The announcement that HRH King Charles III will be the next Captain General Royal Marines is tremendous news for a branch of the Armed Forces that has been under threat during the 21st Century. At every Defence Review, when the Royal Navy has been squeezed by bean stealers to provide more savings, the future of one of the two United Kingdom rapid entry forces (the other being the Parachute Regiment) has been weighed in the balance.
It was particularly stark in 2010 during the Financial Crisis when we lost our Sea Harriers with no replacement available. As the Royal Navy was being severely cut by the Government, I was very happy to help the Commando Brigade articulate their justification for the Amphibious Operational Capability, so I know how important the new King taking this role will be for the future of the Royal Marines.
But what about all the regiments that proudly claimed the late Queen as their Colonel-in-Chief, including my own, The Royal Lancers (Queen Elizabeths’ Own)? A decision about who will be the next Colonel-in-Chief takes years and involves a convoluted process between the senior officers of the Regiment, the Ministry of Defence and Buckingham Palace. For example, the 16th/5th Lancers were originally listed to have HRH Princess Margaret as Colonel-in-Chief and the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers were to have HRH Princess Elizabeth. However, when Her Majesty The Queen Mother intervened and took the “Delhi Spearmen”, her eldest daughter was bumped down to become Colonel-in-Chief of the “Scarlet Lancers” in 1947.
I have several letters that show how long it takes for a decision to be made. After the War, a number of cavalry regiments sought a Royal Colonel, including the 14th/20th King’s Hussars in 1950. Two years later, on 25 August 1952, the late, great Dick McCreary finally wrote a letter to The Under Secretary of State that begins: “I have the honour to submit that Her Majesty the Queen be approached with a view to obtaining her approval for His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to be asked if he would honour my Regiment by assuming the appointment of its Colonel-in-Chief.” Commentators who are linking the decision of HRH King Charles III as Captain General to the announcement of Harry Windsor’s Spare book, simply do not understand the time line of these decisions.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at a regimental ball one month before I was born!