Britain’s oldest army unit headed for Barryville
BARRYVILLE, NY — The British are coming—again. Seriously, the British military is coming to the Upper Delaware River Valley.
Unlike 1779, there won’t be any need to mount a defense this time. Members of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) will be coming in peace to celebrate their annual St. George’s Day (England’s patron saint) Dinner, according to HAC Lance Corporal and Barryville resident, Robert M. Robinson.
Those attending are members of the Honourable Artillery Company of North America (HAC/NA), ex-patriot veterans now living mostly in the U.S. and Canada. They have met annually for the past 38 years. Last year’s dinner was held at the Thayer Hotel in West Point. Robinson is playing host this year and the gathering will be in Barryville at the Carriage House.
Robinson is a native of London, England, where the HAC was founded to defend the city and aid in civil law enforcement. It has a long and storied history, ripe with tradition. The HAC dates its origins to a charter executed in 1537 by King Henry VIII. They are the British Army’s oldest unit.
Then known as the Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handguns, it helped prepare a defense against the anticipated invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588 and helped quell the religious disturbances known as the Gordon Riots of June of 1780. Members of the HAC “Special Constabulary” still serve in London’s police force. In 1900, HAC saw its first foreign service in the Boer War in South Africa. Since then its batteries served in both World Wars, and members served more recently in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
HAC’s active element within the company is now a Regiment of the Army Reserve. The courtesy prefix “Honourable” in the name “Honourable Artillery Company” was first used informally in 1685 and was officially confirmed by Queen Victoria in 1860.
“HAC was originally chartered ‘for the better increase of the defense of this our realm and the maintenance of the science of artillery,’” said member Martin Barnes. Barnes, who now resides in North Carolina, explained that following that directive the HAC inactive branch now acts as a charity supporting the regiment. “Fundraising is a major activity.” The regiment’s Armoury House headquarters and five-acre Artillery Garden have survived for more than 350 years in the middle of London’s business district. “It’s been said that if those five acres were covered in gold sovereigns, the value would not equal the value of the property,” he said.
The HAC properties offer a wide variety of event spaces for everything from conferences, meetings and awards dinners to summer and Christmas parties, as well as wedding ceremonies and receptions. Artillery Garden is for rugby and football in the winter and cricket in the summer. It is also rented out for parties and events.
“Whilst St. George’s Day is traditionally celebrated on April 23, we have to accommodate North American weather,” Barnes said. Twenty to 25 guests are expected to attend the formal affair at the Carriage House on May 12. “There will be traditional music and a number of ceremonial toasts raised including those to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (the Sovereign is the Captain General of the regiment) and to the United States of America,” he said.
“Our gathering may go unnoticed by most, but I wanted to let my neighbors know that there will be some interesting people visiting our town that weekend,” Robinson said.
For more on HAC’s history, traditions and related London tourism, visit https://www.hac.org.uk.