Shropshire Star

Triumphant return for lads who knew the drill

The boys were back in town – and a large crowd turned out to welcome home their all-conquering heroes.

Crowds turn out in Ironbridge on Sunday, August 12, 1923, to welcome home their heroes.

But the 20 Ironbridge soldiers had not been triumphant in battle. In fact, they were returning from the Welsh seaside.

There, during their annual summer camp at Porthcawl, they had won the coveted Prince of Wales Shield awarded for the best drilled platoon in the Welsh Division. The competition comprised turnout, rifle exercises, platoon drill, field work and guard mounting.

And as there were about 190 platoons in the Welsh Division, it was a real feather in the cap of the Ironbridge men, who were part of the 4th Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry – a Territorial Army battalion comprising part-time soldiers.

As our picture from the collection of Bridgnorth postcard collector Ray Farlow shows, on their return home on Sunday, August 12, 1923, there were tumultuous celebrations which filled the streets.

According to a contemporary newspaper report: "The thronged streets were gaily decorated with flags and festoons, and the Jackfield Prize Silver Band met the platoon at the railway station and marched them through the town to the Armoury.

"The men had a fine welcome home. As the train steamed into the station the church bells pealed out. The platoon commander, Lieut. W N L Richardson, led the men through the crowded town, with Co.-Sergt.-Major A. Johnson carrying the shield."

Presumably this photo was one of a series, as there is not a single soldier to be seen among the throng. No doubt they have already marched down Waterloo Street towards the Armoury, which we imagine means the drill hall which used to be there.

"On arrival at the Armoury, Lieut. Richardson dismissed the men and thanked the crowd for giving the platoon such a grand reception," the report continued.

Three cheers were given the platoon, and the playing of the National Anthem concluded the ceremony. Each member of the platoon was given a silver medal.

The best we can do for a picture of the Ironbridge soldiers is this poor quality image of them with the shield copied direct from the pages of a contemporary Shrewsbury Chronicle.

The Ironbridge platoon was part of D Company, which was commanded by Captain Geoffrey Bright, who had led the battalion in the most illustrious event in its history in which it stormed Bligny hill in June 1918, an exploit for which the entire battalion was awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme by the French.

Our modern comparison picture was taken from the same place as the view from nearly 100 years ago – a window at what was then, and for many years, Woolley's clothing stores, but is now a cafe. It stands on the corner of Madeley Road and Waterloo Street.

As you can see, many of the buildings on both sides of the High Street in Ironbridge between which those 1923 crowds gathered have since been knocked down, and today there is a mini-roundabout at the foot of Madeley hill which confuses visitors trying to make the sharp turn left if they don't realise that they're supposed to turn left by going all the way around the roundabout and a little bit more.

Today demolition on both sides of the street and a mini-roundabout have transformed the scene.

The 4th KSLI retained the Prince of Wales Shield in August 1924, the winners at the camp, again held at Porthcawl, being Number 9 Platoon of the Wellington Company, who were given a similarly triumphant welcome when they returned home to Wellington.

In fact in that following year not only did the Wellington lads win the shield, but the Company also won the brigade and battalion efficiency cups, the guard-mounting cup, and the battalion football cup.