Watchman V, the popular former mascot of the Staffordshire Regiment, has been honoured with the Freedom of the Borough of Tamworth.
Staffordshire bull terrier Corporal Watchman V and his handler, WO2 Greg Hedges, had the award conferred on them at a special ceremony in Tamworth’s historic Town Hall on Monday, where Regimental standards were proudly carried by Staffordshire Regiment veterans.
The honour will pass to successive mascots and handlers and means that Watchman will proudly march through Tamworth with the Mercian Regiment whenever it returns to Tamworth.
The role of Watchman is steeped in tradition, and the ever-popular Staffordshire bull terrier mascot has been representing the serving men and women of Tamworth and Staffordshire for more than 130 years.
Watchman and WO2 Hedges continue to carry out numerous duties, now that the Staffordshire Regiment is part of the larger Mercian Regiment.
Watchman joins the Mercian Regiment, The Defence Medical Services and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Fort Rosalie (A385) in holding the Freedom of the Borough.
At today’s event Cllr John Garner, The Mayor of Tamworth, said, “They say a dog is a mans best friend, and nothing is more true than for the men of the Staffordshire Regiment and Watchman.
“We are here today to honour a tradition that goes back to 1882, when The South Staffordshire Regiment were ordered to march with Lord Wolseley to the relief of General Gordon who was besieged in Khartoum. Whilst entrained at Cairo their Staffordshire Bull Terrier “Boxer” leapt from the moving train and was seen lying unconscious next to the tracks and was believed dead.
“A few days later whilst the Regiment was encamped at Assiut awaiting orders, a very thin and bedraggled dog staggered into their camp and collapsed. Boxer had walked for over 200 miles along the scorching desert railway track to rejoin his regiment, showing the grit and determination of spirit, which has always been so strong amongst the ranks of Staffordshire men.
“Since then many dogs have lived along side the men of the Staffordshire Regiments but it wasn’t until after the Second World War that the Watchman tradition evolved into what we have today. This is a tradition we hope will go on into the long future.
“Of course today is about honouring more than just Watchman alone. With every hard-working mascot, there is an even harder working handler behind them. Warrant Officer 2nd Class Greg Hedges and those before him have voluntarily accepted the responsibilities of ensuring this tradition goes on.
“What is most endearing to us all however is the obvious pride and devotion that they give to the duty at hand. We owe them a debt for all their hard work in ensuring that the essence of The Staffordshire Regiment goes on.
“I believe this may be the first time a Borough has awarded a mascot and his handler Freedom, and why not?
“Mascots are visual symbols for the bodies they represent and perhaps this is something we should see more of. Following today I hope every council in Staffordshire follows our example and honours this historic tradition.”
“Tamworth Borough Council Chief Executive, Anthony Goodwin, added, “As a former serving officer in the armed forces, I am very conscious of the impact that changes over the last decade to regimental, Naval and Air Force command structures have had on ex-servicemen and their families. Consequently, I was delighted when the Council resolved to bestow this honour upon Watchman, his Handler and their successors.
“Any act that serves to acknowledge and sustain the value of such traditions has to be good, not just for the recipients, but for the entire body of men and women, past and present….in this case, the Staffordshire Regiment. For my part; it was good to stand alongside those very proud veterans and to share their day.”