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SHAPE to host British Army Regiment Veterans

MONS, Belgium - On Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 SHAPE has the honour of hosting a group of veterans from the Artists Rifles, a British Army regiment, to commemorate fallen comrades on the centenary of the Nov.11 ending of World War I.

SHAPE may have been born in the Cold War but all around its headquarters in Mons, Belgium are the shadows of that terrible conflict, with especial significance for the British and Canadian armies. Nearby is the cemetery that contains the graves of both the first and last British and Commonwealth deaths of that most terrible conflict, while just up the road that runs alongside SHAPE are markers of both the first and last shots fired by British and Commonwealth forces.

For the British Army then the war ended where it started. The Artists Rifles own war ended south of Mons, making it the right place for the veterans to remember their forbears.

The Rifles have a fascinating history, raised as they were in 1859 as a volunteer unit with a focus – as their name suggests – on recruiting from artists and other professions in the humanities. They became one of 26 volunteer battalions within the larger London Regiment.

In World War I artists and related professionals flocked to join the unit, many of such quality that they became a prime source of thousands of officers for other regiments, with extra battalions operating as officer training units. But in 1917 the first battalion went into combat, gaining battle honours from many of the major battles of the war. Notably they were part of the victorious 100 Days offensive of the Allied forces that led to the armistice, with the Rifles ending up south of Mons. 2000 of their soldiers died in that conflict.

But the link to SHAPE is much deeper. In the Cold War, as a part of NATO's forces, the Artists Rifles was the official title for 21 Special Air Service, a reserve special forces unit trained for deep reconnaissance and other roles. They served not just in Europe but also Afghanistan.

Of note is that most of the veterans who SHAPE are hosting are not just commemorating their World War I but themselves served operationally with the NATO alliance. In the visit senior officers, notably the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Sir James Everard, will brief them on the modern challenges their successors are facing. These veterans know better than most that former foes are now not just friends but allies, together defending both our homes and values under the NATO flag and SHAPE shield. We feel privileged to support their visit.

Story by SHAPE Public Affairs Office

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