The Berlin Airlift 1948-1949


The 2nd Battalion The Queen’s Royal Regiment left the United Kingdom in 1939 for active service in Palestine.  Later in the war they served in North Africa, Syria and Tobruk.  They left the Middle East in 1942 and garrisoned Ceylon for a year.  They were then, later in the war formed into two deep penetration columns as part of the Chindit campaign in Burma.  At the end of the war they moved back to India.

On 17th January 1947 the 2nd Battalion sailed from Bombay in the ‘Highland Princess’ en route for England, being greeted on arrival at Tilbury by a distinguished gathering of senior officers of the Regiment including Lieutenant Colonel L C East who assumed command from Lieutenant Colonel A J A Watson. After a short stay at Crowborough, in bleak and wintery weather, they moved to Dortmund in then West Germany where, among other activities, they undertook ‘lumberjacking’. (Operation Woodpecker) to relieve the fuel situation.

On the 7th June 1948 they started to move from Dortmund to Berlin but the transfer was interrupted when the Russians closed the bridge at Magdeburg allegedly for ‘repairs’. The Russians stopped all communications to the city by road and rail. The Western Powers hurriedly introduced an airlift to supply West Berlin with essential supplies.

The airlift was a magnificent piece of organization both by the RAF who flew to Gatow airfield and by the Americans who landed at Templehof.  In July an average of 170 planes a day (or 7 an hour) landed at Gatow.  The effort continually increased until 16th April 1949, British and American planes flew in 12,000 tons, including more food by air then by rail and road before the blockade.  In May 1949 the Russians recognized defeat and lifted the blockade though the airlift continued rather longer.  During the year it was in operation, 236,290 flights had been flown and nearly two million tons of stores delivered.  In spite of this magnificent effort it was lucky that the winter was a mild one as conditions for the civilian population were grim in the extreme.  Food was just sufficient in quantity but deadly monotonous and mostly ‘ersatz’.  Electricity was only available for four hours a day and other means of heating almost unobtainable.  There was heavy unemployment and for those still in work the daily journey was a misery.

The Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate

The move of the 2nd Battalion was completed by air and they were quartered in the Olympic Stadium where, needless to say, there were first class sporting facilities.  They later moved to Brooke Barracks, Spandau.  But there was little time for sport, the Battalion being engaged on guard duties for which about 100 men were required daily.  In addition a Company provided guards for Spandau Prison where some of the most important Nazi war criminals were imprisoned.

Thankfully, despite their privations and hardship the people of West Berlin remained staunchly pro-West and openly showed their loyalty to the West, by a massive demonstration on the very day of the changeover of title from the 2nd Battalion to the 1st Trooping of the 2nd Battalion Colours.

Trooping the Colours Ceremony

The 9th September 1948 (Salerno Day) dawned bright and clear and there was a general feeling that the only problem would be the political situation.

The ceremony was to take place on the Olympischer Platz, a paved rectangle some 400 by 80 yards, sloping gently up to the Stadium at its western end and fringed by trees.  On each of the eighty flagpoles surrounding the Platz hung a Union Jack where once had hung a Swastika.  On the southern side had been erected the saluting base flanked by spectators’ stands.

By 4.30pm the spectators had begun to arrive and by 5pm, when the troops keeping the ground marched through the gates of the Stadium, the stands were full.  There were but few German spectators, perhaps because some 350,000 of the inhabitants of the Western Sectors of Berlin were gathered at an anti-communist demonstration outside the ruins of the Reichstaggsgebaude.

At 5.10pm the cased Colours of the 2nd Battalion were marched from the Stadium to the lower end of the ground, where they were uncased while the spectators stood.  They were followed by the Colour party of the 1st Battalion, which halted facing them at the opposite end of the ground, the Colours remaining cased.

Headed by the Band and Drums, the 2nd Battalion, organized as four guards, marched through the gates at 5.20pm and formed up in line facing the saluting base.  The evening was perfectly still.  The only sound as the Battalion awaited the arrival of the GOC and the Colonel of the Regiment was the almost incessant drone of aircraft, to which we had become accustomed in the past ten weeks, carrying our supplies into Gatow.  One could not help wondering whither the event which had brought us to this monument of Nazi Germany were leading us.

Major-General E O Herbert, CB, CBE, DSO, Commanding British Troops, Berlin arrived at 5.35pm, the Battalion being called to attention.  At 5.40pm General Sir George Giffard, GCB, DSO, The Colonel of the Regiment was received with a General Salute.

