Origins and Traditions

Why do The Rifles march faster than other army regiments? Why is the bugle used? What are the Golden Threads of the Regiment? Find out the answers here.

Image of Formation Day in Basra Palace, showing the cap badges of the Forming Regiments

Formation Day in Basra Palace, showing the cap badges of the Forming Regiments

Formation Day

On 1 February 2007 The Rifles was created from four of the finest Infantry Regiments in the British Army:
  • The Devonshire & Dorset Light Infantry
  • The Light Infantry
  • The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire & Wiltshire Light Infantry
  • The Royal Green Jackets

These Regiments are known as ‘the Forming Regiments‘ and they all have a long and illustrious history, with 437 Battle Honours amassed between them (some Battle Honours are carried forward from several of the Forming Regiments). In addition, between them, the four Forming Regiments have been awarded a total of 117 Victoria Crosses – the highest award for gallantry.

Regimental Battle Honours

In The Rifles, Battle Honours are carried forward on Parade uniforms as the selected symbols of our past. Due to our history as a rifle regiment, battalions of The Rifles do not carry Colours; instead each Rifleman is entrusted with the Battle Honours of the regiment, wearing a representative selection of Battle Honours from the four forming regiments on cross belt and belt badge. On the Belt Plate there are 34 Battle Honours represented, inherited from the forming and antecedent regiments and a blank space to represent any future Battle Honours that may be awarded to The Rifles.
Image of an officer’s crossbelt badge

An officer’s crossbelt badge

‘Golden Threads’

Each of the four forming regiments has contributed many traditions to the development of The Rifles in 2007, but the ‘Golden Threads’ are the highest distinctive honours awarded to the forming regiments that can be worn on the ceremonial dress of The Rifles. These are:
  • The Croix de Guerre of the Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry
  • The Bugle Cap Badge of the Light Infantry
  • The Back Badge of The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry
  • The Black Buttons of the Royal Green Jackets

The Back Badge is worn on the forage cap and side hats across The Rifles and on the shako of The Rifles’ Bands and Bugles. The Gloucestershire County Cadets are also permitted to wear the distinction on their berets.

All of our officers, warrant officers and serjeants wear cross belts with the Inkerman Whistle and Chain, which was used in the past, alongside the bugle, to direct Riflemen.

The Regimental Day – Battle of Salamanca 22 July 1812

The Regimental Day of The Rifles is 22 July, the date of the Battle of Salamanca in 1812 and is known as ‘Salamanca Day’. The Battle of Salamanca is a significant occasion in the history of The Rifles as all of our former regiments took part. The battle is described by historians as Wellington’s finest victory and the turning point in the Peninsula Campaign. The record of the Light Division in the Peninsula War has rarely been surpassed and is justly seen as a memorial to Sir John Moore, the founding father of the Regiment.

The Origin of the Regimental Motto – Swift and Bold

Regimental records of the 60th (Kings Royal Rifle Corps) state that Major-General James Wolfe was so impressed with the alertness, intrepidity and spirited conduct of the grenadier companies of the 2nd and 3rd Battalion of the 60th Royal Americans before Quebec in that he conferred on them the motto Celer et Audax (translating from its original Latin as ‘Swift and Bold’). The exact occasion of this ‘spirited conduct’ is not certain. Most probably it was on 9 August 1759 when it is believed that the grenadier companies, who were escorting Wolfe at the time, had a sharp encounter with the enemy and that he was extremely pleased with the outcome.
Painting of Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore KB

Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore KB

Lieutenant General Sir John Moore (1761 to 1809) – The Founding Father of The Rifles

John Moore was commissioned into 51st Foot (later the KOYLI) in March 1776, at the age of 14½ and by 1790 he was commanding the Regiment. In 1803, the 43rd and 52nd (Ox and Bucks) were chosen to form the first Corps of Light Infantry and joined with the 95th Rifles (later the Rifle Brigade) to constitute the Light Brigade at Shorncliffe in Kent under the command of Sir John Moore.

At Shorncliffe Sir John Moore generated a succession of advanced ideas later to be adopted as ideals by the rest of the Army: open-order tactics and mobility in place of rigid drills and ponderous movement; camouflage and concealment in place of serried ranks of red coats; individual marksmanship in place of massed musket fire; and intelligence and self-reliance in place of blind obedience instilled by the fear of brutal punishment.

Moore has been described as ‘the very best trainer of troops that England has ever possessed.’ His insistence on absolute professionalism and mutual respect between officers and men (which were very new and unusual concepts at the time) was to create a formation whose contribution was crucial to Wellington’s victories in the Peninsula and whose traditions survive in The Rifles of today.

