King’s Troop: Old soldiers remember their time with the Troop
The departure of the King’s Troop marked an emotional occasion not only for St John’s Wood residents but also for the many veterans who spent years serving at the barracks.
About 400 former soldiers took the opportunity to visit the barracks with their family members on Monday to say goodbye to their old home for the last time.
Percy Austin, 84, was one of three veterans present who were at the barracks when King George VI gave his name to the Troop on a visit in 1947.
Mr Austin, who served as a driver from 1946 to 1948, said: “I’ve got a photo of King George standing next to me.
“It was his decision to form a troop in the first place and when he came to inspect us he signed the book and put his name next to ours. We were all incredibly proud.”
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Mr Austin said he remembered being kept awake at night by the sound of chains rattling as horses pulled milk floats from the dairy that used to be directly next door to the barracks.
Alan Winks, 83, who served as a gunner from 1946 to 1948, formed a sword guard of honour when the King entered and exited the barracks in 1947.
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“Nobody had any idea he was going to put his name to the unit,” he said. “It was a very pleasant surprise.”
The St John’s Wood Barracks were rebuilt in the late 1960s with only the Grade II listed Riding School and the Officers’ Mess surviving.
“It still had all the wooden buildings and cobbled floors when I was here,” said Dave “Speedy” Rolfe, 69, who served as a gunner from 1960 to 1967.
“We got banned from all the local bookie shops because we had a lot of old jockeys in the Troop in those days and they still kept in touch with the guys involved in racing.
“We were taking the bookies for a ride. In the end we had to get new recruits to put the bets on for us to get past the bookies.
“We used to ride all around St John’s Wood and it was especially lovely in the summer because the women used to hear the horses going past in the morning and would look out the window.
“If you were in the centre of the Troop you were perfectly placed to catch them in the nude. You saw quite a few sights.”
Memories of the good times were tinged with sadness though as many veterans spoke of the end of an era with the impending demolition of the barracks.
Pat Devlin, 68, who served from 1961 to 1969, said: “It’s very sad that they are leaving but they are going to a better place which was the original home of the artillery.”
Howard Jones, 80, a bombardier from 1950 to 1958, added: “It should never have been allowed to happen. It was the Queen’s favourite regiment and this is the Troop’s spiritual home.”