The Commanding Officer having asked permission to Troop, the ceremony began with the Band and Drums trooping across the front in slow time and returning in quick time.  No. 1 Guard, the escort for the Colours, then moved in slow time up to the 2nd Battalion Colours, where they halted and the Colours were each in turn handed over by the RSM.  After trooping them through the ranks of the Guards, they returned to their place at the right of the line.

CSM Fred Wickens

One of the Guards. The right marker is CSM Fred Wickens who later served with 1 MX in Korea.

We then bade farewell to these Colours which had been the 2nd Battalions proud possessions for 89 years.  It was a sad moment, particularly for those who had served with them for any length of time, as the Colours of the 2nd Battalion were marched in slow time to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to the left of the line and then to their place in the rear of the Battalion, where they were cased, never again to appear in the ranks of the Regiment.

The Colonel of the Regiment then came on parade and, having given the orders ‘2nd Battalion Ground Arms’ and ‘1st Battalion, Take Up Arms’, instructed the Commanding Officer to have the 1st Battalion Colours uncased and marched on.

The 2nd Battalion had once again been disbanded and the 1st Battalion, which had been reduced to a cadre on its return from Singapore, was once again in full life and ready to continue in its 288th year of unbroken service.

General Giffard then addressed the Battalion as follows:-

My first duty is to read you the message which our Colonel-in-Chief, Her Majesty Queen Mary, has been graciously pleased to send by me:

‘I am very sorry that the reorganization of the Army has made it necessary to disband the 2nd Battalion of my Regiment, and I send to you my sympathy in which must be to everyone of you a grievous blow.

The record of the Battalion in its ninety-one years has been magnificent.  Raised in 1857, the Battalion saw its first fighting in the Burma Campaign of 1886-87.  Its next spell of active service was in the South African War, in which it served from the beginning of 1899 until peace was declared in 1902.

Like most of the Regiments of the British Army, the Battalion fought on the Western Front in the First World War, but had a short spell in Italy.  In the last War it was first in North Africa, where it was part of the garrison of Tobruk, and subsequently went to Burma to become part of Wingate’s Chindits.

In all its campaigns the Battalion has been highly reported upon by the Commanders under whom it served, and has not only maintained the fine record of the Regiment, but has added many battle honours to its history.  In one respect it is probably unique, as it still carries in its ranks the Colours with which it was presented when it was first raised.

The Russian War Memorial

The Russian War Memorial.

This short message which I have charged General Sir George Giffard, the Colonel of my Regiment, to deliver on my behalf is to bid you farewell and wish you all good fortune in your future careers, wherever they may lead you.  Wherever you may go, do not forget the motto of the Regiment ‘Pristinae Virtutis Memor’

General Giffard continued:

I want also to say a word or two on my own behalf on this occasion which for all of us is one of great sadness and regret, for there is no disguising the fact that the loss of the 2nd Battalion is a grievous blow.  The disbandment of any battalion brings to an end a page of history, for it has inevitably played its part in peace and war in the events of its day.  The 2nd Battalion is no exception and has, in the 91 years of its existence, served, as our Colonel-in-Chief has reminded us, in most of the major campaigns of its time and been stationed in many garrisons all over the world.  Both in war and peace it has made its mark; in war by courage and endurance it has added many honours to the long list already earned by the Regiment in its earlier years; in peace, by its smartness, efficiency, and good sportsmanship it has left a reputation second to none in all its stations.  We can look back with pride upon its record and with thankfulness to the memory of those who made the Battalion what it is and handed down to us such a grand tradition.  Today that passes into history and we bid farewell to the 2nd Battalion which goes home to be disbanded.

It is comforting to remember that in former days we had 2nd battalions raised for the Regiment and subsequently disbanded, and let us hope that one day this Battalion may once again form part of the Regiment.  Now we hand the torch to the 1st Battalion, which must carry forward the reputation of the Regiment unaided by the 2nd.  That it will do so with success I have no doubt at all, and it will do so the better for the memory of all that the 2nd Battalion has done.

I want you to remember, too, the gallant story of the landing at Salerno which we commemorate today.  The Regiment owes a great debt to those six grand territorial battalions of the Regiment who formed 131st and 169th Infantry Brigades and added such glorious laurels to the record of the Regiment in that battle.  Most of those fine battalions have also since been disbanded.

However much we may grieve at their loss and that of the 2nd Battalion today, we must always remember that whatever the number of its units the spirit of the Queen’s Royal Regiment lives on, and it is the duty of each one of us to see that the fame of the Regiment shall never diminish nor its record be tarnished.  It is a precious heritage.

I know that the good name of the Regiment is safe in your hands and I wish you all good fortune in the future wherever you may go.

