The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) commemorate AGINCOURT 600
The Battle of Agincourt, on 25 October 1415, is one of the best-known events in British history. The story of Henry V’s forces epic defeat of the French army has been commemorated in plays and poetry ever since. What is perhaps less well known is the role played by the more than 500 Welsh archers who travelled to fight in France. Many of these brave men came from the area around Monmouth and Cwmbran
The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) is the successor to these courageous soldiers, these towns now being home to RHQ and 100 Field Squadron (M). The Regiment has served the Crown continuously at least as far back as 1539 and probably further as the first militia levy was formalized in 1181. If you have ever visited RHQ you will probably know that Henry V was born just off our parade square in Monmouth Castle and may have noticed the Agincourt Oaks growing either side of our Regimental Cenotaph.
It will be no surprise then, that when the 2IC Maj Graham Owen received an email forwarded through Corps HQ requesting units to bid for funding to attend the commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the Battle, he sprang straight into action with a nifty piece of staff work. This managed to secure £2750 to fund a contingent of 11 from the Regiment to attend a joint French and British Army parade on the battlefield. The funds were granted by the Agincourt 600 Committee.
Eleven gallant descendants to the archers of Monmouth left RHQ at 0500 on Saturday morning 24 October on EX MILITIA AGINCOURT. They arrived at the ferry port in Dover via a diversion to the Channel Tunnel terminal to retrieve a phone (a long and boring story which luckily has no part in this article) with time to spare. A short journey the other side saw us arrive in Albert on the Somme just in time to watch the World Cup Rugby Semi Final with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the Kiwi opera star who just happened to be making a TV documentary in the area.
There then followed the 2ICs first major language test. He had booked dinner at a local hotel the previous week! With some trepidation the group turned up and were amazed to be expected for an enjoyable dinner. The smug look on the 2ICs face was not a pleasant sight neither was the broad smile on Major Gareth Stockman’s face when once more his wallet stayed firmly in his pocket! It was then early to bed after a long days travel and some final kit preparation for the following day’s parade, details of which were a bit sketchy……
The party arrived early at Agincourt on Sunday 25 October and following a quick recce by Capt Geoff Banham all gathered at the café. It was full of re-enactors in 600 year old Osprey and some quite authentic and nasty looking weaponry. Following coffee, with much saluting and more of the 2ICs questionable French the RMON RE (M) contingent and a detachment from 5 Regt RA fell in on the battlefield site next to the French 1st Regiment of Infantry and a mounted detachment and band from the Republican Guard. Capt Steve Gadd passed on the news that “the parade should be quite short with about 10 minutes of speeches….”
After 90 minutes of engrossing French oratory the more senior ranks present were feeling a little stiff! The stirring renditions of the National Anthems and Last Post drew the first part of the parade to a fitting end. The large crowds of French and British enthusiasts were visibly relieved when we marched off for the next parade in Agincourt Town Square. This was a review by the District General and wreath lying at the local memorial. The Band of the Republican Guard again delivered several spectacular performances of both anthems and with some final salutes the commemoration parade was over. All agreed that it was an honour to attend such an event, which recognized the sacrifices and bravery on both sides, such a long time ago.
It was then a pleasure to meet the Agincourt 600 Committee, a group of enthusiastic academics, who have spent their careers studying this key event in Anglo-French history and they were thanked them for the generosity of their grant. We were made to feel very welcome and were pleased to see contingents of both armies meeting on the historic battlefield, now both firm allies. We discovered that the event was also celebrating a meeting in 1915 between the French and British Army, who were serving together on the nearby Western Front, who met to commemorate the 500th anniversary in very different circumstances. We knew that the Agincourt Oaks on our parade square had grown from acorns brought back during the Great War, could this have been their origin?
Following a reception at the Agincourt museum we were hosted at a spectacular lunch where we were treated to some more fine French cuisine. Much to his regret we then had to leave just as Spr Al Khameri was getting to know some of the local Mademoiselles!
We were up early next morning for a brief visit to the Beaumont Hamel and Hawthorne Ridge battlefields on the Somme. Here we received presentations on the part Sappers played in the battles of 1916 and to remember the sacrifice of so many soldiers then and in 1415 at Agincourt. Not a sign remains of the 1415 battlefield and we all agreed that these monuments to the Great War of 14-18 are a fitting long term memorial to the selfless commitment of so many of our forbearers.
Our long journey ended back at Monmouth and this once in a life time opportunity to attend such a significant anniversary was over. The Exercise had been more than worthwhile and all ranks learned a lot more about the history of the Battle of Agincourt and the part our forbearers, the archers of Monmouth, played in the battle 600 years ago.
The Agincourt 600 Wales Legacy Group are grateful to The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) for their involvement in providing an interpretation panel located next to the two Oak Trees which originated in Azincourt and for being part of the Agincourt Wales Trail.
Background – Great Castle House, Monmouth
Great Castle House stands on the site of the Round Tower demolished during the Civil War and was built from “the great square stoners of the gatehouse”. The Earl of Worcester bought the lordship of Monmouth for £400 in 1651, which included the Castle with the exception of the Great Hall which was reserved for the Assizes. He commissioned the building of Great Castle House which was completed in 1673 however it was abandoned as a residence and refashioned and re-panelled to provide a more comfortable Assize Court than the damp and draughty Great Hall in the Castle
In c1760 it became a high class girls’ boarding school, but in 1853 the contents of the school were sold, and Quarter Sessions rented it for £25 a year, spent £2000 on reconnecting new wings for a Militia store and residences for the Sergeant Major and Quarter Master. In 1877 Colonel Payne obtained authority for the house to be used as an Officers’ Mess. In the same year, the Regiment converted from Light Infantry to Royal Engineers. In 1906 the house was acquired by the War Office and Great Castle House continues to be the headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia)