The Regimental Colours and the Queen’s Truncheon

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II inspecting The Queen’s Truncheon on 10th July 2015.
(Photo copyright Getty Images).

The Colours

In the early part of its history the Regiment was a ‘line’ regiment and carried two colours: 

The Colours of the Regiment 1844-1850 held by Captain H D Watson (left – later Major General Sir Harry Watson) and Captain D M Watt (right) in about 1900.

Of the Colours presented to the Regiment in 1844, one is the Queen’s Colour, or Great Union.  The other is the Regimental Colour and is a plain black sheet with the words ‘Sirmoor Light Infantry’ encircled by a wreath, as the uniform of the Regiment was then dark green with black facings and black lace.  Both are perforated with bullets and stained with blood.  They were carried by the Regiment in the campaign on the Sutlej (1845-46) and were present when it saved the cantonment and city of Ludhiana, and for the subsequent defence of that city.  They were in the battles of Buddhiwal and Aliwal; in Lord Gough’s victory over the Sikhs at the latter place the Regiment lost 145 killed and wounded and the Colours were nearly shot to pieces.  The pole of the Queen’s Colour was shot in half and is now spliced.  The Gurkha Officer carrying the black Regimental Colour was killed and the Colour captured, but the enraged Gurkhas, by a frantic effort, recovered what was left of it but without the pole, for which they substituted the bamboo on which its honoured remains now hang.   

The Regimental Colours 1850-63.

The Colours presented in 1850 were the successors of those described above.  One is the Queen’s Colour or Great Union, the other is the Regimental Colour.  The latter is black with the words ‘Sirmoor Light Infantry’ in gold letters in the centre and surrounded by a wreath.  They were with the Regiment – one of the few which remained loyal – during its brilliant service in The Indian Mutiny 1857-59.  They were at the battle of Badlee-ki-sarai and throughout the celebrated siege of Delhi, when this brave band of Gurkhas sustained and defeated 26 separate attacks on their posts on the right of the Ridge, in which they lost 8 officers killed and wounded out of 9, and 327 men killed and wounded out of 490 of all grades.  Both Colours have been shot through and are blood-stained.  The black Regimental Colour was cut clean in two by a 32 pounder roundshot which killed 3 officers and 10 men.

Because of its close association with the 60th Rifles at Delhi, in 1858 the Regiment became a Rifle Regiment.  It was the custom, because of their swift and concealed method of warfare, for rifle regiments not to carry Colours, therefore in 1863 the 2nd Goorkhas ceased to exercise the privilege of carrying them.  However, in recognition of their glorious achievements at Delhi, Her Majesty Queen Victoria presented a third, special Colour to the Regiment in the form of the Queen’s Truncheon.  This Truncheon was unique in the Armies of the British Empire and Commonwealth, and remains so in the British Army today, where it is carried by the successor Regiment to the 2nd Goorkhas, the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

The Queen’s Truncheon

The Truncheon was devised by Colonel Charles Reid, one of Queen Victoria’s Aides-de-Camp and commander of the Regiment at Delhi.  It was presented in 1863 on behalf of the Queen by Lord Strathnairn, the Commander-in-Chief in India, at a special parade of all troops in the large garrison of Lahore, where it was honoured with a Royal Salute on presentation.

The Truncheon is a typical piece of workmanship of the Victorian age. It stands just under six feet high, is chiefly made of bronze, and is surmounted by the Royal Crown in silver supported by three Gurkha riflemen in bronze. On the ring of silver below the the figures are inscribed the words “Main Picquet, Hindoo Rao’s House, Delhi 1857”. Below this ring is a representation in bronze of one of the minarets on the Delhi Gate of the Palace of the Moghuls, and in the minaret hang two silver crossed kukris, the national weapon of the Gurkha. Below this again is another silver ring on which is inscribed on three sides “Sirmoor Rifles”. This was the title of the Regiment at the time, indicating the place of the raising of the Regiment in 1815, and the title it bore up to 1994 when it was amalgamated with the 6th, 7th, and 10th Gurkhas to form The Royal Gurkha Rifles. On a third ring, just above the upper end of the staff, the words “Main Picquet, Hindoo Rao’s House, Delhi 1857” are again inscribed, this time in Nagri script. The Truncheon was made in five pieces, so that it could be taken apart and carried in battle in the knapsacks of five different Gurkha soldiers.