After the Colonel of the Regiment’s address, the Battalion formed up on the saluting base and marched past in column with the Colours of the 1st Battalion flying at the head and those of the 2nd Battalion cased in rear.  They then re-formed line facing the saluting base and, after the advance in review order, gave a General Salute. Finally, the Battalion marched past in threes and then marched off into the shadows of the Stadium, the notes of ‘Georgia’ fading away into the distance.

As the sun disappeared behind the Olympic Stadium, the Drums sounded Retreat outside the gates.  The Union Jack on its top and 84 surrounding the parade ground were lowered.  The spectators stood in an appreciative silence, whilst in the distance could be heard the Band marching the escort to the Colours back to the Officers’ Mess.  It was a fitting ending to a memorable occasion.

Mr Bevin thanks The Queen's Royal Regiment in Berlin. Mr. Bevin talking to the Quartermaster, Major R. W. Jackson, and the Adjutant of the Battalion, Capt. Scott Gall.

The following letter, written by the Colonel of the Regiment before he left us, must surely express the feelings of all those who witnessed the parade:-

“I cannot leave without telling you what an excellent parade it was yesterday.  Ceremonial to be well done calls for great preparation and most careful attention to detail, and both of these were evident in yesterday’s parade.

What struck me particularly and all those officers who expressed their appreciation of the parade was the perfect steadiness of all ranks.  It could not have been bettered and I doubt if it could have been equaled.  The arms drill and marching were of an equally high order.  The Band and Drums played and marched splendidly and added that finishing touch which made the whole ceremony complete.  The steadiness and behaviour of the troops lining the ground, a long, tedious, but very important task, was very well done.  The whole parade was fully up to the highest standards of the Regiment and there can be no higher praise.

I congratulate you all on a fine parade.”

The 2nd Battalion had ceased to exist.  At the time many believed it would be temporary but as we now know, it was to be the first of many ‘cutbacks’ in our Regiments history. The parade attracted thousands of spectators including high ranking officers of the Russian, American and French forces stationed in the city. 

Foreign Secretary dropping in for a drink

"Foreign Secretary dropping in for a drink 'as gone to their 'eads - serviettes and flahs, if you please!" (Daily Express)

On the lifting of the blockade, the Foreign Secretary, The Rt Hon. Ernest Bevin visited Berlin to thank all concerned for their work.  He warmly congratulated the Battalion and lunched in the Sergeants’ Mess, which was the subject of an amusing cartoon in the London Daily Express.

The Battalion finally left Berlin for Iserlohn in November 1949 after an interesting but very important eighteen months.

Officers on duty for the Final Parade of the 2nd Battalion

1st Battalion The Queen’s Royal Regiment

Officer Appointed to Command


Lieutenant Colonel L C East, DSO,OBE

Officer Carrying the King’s Colour


Captain A S Blackman

Officer Carrying the Regimental Colour


Lieutenant A D Peckham


2nd Battalion The Queen’s Royal Regiment

Commanding Officer


Lieutenant Colonel L C East, DSO, OBE



Captain J F Hancocks

No. 1 Guard “A” Company


Major G H W Goode, MBE



Captain D W L Palmer

Officer Carrying the King’s Colour


Captain N A H Marsden

Officer Carrying the Regimental Colour


Captain C B Rodger

No. 2 Guard “B” Company


Major N T Lennan, MC



Captain C J Grindley



Lieutenant A T Thomas

No. 3 Guard “C” Company


Captain K R Thompson



Captain W J F Sutton



Lieutenant G A Fearnside-Speed

No. 4 Guard “D” Company


Captain A C Lynch-Staunton



Captain R D T Fletcher



Lieutenant T J Paterson

Officer in Charge of Spectators & Seating.


Major L S Sheldon

Officer in Charge of Troops Keeping The Ground.


Major T P Simmonds

Regimental Sergeant-Major


Regimental Sergeant-Major B T Noke

Band of The Queen’s Royal Regiment


Bandmaster E Gaines.

Drums of the 2nd Battalion The Queen’s Royal Regiment.


Drum Major S L C Harman

Music for the Parade





Guards Arriving
We’ll gang nae mair to yon Toon’
Life on the Ocean Wave





Slow March

The Troop
National Emblem






Taking over the Colours
The British Grenadiers
The National Anthem
General Salute





Slow March
Slow March

Land of Hope and Glory
Auld Lang Syne







The Farewell to the 2nd Battalion
We’ll gang nae mair to yon, Toon
The National Anthem
Hearts of Oak.





Regimental March

The March Past
The Sons of the Brave







Advance in Review Order
The British Grenadiers

March Off




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