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'Tankie' in the black beret and coveralls, his saffron cravat giving his regiment as 2 RTR. (Grenadier Publishing)
The Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) was born in the middle of the First World War as the heavy section of the Machine Gun Corps. The section specialised in armoured cars fitted with machine guns; these developed into tanks, and in the following year, 1917, the unit became the Tank Corps. In 1923 the corps received its royal title and, in 1939, on the formation of the Royal Armoured Corps, it became the Royal Tank Regiment. Headquarters are at Bovington Camp in Dorset.
The black beret, worn in all orders of dress, is the mark of the regiment. It was pioneered by the Royal Tank Corps in 1924 as the most convenient form of headgear for wearing in tanks, black to disguise oil stains. Other units were not permitted the beret at first, and when they were, colours other than black had to be worn. The regimental badge, a prototype tank on a crowned wreath with the motto Fear naught, was adopted in 1923.
The white tank badge worn on the upper left sleeve dates back to the First World War, when personnel volunteered to the Tank Corps could be united with a single badge.
Regimental work coveralls, jumpers, gloves, shoes and belts are all black, hence the nickname 'The Blacks on Tracks'. The stable belt is in regimental colours taken from Gen Elles's flag flown at Cambrai in 1917: brown, red and green, said to represent the regiment's struggles in the First World War, 'from the mud, through the blood to the green fields beyond'. A beret hackle of these colours is worn by regimental bandsmen on ceremonial occasions.
The Mark V arrived at the front in 1918 and was used in action at Hamel and Moreuil
The tank regiments within the RTR have always been distinguishable by their own coloured markings, on shoulder flashes at first, then lanyards and now cravats too.
The quick march, My Boy Willie, was adopted in 1922, an adaptation of the old Worcestershire folk song Billy Boy. The name connection was to the early tanks code-named Big Willie and Little Willie, after the Kaiser Wilhelm and his son. After the Second World War the air Cadet Roussel, from the Cambrai region of France, was added to the march to lend it more variety.
The regimental slow march, The Royal Tank Regiment, opens with the old Tank Corps call.
The various regiments of the RTR have a march additional to the above. Lippe Detmold recalls the German town where 1 RTR was stationed from 1946 to 1954; Saffron was inspired by the lanyards of the 2RTR; On the Quarterdeck celebrates the victory of 3RTR over the Royal Navy in the Portsmouth Whaler Sailing Championship in 1948; Blue Flash, the regimental distinction of 4RTR; on Ilkla Moor/Lincolnshire Poacher for 5RTR; and Waltzing Matilda, the unofficial march of 7RTR, chosen because of the Matilda tanks used by the 7th between 1940 and 1942.
Regimental Battle Honours Day is held on 20 November, the anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. It was at Cambrai the Mark IV tank was first used against the Germans en masse. The employment of the tank was instrumental in bringing the 1914-18 war to an end.
The ash plant stick carried by officers of the regiment today was first used in the First World War for testing the ground to take the weight of tanks.
A 105mm light gun, c. 1978
Under the Stuarts the army was supported by the Board of Ordnance, whose practice it was to hire civilians with their own teams to pull its guns in times of war. After the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, when the service broke down en route to the campaign in Scotland, the board recommended the formation of two regular companies of soldier gunners, which proved to be the basis of a regiment formed in 1722.
Space at the Arsenal barracks became inadequate for the growing regiment however, and extensive new buildings were erected on high ground above Woolwich town towards the end of the eighteenth century, to include a magnificent officers' mess, the first of its kind in the army.
The concept of fast-moving 'horse gunners', complete with their own teams and drivers, was realised in 1793 to improve the mobility of the arm in battle. The Royal Horse Artillery, regarded, then as now, as a Corps d'elite within the RA, was soon to prove its worth on the battlefields of Europe, and became famous as 'The Galloping Gunners'.