In October 1808, Sir John Moore was given command of the British Forces in the Peninsular and charged with liberating Spain. When threatened by a huge French army commanded by Napoleon, and mindful that he commanded Britain’s only effective continental army, he conducted a strategic retreat to the port of Corunna (in Portugal) where, on 16 January 1809, he turned and repulsed the French vanguard commanded by the French Marshal Soult. Sir John Moore was killed during the action, but the successful outcome of the battle enabled the Royal Navy to embark the army unhindered.

Long after the Peninsula War had ended, to be known as having been ‘one of Sir John Moore’s men’ carried with it a unique degree of prestige. Napoleon said of Sir John Moore: “His firmness and talent alone saved the British Army [in Spain] from destruction.”

Marching Pace

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the heavy infantry moved in close formation at a slow controlled pace. Rifle and Light Infantry Regiments, on the other hand, frequently used in advance guard and flanking duties, needed to move around the battlefield faster than the rest of the Army. The Rifles march at 140 paces to the minute compared to the Army standard of 120 paces, and retains the custom of the ‘double past’ on ceremonial parades. We never slow march.

In addition, by doubling five paces and then marching five paces, it was found that distances could be covered quickly. The Light Division was famous for its march to Talevera in 1809 – covering 250 miles in six days. At the Battle of Fuentes De Onoro, the Light Division was able to outmanoeuvre the French cavalry, whilst under fire by its speed of withdrawal under fire and then rapidly form squares from their column of route using classic Light Infantry tactics.

Words of Command

Apart from ‘Present Arms’ all drill movements start from and finish at the ‘At Ease’. There is no word of command of Attention or Shun in our drill manual, as it is presumed that Riflemen are permanently alert to receive orders. Therefore, troops are brought to attention by calling them what they are, for example ‘2 Platoon’ or ‘C Company’ or ‘1st Battalion’. Troops are braced up from the stand easy by the command ‘Stand Ready’. There is an economy of words of command e.g. a marching body on being ordered ‘Facing right – Halt’ will halt, shoulder arms, turn to the right and stand at ease. Likewise ‘Move to the left – Quick March’ will see them come to attention, turn to the left, step off and trail arms on the march with no further fuss or bother.

In The Rifles we carry swords (not bayonets) and swords are never fixed. Rifles are always carried at the trail or the shoulder.

All who serve in The Rifles will be known as ‘Riflemen’, an expression of common, collective and united identity, regardless of rank. In addition, no soldier is ever addressed by his surname such as Harris or Costello. It is always Rifleman Harris or Rifleman Costello.

Regimental Music

The bugle has traditionally been used in the past to communicate with, and to direct Riflemen. The bugle was adopted for use in the eighteenth century as it was light and easy to use unlike the cumbersome drum and carried its note clear for up to three miles whereas a drum signal became indistinct. It was originally an ox bugle but later made in silver which gave a clearer note. The bugle is central to The Rifles’ musical traditions, but music has been carried forward from all of our forming regiments. Daily routine in the battalions is marked by bugle calls, and The Rifles sound, rather than beat, Retreat.

The three Marches are:

  • Quick March  –  Mechanized Infantry – David McBain
  • Slow March  –  Old Salamanca – Chris Willis
  • Regimental Double Marches – Keel Row/Road to the Isles – Traditional

There are standard songs used in The Rifles, these were more prevalent in the forming regiments but still carried forward by The Rifles. These are:

  • Widdecombe Fair (Devonshire & Dorset Light Infantry)
  • Farmer’s Boy (Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry)
  • Blaydon Races (The Light Infantry)
  • Over The Hill and Far Away (Royal Green Jackets)
  • Hearts of Oak (Royal Navy & Royal Marines)

The Regiment

Sir Arthur Bryant (1899-1985) described a Regiment as having two purposes. “It is an administrative unit which, under the Law, trains disciplines and marshals men in arms for the preservation of a nation’s peace and security. Because in the last resort its duty, in Virgil’s words, is “to impose the way of peace, to spare the humble and to war down the proud”, it has also to evoke from its members an habitual self-mastery and capacity for comradely selflessness and obedience which will enable them willingly to sacrifice their bodies and lives in the course of duty. Since by nature men are impelled by strong instincts of self-interest and self-preservation the second of these ends is the more difficult of the two. That is what Napoleon meant when he said that in war morale is to material as three is to one.

Our morale is underpinned by the example of our forebears, which has given us three major strengths. These are self-discipline, mutual respect and common understanding.

In our Regiment, from the most senior general to the newest joined recruit, we all consider ourselves to be Riflemen. When asked who we are, or what we do, officers and soldiers alike reply by saying “I am a Rifleman”.

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We are pleased to announce that The Rifles Museum and the Royal Green Jackets Museum are merging collections to form a Rifle Regiment Museum that records our heritage from the 18th Century to the present day. If you wish to visit the Winchester museum or learn about Rifle Regiment heritage then please follow this link:

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