without an invitation from the Regimental Serjeant Major, or other member of that mess.
4 On first appointment, and subsequently on return to the Regiment from extra-regimental duty, officers should call upon the Commanding Officer, if his wife is present with him in the station.
5 (a) The following units of the Peninsular Light Division are permanent Honorary Members of the officers messes of the Regiment: The Rifle Brigade, CA' Battery (Chestnut Troop) Royal Horse Artillery.
(b) Cacadores are omitted because they no longer exist.
(c) The 43rd and 12th Lancers are Honorary Members of one another's messes. They fought together in the Kaffir War 1851-53 and from 1882-85 were quartered side by side in Bangalore. When the 43rd arrived in Umballa in October 1903 the band of the 12th Lancers met them at the railway station and played them into camp. Later in the day all ranks of the Regiment were most hospitably entertained by the 12th Lancers: every officer of the 43rd dined with them that night.
The 43rd have exchanged a similar compliment with the Royal Fusiliers dating from 1814 when the two Regiments were in the same Brigade in the New Orleans Campaign and continued together during the following four years, in the army of occupation of France.
(d) At a meeting of the Colonels Committee of the Light Infantry Brigade held on October 24th, 1947, it was agreed unanimously that all officers and Serjeants of the Brigade serving with regular battalions I.T.C. and P.T.C.s should be honorary members of all the officers and Serjeants messes of the Light Infantry Brigade. The I.T.C. and P.T.C. no longer exist, but this privilege now includes Regimental and Brigade Headquarters and Depots.
6 (a) The present dress of the Regiment has been approved by the War Office, in accordance with the decisions of the Colonel of the Regiment, and conforming in certain details to decisions reached by the Colonels Committee of the Light Infantry Brigade.
(b) Mess dress has not been re-introduced since the last war (1939-45) but it should be recorded that in this dress officers wear a white tie and Oxford shoes. The former was approved in 1898 and in recent years the majority of infantry have worn the latter. The white tie has been worn for over fifty years by officers of the Regiment, and, if and when mess dress is re-introduced, it will be worn again.
(c) As far as is known there is no formal authority for the double brace of the Sam Browne belt, but it dates back to the days when an officer in marching order carried his sword and no less than eight articles of equipment on his belt. In order to balance the load evenly on either side, it was necessary to add the second brace. The Regiment was one of three to retain the belt with the two braces for this purpose.
(d) The Regiment is the only one in existence to retain the gorget button and loop as its badge. It dates back to 1792 when a button on either side of the collar of the full dress coat suspended the gorget worn at the throat. The gorget was a piece of metal designed to protect the wearer against sword thrusts. A specimen gorget may be seen in the Regimental Museum. The gorget itself, an ornament half moon in shape worn just below the collar, was the distinctive mark of officer rank since the time of Queen Anne. It was finally abolished in 1830. For further details of the gorget button and loop see Chronicle for 1914, page 150. Although an officers badge it is worn also by warrant officers and it has been worn by other ranks both of the 43rd and 52nd in khaki drill.
(e) The reason why men of the Regiment wear no collar badge has caused a certain amount of controversy since 1881, when collar badges were introduced throughout the Army. In that year regimental numbers disappeared and regiments were linked in pairs with territorial designations. Each of the old regiments was asked to devise a badge agreeable to the two battalions, and eventually the selected badges were registered. It was suggested by the authorities that the collar badge of the new Oxfordshire Light Infantry should be either a bugle or a conventional English rose, but neither was favoured by the 43rd and 52nd. The bugle was the badge of Light Infantry as well as of Rifle Regiments, but the 43rd and 52nd, being the oldest Light Infantry Regiment in the Army, considered that this fact was too well known to require advertisement. They discountenanced, therefore, the wearing of a bugle badge which was adopted by the newer Light Infantry Regiments. The rose meant nothing to either battalion, and its adoption as a collar badge was not accepted.
For some time the head of an ox (from the City of Oxford coat-of-arms) was under consideration, if the authorities should insist on a collar-badge being worn by the men as well as by the officers. This received little support.
(f) One of the most distinctive items of dress worn by officers of the Regiment has been a white linen shirt collar to show one quarter of an inch above the blue collar of the undress coat or frock coat. It is fastened inside the coat collar by studs. The points of the collar have a gap of 1 1/2 inches. This custom started in both battalions about 1830 but it was not officially recognized in Dress Regulations until 1875. Between these dates various inspecting General Officers had ordered the practice to cease, but invariably the Regiment returned to wearing the linen collar when changing to another command. Claim was made that it was cleaner to wear the uniform coats like this, as undoubtedly it is. The 7th Hussars share the distinction of wearing the white linen collar. It is now worn in No. 1 Dress.
(g) The black tassel sword knot which has been worn since Peninsular times without authority was finally approved in Dress Regulations in 1896, the pattern adopted being that originally worn by the 43rd. The Regimental pattern of black sword knot, except in No. 1 Dress, has now been accepted for wear by all other English Light Infantry Regiments.
7 (a) In recent times abbreviations of ranks and appointments have been adopted in the Army as a result of their general use in telephonic and telegraphic messages in the field. These abbreviations are not used in the Regiment except in the field; thus Light Infantry is known as such: not 'L.I.'. The Regiment is known by its full title, and not 'Oxf & Bucks' or some other abbreviations. The Colonel of the Regiment is known as such: not 'General...' or by his surname.
The Commanding Officer is known as such: not 'Colonel ', and never the 'C.O.'.
The Quartermaster is 'The Quartermaster' and not the Q.M.'.
The Medical Officer is known as such, and not 'the M.O.'.
The Regimental Serjeant Major, the Regimental Quartermaster Serjeant, a Company Serjeant Major or Company Quartermaster Serjeant are referred to in full.
The Bandmaster is known as 'Mr......... '.
(b) The term mufti is never used to indicate plain clothes.
(c) Officers servants are known as 'soldier servants', but the Regimental Serjeant Major has a batman.
(d) A bugle call is 'sounded', not 'played' or 'blown'. Perhaps this follows the biblical allusion to 'the trumpet sounding'. A bugle call is always known as a 'Horn' e.g. 'The Mess Horn' — 'The Guard Horn', etc.
(e) Companies are known as 'Letter .... , or Major/Captain ......... 's Company'.