This weekend (27th and 28th June) Berwick 900 is linking with the Berwick Detachment of Northumbria Army Cadet Force to create a special tribute to the armed forces of today, the past and the future, and to commemorate Berwick’s long history as a garrison town. The expansion of the programme to a two-day event this year has been made possible by a Ministry of Defence grant to Berwick 900 to make this a memorable occasion celebrating “Our Garrison Story”.
Saturday is national Armed Forces Day and the events begin with a traditional Drumhead Service at St. Andrew’s Wallace Green Church. The Parade sets off from Wallace Green at 12.00noon and this year includes a contingent of men from the crew of the last HMS Berwick, which was decommissioned in 1985, led by their captain, Peter Hames. The Parade is headed by the Berwick Royal British Legion Pipe Band and also includes detachments from the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps, veterans of the Royal British Legion and other ex-services organisations, scouts and guides and dozens of uniformed re-enactors depicting the soldiers of the garrison from the 17th to the 20th century. The Salute will be taken at the Town Hall by the High Sheriff of Northumberland.
The Town Hall is hosting stalls from veterans’ organisations and service charities, together with refreshments and an exhibition telling the stories of the Berwick garrison through the ages and the Royal Navy ships that have borne the name “HMS Berwick”. The event in the Town Hall will be open on both Saturday and Sunday.
Armed Forces Day ends with a musical performance and ceremony of Beating Retreat performed by the Cassino Band of Northumbria Cadet Force, which includes a short pageant telling the story of the garrison of Berwick through the ages. Admission is free of charge, by kind permission of English Heritage, but tickets are required. These are available in advance from Berwick Tourist Information Centre, or at the gate before the performance if still available.
Between 11am and 4.00pm on both Saturday and Sunday a series of authentic soldiers’ encampments will be set up beside the ramparts between the Barracks and Windmill Bastion where visitors can talk to the soldiers and their families and find out about everyday life in the army in the past.
Soldiers of Erskine’s Regiment will demonstrate musket and pike drill from the period of the Civil Wars in the 1640s and will fire artillery from Windmill Bastion at times during the weekend. Although most of their members are based in northern England and southern Scotland, one group is travelling from Switzerland to take part in this event.
Redcoats from Lambton’s Regiment of 1758 and the 47th Foot (Lancashire Lads) from the time of the American War of Independence will illustrate the daily routine of garrison life of soldiers in the 18th century, when Berwick became the first town in the country to have a purpose-built infantry barracks.
The 68th Durham Light Infantry have just returned from playing their part in last weekend’s huge re-enactment event in Belgium that marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Acknowledged as one of the best Napoleonic period re-enactment groups in the country, The 68th were formed in Durham exactly forty years ago and have appeared in Berwick on several previous occasions, as well as taking part in events throughout Britain, Europe and north America.
The Victorian period is represented by the 29th Field Kitchen, demonstrating the Soyer cooker that revolutionised the provision of hot food for British soldiers on the battlefield for over a century.
A section uniformed and equipped as Durham Light Infantry from the Second World War and several 1950s military vehicles provided by local enthusiasts will bring the story of the garrison up to the closure of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers’ depot at the Barracks in 1964.
Throughout this weekend, the town will once again see uniformed soldiers in the streets and around the Walls and these troops will stage re-enactments that will bring to life some of Berwick’s most important historic buildings and sites including the Barracks, Gunpowder Magazine, Main Guard and the Saluting Battery in front of Wellington Terrace.
A free programme giving times and locations of the re-enactments, displays and demonstrations of weapons firing is available from Berwick Tourist Information Centre or the English Heritage shop at the Barracks.