Halifax's barracks will always have a place in our hearts

TODAY they have the freedom of Halifax, are regularly cheered when they march through the town and are almost as synonymous with the district as textiles and sweets.

But the Duke Of Wellington's Regiment – the Army unit based at Wellesley Barracks, Highroad Well, Halifax, for 82 years before moving half a century ago today – was not always so loved.

Indeed when it was first announced the regiment was to be moved here in 1872 the objections came thick and fast. Soldiers in the 19th century were regarded as rough and licentious, given to brawling and a danger to women.

A petition signed by 4,664 residents and supported by the borough council was presented to Edward Card-well, the then Secre-tary of State for War.

It stated clearly that the "selection of Halifax as a military centre is contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants and such centres should not be established in prosperous industrial districts, in as much as they offer strong inducements to irregularity and neglect of work and tend generally to demoralisation and immorality."

But the barracks were part of a major modernisation plan and all opposition was swept aside.

The barracks were built and on August 29, 1872, the newly formed Dukes – a combination of the 33rd Regiment and 76th Regiment – moved in.

David Glover, the local historian who has researched the unit's history to celebrate the landmark anniversary, said: "There was a fair amount of opposition to the barracks but there was some support too.

"Soldiers had been billeted in the town before and the vicar of Halifax, the Reverend Charles Musgrave, donated the land."

Sixteen buildings were put up in all, including officers buildings, the orderly room, the guard room, a hospital and several stores. At the entrance gate stood a secure keep for ammunition.

Mr Glover said: "For the next 82 years the depot was to be the home of the regiment and the base became a much-loved part of Halifax, the Dukes earning a great deal of respect from local residents and vice versa."

Indeed such was the respect the regiment briefly became known as the Halifax Regi-ment in 1881 before the more popular Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment) was chosen as the official name.

Recruiting, training and assisting territorial units were the main staples of life.

A serious fire in the roof of the officers' mess in 1936 prompted a rebuilding programme costing 40,000; and much modernisation was then carried out. Previously there had been no electricity or showers.

During World War Two the role of the barracks regularly changed with recruiting, training, and assisting territorial units all taking place there. At its height, more than 2,000 men were accommodated in the barracks. In 1945 to celebrate the end of the war, the Halifax Corporation granted the Duke of Welling-ton's Regiment "the privilege, honour and distinction of marching through the streets of Halifax on all ceremonial occasions with bayonets fixed, colours flying and bands playing."

So, it was with some sadness in 1959 when the most drastic series of Army reforms for nearly 100 years were implemented, the barracks were earmarked for closure.

All the Army's regimental depots were closed and the Yorkshire Brigade Depot was established at Strensall, near York.

Mr Gover said: "The final passing-out parade at Wellesley Barracks took place on the square on May 1, a brief ceremony lasting about 15 minutes, when 12 Regular recruits shared the honour of being the last platoon of hundreds on the spot."

Among the 12 were two local men – Privates Derek Fletcher, of Lower Mill Bank, Triangle, and George Galbraith, of Boothtown Road, Halifax.

The platoon went immediately to join the regiment's 1st Brigade, then based in Northern Ireland.

Three months later, on August 6, the Halifax depot was finally closed.

Today only a small regimental headquarters remains at the site, renamed Wellesley Park and partially subsumed into Halifax High School.

Major Bob Heron, the regimental secretary based at the HQ, said: "It's been 50 years but the relationship remains very close, and long may it do so." In 1945 to celebrate the end of the war, the Halifax Corporation granted the Duke of Welling-ton’s Regiment “the privilege, honour and distinction of marching through the streets of Halifax on all ceremonial occasions with bayonets fixed, colours flying and bands playing.”

So, it was with some sadness in 1959 when the most drastic series of Army reforms for nearly 100 years were implemented, the barracks were earmarked for closure.

All the Army’s regimental depots were closed and the Yorkshire Brigade Depot was established at Strensall, near York.

Mr Gover said: “The final passing-out parade at Wellesley Barracks took place on the square on May 1, a brief ceremony lasting about 15 minutes, when 12 Regular recruits shared the honour of being the last platoon of hundreds on the spot.”

Among the 12 were two local men – Privates Derek Fletcher, of Lower Mill Bank, Triangle, and George Galbraith, of Boothtown Road, Halifax.

The platoon went immediately to join the regiment’s 1st Brigade, then based in Northern Ireland.

Three months later, on August 6, the Halifax depot was finally closed.

Today only a small regimental headquarters remains at the site, renamed Wellesley Park and partially subsumed into Halifax High School.

Major Bob Heron, the regimental secretary based at the HQ, said: “It’s been 50 years but the relationship remains very close, and long may it do so.”