When, in 1858, the Third Colour was presented, an extra Jemadar (a junior native officer in the old Indian Army) was authorised to carry it, and when the Truncheon replaced the Colour this extra officer was allowed to remain on the establishment.

During the visit to India of His Majesty King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, in 1876, at a Review held in Delhi the Truncheon was given precedence over all other Colours.  It was impossible to convey the importance this Truncheon played in the Regiment, and in what reverence it was held by all members.  On the two Regimental Days – the anniversaries of the assault on Delhi, 14th September 1857, and the crossing of the Tigris at Shumran on 23rd February 1917 – the Truncheon was placed in position outside the Regimental Quarter Guard and every individual, from Commanding Officer to the last joined Rifleman, saluted it during the course of the day without fail. Amongst the men of the Regiment it was referred to as the “Nishani Mai” (loosely translated as ‘the Symbol of the Great Mother’) an allusion to the great Queen who presented it.  The recruits of the Regiment were sworn in on the Queen’s Truncheon when they joined the Regiment and became Riflemen, a tradition that has been carried forward into the Royal Gurkha Rifles, to whom the honour of the Truncheon has devolved.  The Truncheon is also put in a special centrepiece on the dining table of the Officers’ Mess on formal dinner nights.

Recruits attesting on The Queen’s Truncheon.

The Truncheon was treated with the same honour and reverence as the Queen’s Colour of a regiment privileged to carry Colours.  In Army Order No. 135 of 1950, some two years after the transfer of the Regiment from the old Indian Army to the British Army, it was stated that:

“His Majesty The King has been graciously pleased to approve that the dignities and compliments appropriate to the King’s Colour of Infantry, which was accorded to the Truncheon carried by the 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles), when that regiment was part of the Indian Army, shall continue to be accorded now the Regiment is part of the British Army.”

 In 1953 the Truncheon was carried at the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and two days later was, at Her Majesty’s special request, taken to Buckingham Palace, were she inspected and raised it in her hands. Her Majesty said that she would be pleased if another inscribed silver band could be affixed recording the carrying of the Truncheon at her Coronation. This was done and the band, which is placed at the head of the staff, reads:

“ The Queen’s Truncheon was carried in procession at Her Majesty’s Coronation, 2nd June 1953. Inscribed by order of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”

Her Majesty The Queen reviewing The Truncheon in 1975.

Since then each time the Queen’s Truncheon has been presented to the Monarch the occasion has been  marked with a new inscribed silver band affixed to the staff.

On 24th June 1994, prior to the Regiment being amalgamated with the 6th, 7th, and 10th Gurkha Rifles to form The Royal Gurkha Rifles on 1 July 1994, after a Thanksgiving Service in the RMA Sandhurst Chapel for the 179 years of service of the Regiment, and in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales, the Queen’s Truncheon was placed into a glass case in the Indian Army Room in Old College at the RMA Sandhurst for safe keeping, pending a decision for it to be adopted by the new regiment.

On Monday 28th April 1997 the Queen’s Truncheon was taken back into service by The Royal Gurkha Rifles at a ceremony at RMA Sandhurst in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales. Although the rank of Jemadar is no longer in use in the British Army, the establishment of an extra officer to carry the Queen’s Truncheon is still on the strength of the new regiment and the title ‘Truncheon Jemadar’ has been retained.

Although the Queen’s Truncheon is now the property of the Royal Gurkha Rifles it is on condition that it is not disposed of without the approval of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles Trust.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Gurkha Rifles and formerly Colonel-in-Chief of the 2nd Goorkhas, inspects the Truncheon.