Belfast Telegraph

A red-letter day in San Diego as traditions of the British Army land right on carrier's deck

By Rebecca Black

Tradition is alive and well in the Army - and it went down a treat stateside.

US troops gave a great deal to the Hydebank-based 204 Field Hospital unit during its Exercise Integrated Serpent experience in California.

However, it was also an eye-opening experience for the GIs to see the many traditions of the British Army officers at close quarters.

Throughout the trip the senior Irish officer tradition of carrying blackthorn sticks, based on the shillelagh, drew admiring comments. In a custom that dates back to Roman centurions, these sticks were carried with a touch of swagger by Major General Jeremy Rowan and Major Tim Rogan as part of their day to day uniform.

But it was the moment on the final evening of the trip when the officers emerged in dress uniform for a formal dinner on aircraft carrier USS Midway that drew the most attention.

Hotel guests and members of the public in San Diego stopped in their tracks to gape at the officers in bright scarlet jackets.

The officers' attire drew admiring comments and selfie requests from passers-by all the way to the location of the dinner on the decommissioned vessel at San Diego harbour.

The US traditional sailor style uniforms were no match for such splendour. The jackets can cost the officers as much as £1,000 and are made of specially cured wool. They cannot have been easy outfits to wear in the Californian heat, yet stiff upper lips remained and not one officer removed their jackets throughout the humid evening.

During the dinner there was even more tradition, including an almost unseen gesture in modern times of pulling chairs out for female guests, having to remain seated for the entire meal, to the more bizarre ban on ladies touching the bottles of port - the male officers filled the ladies' glass.

The experience was unforgettable, set on the flight deck of USS Midway, overlooking the city's night skyline and amid such famous aircraft as the World War II SBD Dauntless dive bomber.

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