Friday, June 17, 2016

On Parade in Carlisle Castle

A day off from digging, what to do?  After a debate over pints the night before we settled on a visit to Carlisle.  Plenty of history, a nice drive, and a fabulous bookstore to visit.  Seriously, Bookcase is one of the best bookstores I have ever been in.  A quarter of a million volumes, thirty rooms on three stories, reasonable prices and that impossible to either define or to mistake faint odor of old, delightful books.

While we were enjoying a snack in the affiliated tea room there came from the street the brassy martial sounds of a marching band.  I ducked out in time to see an odd procession.  A band in formal uniform, a contingent of older chaps in bowler hats and bemedalled blue suits, and finally a loosely organized column of very young looking soldiers.  I was slow with the camera and they were off down the street in brisk - if somewhat unmilitary - order.

Our own little band of ragamuffins then dispersed to follow individual interests.  Carlisle has a nice cathedral, a really good museum, and so forth. Some of us lingered in the bookstore for quite a while.

But I was off to Carlisle castle.  I had visited once before on a dismal rainy day.  For whatever reason - probably I just was feeling contrary - I did not go in on that visit, just circled the perimeter looking up at walls.  Now it was time to drop in.

The location has been a fortress for as long as history has been recorded.  The Romans built an early stronghold here in 72 AD.  The few glimpses we have of dark age Carlisle courtesy of Saint Cuthbert speak of high walls and a still functioning aqueduct system in the 7th Century.  When the Normans turned up in the 11th Century the first thing they did was fortify the old Roman site, upgrading a century later to stonework that still survives in spots. Today it flies the Dread and Puissant banner of English Heritage.

As I was admiring the place I was surprised to see the mismatched parade come in through the front gates.

They lined up for review in front of barracks buildings named for scenes of great British valor.  Gallipoli, Arnhem, Ypers.

The picture just above captures the mood pretty well.  The Older Gents on the right are clearly veterans.  They wear assorted head gear and are comfortably chatting with each other.  The band stays in the back.  They appear to be Professionals, I assume Regular Army.  The younger soldiers are Cadets, here displaying much improved military bearing now that the Regimental Sergeant Major, the Colonel and the Colonel's Wife are on hand to inspect them.

From chatting with the office staff at the Castle and doing a bit of post travel research I now understand this picture better.

Carlisle Castle is a base, mostly ceremonial these days, for The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment of the British Army.  The family tree of British Regiments is fairly complicated, with massive wartime expansions and increasing peacetime amalgamations.  But it is fair to say that the Lancasters can be considered to be in the lineage of the troops who fought so hard in the battles commemorated by the barrack's names.  In fact their antecedents defended these very walls against assorted Scottish marauders.  Probably, although this is lost to history, their far distant ancestors stood on both sides of the Roman walls long ago.

The Old Gentlemen are indeed veterans.  I think the varied hat colors relate to the several regiments that were combined to form this one in 2004.

The "kids" are not actually in the Army.  They are members of The Army Cadet Force.  Here in the US we don't have an exact equivalent to the ACF. Think of a mixture of Boy (and Girl) Scouts with more than a dash of Military School.  Most never go on to serve in the military.  From what I saw they appear to be enjoying the experience.

As did I.  The British Army has such a long and storied history.  I think its great that the youngsters and the Old Soldiers appear together on parade.  It is an interesting mix to my historian's eye.  You have the pomp and ceremony of a brass band, which practically invites you to march along.  On the march through downtown Carlisle people in fact did just that.  But they are not trying to hide the tragic side of things either.  It is eyes straight ahead when the Colonel is inspecting the ranks.  But behind them the signs still stare out with the doleful names.  Ypers, Gallipoli, Arnhem..... So many lads not much older than these marched there.  So many did not march home.

1 comment:

Borepatch said...

"... the Dread and Puissant banner of English Heritage." LOL

I never made it there. Powell's in Portland is the best bookstore I've ever been to, but they don't have a castle and parade. ;-)