One of the firefighters on the scene realised their significance
The story of a last minute dash to save revered Surrey Infantry colours has emerged today (May 7) in an exclusive interview given to The Guildford Dragon NEWS by Col Patrick Crowley, a Deputy Colonel of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment who has the the leading responsibility for regimental heritage issues.
Recounting what he knew of the dramatic story, Col Crowley said: “Four framed Surrey infantry colours were rescued in a last minute dash by, I believe, one of the firefighters on the scene who realised their significance.”
“Colours” are the flags carried, in former times, by regiments into battle, under which they would rally. Soldiers hold their colours in great reverence as they represent the regiment’s honour and spirit as well as the memory of all those who have died, fought or simply served under them.
The fire in Clandon House, which may have started in the basement near the Surrey Infantry Museum, took hold too quickly for very many artefacts to be saved. But one of those present, possibly a former member of the local Princess of Wales’s Regiment who is known to been at the scene, saw the colours in a passage way, immediately realised their importance, and managed to get them out in a last minute rescue.
Col Crowley continued, “We have so far had returned to us, by those who have been into the house, about a hundred medals, many of them damaged with burnt ribbons and so on. We hope that once access to the house is deemed safe and is less restricted we will be able so salvage more and see what else might be recovered.
“Unfortunately the heat was so intense that some of the medals melted. This does not bode well for many other historic artefacts, the uniforms, for instance, and the East Surrey’s football, kicked across no man’s land during the battle of the Somme. However it is still too early to tell exactly what has gone.
“But I can tell you that, despite some inaccurate reports, no original Victoria Crosses were lost. They were too valuable to be on public display. Originals are normally kept very securely, in bank vaults, for instance. The holders rarely wear the originals either, for the same reason.
Clandon House is still in the hands of the Fire & Rescue Service who will need to consider health and safety issues before allowing access by loss adjusters and then trained salvage teams from the National Trust.
The efforts of those associated with the museum are now concentrating on the salvage effort.
Col Crowley concluded: “ We have had many offers of help and support from former service personnel and members of the public. Some have offered to donate artefacts that they have in their possession.
“It is too early to say yet what the future of the museum will be but I am mindful of the old Queens Regiment motto: Victorious even in adversity (Vel Exuviae Triumphant).”