In order to place on record the circumstances under which we have recently been permitted by the Army Council to realize a long cherished hope, it may be of interest to give in some detail the steps which were taken to obtain permission to march past in column at the trail.
For some years Light Infantry, admittedly " Light " only in name, but still strongly imbued with Light Infantry traditions, had felt it to be a slur on their escutcheon that on the very occasions, when they wished to produce their best efforts, they should be compelled to march at the slope with a fixed bayonet, a procedure totally foreign to their normal methods and diametrically opposed to all Light Infantry teaching.
In 1931 the Colonels and Commanding Officers of all English Light Infantry Regiments were approached on the subject, with the intention not only of recording their views, but also of securing a united front should any further action be considered advisable. The results were surprisingly encouraging, every regiment promised its staunchest co-operation, and the Colonel of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, as Colonel of the Senior Light Infantry Regiment, was asked to approach the Army Council on behalf of all English Light Infantry.
It may appear at first sight that his task was an easy one. But this was by no means the case. In the first place it was essential that " Rifle " traditions and prejudices should be kept inviolate. In addition, it was necessary to persuade that portion of the General Staff which would deal with the case, that we were not endeavouring to secure preferential treatment for ourselves at the expense of other infantry, but that in fact we were only asking for our just due in being permitted to return to our normal system of training. As it may well be imagined our object could not be attained entirely by official letter writing, and much seed had to be sown in club smoking rooms and other places before it was decided that the time had arrived to launch the offensive.
The Colonel of the Regiment was approached once more, and it may be of interest to give the text of the letter which he wrote to the Army Council, and which .reads as follows :
St. James Palace,
November 20, 1931.
As Colonel of the Senior Light Infantry Regiment, I desire to acknowledge with gratitude the restoration to Light Infantry, by the Army Council, of some of their most cherished customs, but I have the honour to bring to your notice one particular and much cherished distinction which has been omitted, viz., that on ceremonial parades we should be allowed to revert to the original custom of marching past at the trail, instead of, as in recent years, at the shoulder, and in still more modern times at the slope.
It has always been a matter for regret (if I may be allowed to use such a term) that Light Infantry Regiments, who throughout their training drill at the trail, should be compelled to revert to the slope on the very occasion when regimental traditions count for so much, and should predominate.
These small points of difference are the relics of bygone years, but all distinctions between Regiments, or classes of Regiments, are as the Council is aware, very much prized by their possessors, and undoubtedly it contributes largely to that intangible asset known as esprit de corps which plays so large a part in the good repute of a Regiment in peace and its valour in war.
We, as Light Infantry, do not propose to bring to the notice of the Council arguments in support of our contention. For, though there are arguments which can easily be produced, we confess that we base our petition more on sentiment than on anything else, and in this we feel justified because sentiment plays so large a part in a voluntary army, perhaps more so to-day than any other time, when essential economies are calling for considerable sacrifices from all ranks.
The change we ask for is a small one.
It is merely a simple amendment to Infantry Training, Volume 1, viz., that the words " when returning in close column " should be deleted from the last sentence (added by an amendment notified in Army Orders for February 1929) of the footnote on page 224.
Should the Army Council be disposed to grant this concession the main essence of Light Infantry drill will have been granted, and its drill restored to its pristine form of Peninsula days.
I am to add that all Colonels of English Light Infantry, having ascertained from Lieut.-Colonels Commanding their Battalions that this concession is eagerly awaited and would be enormously appreciated, have requested me to bring this matter forward, and ask the Council to grant their unanimous request.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) J. Hanbury-Williams, Major-General
Colonel The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry,
The Under-Secretary of State for War,
The War Office, London,
The rest of the story is soon told. The project was received, as it was only to be expected, not entirely without opposition. But in the end the battle was won, and early in 1932 the Army Council approved, let us hope for all time, the amendment to Infantry Training, which restores to us one, perhaps the most important, of our old privileges.
The epilogue is interesting. The Colonel of the Regiment inspected the Depot in October 1932, and it was peculiarly fitting, in view of his labours in the cause of all English Light Infantry, that he should be the first General Officer under the new order to take the salute of the " home " of the Regiment, marching past him in column at the trail.