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Post Memories: Royal Anglian regiment’s long-standing connection with Barking and Dagenham

PUBLISHED: 09:29 01 July 2013 | UPDATED: 17:39 01 July 2013

Soldiers in Korea, 1954, with a sign to the Heathway. So many Dagenham lads were called up for National Service with the Essex in the early 1950s that the 1st Essex were nicknamed “The Dagenham Light Infantry” in Korea.

Soldiers in Korea, 1954, with a sign to the Heathway. So many Dagenham lads were called up for National Service with the Essex in the early 1950s that the 1st Essex were nicknamed “The Dagenham Light Infantry” in Korea.

Archant

Serving in the military is a long-established tradition in Barking and Dagenham, as was shown by the recent celebrations for Armed Forces Day.

The Leopard mascot of A Company, 1st/4th Battalion, in Sierra Leona in 1941 pictured with Company Sergeant Major Carty. The big cat was called “Dagga” because A company were from Dagenham.The Leopard mascot of A Company, 1st/4th Battalion, in Sierra Leona in 1941 pictured with Company Sergeant Major Carty. The big cat was called “Dagga” because A company were from Dagenham.

The borough’s links with one regiment in particular – the Royal Anglian – go back centuries through conflicts on several continents.

The regiment was first created in 1741 as the 44th Regiment of Foot.

It can trace its connections to Essex (of which Barking and Dagenham was formerly a part) back to 1881 when it became known as the East Essex Regiment, establishing its link to the county.

Maj Tony Jones, a retired officer who served 38 years with the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, said: “Barking and Dagenham has been the backbone of the Royal Anglian Regiment.

Major Tony JonesMajor Tony Jones

“The Essex Regiment was formed in 1881, that is how far back the link goes with Essex. A lot of the guys who served in the Essex Regiment came from the local area and a lot were from Barking and Dagenham.”

A further change saw it become the Third Essex Anglian Regiment in 1958 and it wasn’t until 1964 that it was named the Royal Anglian Regiment.

Military historian Ian Hook, the keeper of the Essex Regiment Museum, said one of the regiment’s strongest connections to Barking and Dagenham was through the local Territorial Army (TA) battalions.

The 4th Battalion Essex Regiment had TA centres across the borough and during the Second World War its soldiers fought in the North African desert and Italy, particularly at Monte Cassino.

TA centre

The regiment’s presence was still visible in the borough’s streets until 1967, when the last TA centre closed.

Other notable connections to the area include a former headmaster of Barking Abbey School, Col Loftus, who was a member of the 6th Essex Regiment during the First World War and fought at Gallipoli, where many men served, according to Mr Hook.

Bizarrely, he was named in the Guinness Book of World Records as the writer of the longest continuous diary, having begun aged seven and continued writing in it until his death aged 102.

But it’s not only men and women from the Royal Anglian Regiment that have formed a link with Barking and Dagenham.

After soldiers from A Company the 1st/4th Battalion stumbled upon a leopard in the jungles of Sierra Leone in 1941 they adopted the big cat as the unit’s mascot, giving it the name “Dagga” because A Company was made up of men who came from Dagenham.

For the 1950-53 Korean War, so many Dagenham lads were called up for National Service that the 1st Essex Regiment, serving there in 1954, was dubbed “the Dagenham Light Infantry”.

Homesickness

During their time away, one of the men’s responses to feelings of homesickness was to put up a signpost pointing the way to familiar places.

The men from Dagenham put theirs up with arrows pointing towards Heathway and Ilford.

Mr Hook said: “The soldiers do this when they are far from home. They tend to make up a sign that says home is so many thousand miles away to make them feel less homesick.

“The Ilford and Dagenham men had got together and made that sign for fun and someone took a picture of it.”

One of the Royal Anglian Regiment’s most notable recent connections to the borough came in 2010 when it received the Freedom of the Borough from Barking and Dagenham Council.

Maj Jones said: “It sealed the link to the area even more.

“When the guys came back from Afghanistan in 2010 and exercised their freedom of the borough, they were just gobsmacked at the reaction of the public to them.”


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