Prince Alfred’s Guard: Regimental Colour, Battle Honours and Chantry Chapel

In line with the Defence Force’s intention to have the names of the Reserve Force units reflect “the military traditions and history of indigenous African military formations and the liberation armies involved in the freedom struggle”, the name of the Prince Alfred’s Guard will be amended to Chief Maqoma Regiment (MR). As far as I am aware, the PAG has not yet taken decisions on new insignia, including beret/cap badges and flashes as well as colours. However, the existing unit colours, along with battle honours will be laid up during parades over a three-year phasing-in period.

This blog covers certain of those traditions which will be cast aside in this process.

Main picture: Regimental Colours

The Regimental Colour in History

In military organizations, the practice of carrying colours, standards or or guidons, both to act as a rallying point for troops and to mark the location of the commander, is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt some 5,000 years ago. The Roman Empire also made battle standards a part of their vast armies. It was formalized in the armies of Europe in the High Middle Ages, with standards being emblazoned with the commander’s coat of arms.

Even though Regimental Colours were prevalent in most European armies, the standard operating practice applied in South African is in accordance with the British tradition.

Prince Alfred as a young man

In Britain, the first purely military flags were encountered in the civil wars which coincide with the formation of the British regular army. The first deed for the issue of a Colour was made in 1661 related to the Foot Guards (the Grenadier and Coldstream).  As the years passed, colours were presented to other infantry regiments and standards, guidons and drum banners to the cavalry. Rifle regiments, creations of a much later date, have never carried a colour, nor does the Royal Regiment of Artillery.

Trooping the Colour is generally regarded as the parading of the Colour along the lines of its unit to remind men of their rallying point. No doubt this was frequently done. Trooping the Colour, which commenced in 1755 in the United Kingdom, derives from the “Troop” which is the musical tune used when lodging a Colour in safe custody. Colours were carried into battle in some campaigns by British infantry until 1881 and tales relating to them are innumerable.

Mr PJ O’Haher at the Regimental Memorial at Umzintzani on 2 Dec 1962. His grandfather AW Fergusson was the bugler

King’s (or Queen’s) Colours and Regimental Colours were presented to all regular regiments but not to volunteers (except the Honourable Artillery Company) and certainly by tradition not to colonial volunteers! In spite of this tradition, Prince Alfred’s Guard was made a remarkable exception on advice to Her Majesty Queen Victoria by those knowledgeable of the unit’s splendid service and behaviour. Both the Queen’s Colour and the Regimental Colour (presented by the women of Port Elizabeth) were presented to the regiment on the 6th May 1876 at the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club ground

Since then there have been other presentations as Colours have become old, fragile and only fit to be pensioned off. These are netted and placed in the Regimental Chantry Chapel of St. George in the Collegiate Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Port Elizabeth.

Queen’s and Regiment’s Colours – Destroyed in fire on the 9th March 1895

Here can be seen these honourable relics, one of which, to say the least, is unusual. It is not a Colour. Rather it is a flag requested by the regiment during the Basuto Campaign of 1880 – 81, when the troops complained that they had no identifying emblem.  The Officer Commanding sent a request to Port Elizabeth for materials and a Union Jack was made in the field.

Prince Alfred’s Guard has earned the following battle honours:

When in safe custody or during marches, Colours are cased, are cased except on ceremonial occasions, when they are carried furled. They are always saluted by officers and men and by those others who hold to honour. To certain special personages on ceremonial parade they are dipped.

On the 3rd December of every year, the Regimental Colour of Prince Alfred’s Guard should be saluted by all PAG members in honour of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Prince Alfred’s Guard Memorial Chantry and Chapel of St George.

From the appointment of Rev. Francis McCleland as Colonial Chaplain in Port Elizabeth and the founding of St Mary’s Church, the Church, the Incumbent and Military and Naval personnel in the town have been automatically linked. In 1856 the Port Elizabeth Volunteer Rifle Corps was formed in response to a request by the Governor, Sir George Grey, and it provided a guard of honour for Prince Alfred on the occasion of his visit in August 1860. The Corps subsequently asked, and received, his consent to take the name “Prince Alfred’s Guard”.

As the spiritual home of P.A.G., St Mary’s  already housed memorials and colours laid up in it for safekeeping and these were either  destroyed  or damaged  in the fire of 1895;  the colours were replaced in due course and the memorials are still in the church.

After the South African War, the men who had fought together began a P.A.G. Memorial Fund to honour their fallen comrades in some way, but by 1925 nothing had been done and it was Maj. T. A. Bromilow-Downing who was mainly responsible for finally bringing a memorial into being. In 1926 Rev. C.E. Mayo was approached by Maj. Bromilow-Downing on behalf of P.A.G., offering to build a chantry chapel inside St Mary’s Church, to be paid for by the Regiment from its fund. It would  be “for all time devoted to the reception of memorials, flags and other sacred properties of the Regiment which have hitherto been, or hereafter may be, erected or placed in St Mary’s Collegiate Church, in honour of the Regiment“. Mayo and St Mary’s accepted the offer gladly, Mayo noting that the chapel would “enrich the Mother Church of the City” then and in the years to come. Such a military chapel in a parish church was thought to be unique in South Africa.

Jones and McWilliams designed the chapel; Victor Jones has left us a wonderful legacy in all his involvement with St Mary’s. The screens were carved by J. Wippell and Co. of Exeter, well-known suppliers of vestments and church furnishings, and the windows were the work of local craftsman Clarence Currie. The chapel was dedicated on 20 November 1927 by Rt. Rev. Francis Robinson Phelps D.D., Lord Bishop of Grahamstown in “memory of the departed of P.A.G. and St George, our Patron Saint”. The altar, the gift of Mayo, was unveiled by him, a memorial to Honorary Lt. Col. Wirgman. The central tablet was unveiled by Col. A. P. J. Wares. The ceremony closed with the Last Post and Reveille.

For information: From early times an endowment of  money  paid for the saying of  masses for the soul of the donor was called a “chantry”, and sometimes a small chapel, a “chantry chapel”, might  be built as well, perhaps inside an existing cathedral or abbey.

Sources:

The Regimental Colour: Its History and significance by P.S. Huggett TD

Wikipedia: Military colours, standards and guidons

The Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin, Port Elizabeth: Its windows and furnishing, a pictorial record and some aspects of its history by Margaret Harradine (2018, Express Copy & Print, Port Elizabeth)

Prince Alfred’s Guard: Centenary of the First Battle Honour December  2, 1877 by various authors (1977, Prince Alfred’s Guard, Drill Hall)

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