Sunday, 2 April 2017

The City's relationship with the Armed Forces

The City of London has a particularly close and long-standing relationship with the Armed Forces of the Crown, one that continues to flourish in the 21st century through the City's privileged regiments and the plethora of Livery Company affiliations with ships, shore stations, regiments, squadrons and other military formations.

This is all the more surprising when one considers that from a legal perspective, the City of London seems rather unwelcoming to the military. 


The City is the only place in the Kingdom where Her Majesty’s Forces may not enter without the prior permission of the Lord Mayor having been sought and obtained. Even HM's Lord Lieutenant for Greater London may not enter the City in uniform without the permission of the Lord Mayor.

This right to refuse troops of the crown entry to the City is codified in a Royal Charter presented to the City by Edward III in 1327 and last tested in court as recently as 1842 (in City terms that’s very recently). During the exigencies of the Second World War several officers were required to write formal letters of apology to the Lord Mayor for allowing their troops to enter the City without permission, including several responding to police callouts to deal with un-exploded bombs. 

Even when the Lord Mayor grants permission for troops to enter the City they must be escorted by an Esquire of the Mansion House going by the title of the City Marshal – the only civic military posting in the Commonwealth. In recognition of this unique role the City Marshal is provided with a military uniform, sword, spurs and horse.

The restrictions placed upon HM Armed Forces aren't limited simply to marching through the City. Recruiting for the Armed Forces of the Crown is illegal in the City and Freemen of the City of London may be pleased to learn they are exempt from the clutches of the Royal Navy press gang - since Freemen are deemed too valuable a contributor to the national economy. 

That said, there is no restriction on the City recruiting its own forces, and until 1872 the Commission of Lieutenancy in the City of London, headed The Lord Mayor, could and did issue its own commissions in the reserve forces. Of course these officers needed men, but where to get them? 

On Easter Sunday 1596 the Lord Mayor and Alderman set the tone for recruiting in the City when they barred the doors of all the City churches and after sifting out the women, children, elderly and infirm over 1,000 willing 'volunteers' were recruited for overseas service.
 
Whatever the legal situation, the City’s relationship with the armed forces is in truth particularly close and affectionate. Several regiments and squadrons have received the honour of including ‘City of London’ in their title, and twelve regiments have achieved City Privilege status – allowing them to march in the City with drums beating, bayonets fixed and colours unfurled. One of the most recent grants of City Privilege status was made just last year to 101 (City of London) Engineer Regiment (EOD) – suitable recompense for all those apologetic letters written to the Lord Mayor by EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) officers during WWII. 

The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) achieved City Privilege status in 1924 after having exercised the right without official sanction for many centuries, despite the fact that Aldermen are automatically members of the HAC.

Another aspect of the City's connection with the military is evident in The Company of Pikemen and Musketeers of The Honourable Artillery Company. They form the Lord Mayor’s bodyguard, a role previously performed by the Light Cavalry HAC, and confirmed by Royal Warrant in the 1950s. The Pikemen and Musketeers are seen at many City events, especially during the Lord Mayor's Show, but in every case they may only parade with the permission of the Lord Mayor. Overall the Lord Mayor's Show includes more troops than participate in the Queen's annual birthday parade (Trooping the Colour).

There are well over 220 regular and reserve units of the armed forces affiliated with one or more of the City’s 110 Livery Companies, and a further 120 Cadet Forces units are affiliated with the Livery. The nature and scope of each affiliation varies from one Livery Company to the next, but overall the picture is one of strong and friendly bonds that have, in some cases, been maintained over many years. 

On a practical level the City has long been a source of money, material and expertise for monarchs engaged in battles at home and overseas. The 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt in 2015 recalled how the City of London and its Livery Companies had backed Henry V with equipment, supplies, money and even troops to fight his campaign in France. 

For this generosity Henry V gave the Lord Mayor of London a crystal sceptre that has recently been described as the greatest thank you gift in history. The relationship between the City and the Armed Forces remains just as strong today - something for which we can all be thankful.

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