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KNIGHTHOOD : Major 'Billy' the Qajar "Goat Mascot"


Report From Europe by Darius KADIVAR 

A Tradition, dating back to Persia's Mohammad Shah Qajar's State visit To Great Britain in 1837, Endures In The Royal Welsh Guards


Photocomposition © DK


The tradition of animal mascots is not unique to the British Army. It is often a humorous way of breaking the ice between officers and soldiers of all ranks conditioned by the rigidity of Army life. It is also an opportunity for the military to pay an affectionate tribute to the animal kingdom very much like their ancestors for whom pagan traditions and nature were sacredly bonded and where animals just like men were entitled to respect, protection and consideration. In 2005 A Penguin was honorary colonel-in-chief of the elite Norwegian King's Guards Interestingly an Iranian bear known as Voltek also had the privilege of becoming a mascot of the Polish Military during WWII and in addition distinguished itself at the Battle of Monte Casino. ( See Article  by Ryszard Antolak).

But no where has this tradition of honouring a particular animal mascot been so adamantly respected for more than two centuries than in Great Britain. A country known for it's legendary eccentricity as well as inimitable sense of humor.


As a Matter of fact we Persians share more in common with the British than meets the eye. Not only both people take pride in their royal history and heritage (which transcends political or ideological considerations) but they actually share an unlikely common bond of friendship which would stun any conspiracy theorist and personified by: A Persian Goat Mascot !...


Photocomposition © DK

Indeed the
1st Battalion (formerly The Royal Welsh Fusiliers) of the British Army has a tradition of honoring a Persian Goat to march at the head of the battalion on all ceremonial events. The tradition of goat mascots in the military dates back 200 years, from at least 1775. However the Kashmir herd which was to generate the British royal household's herd was first introduced by Persian King Mohammad Shah Qajar ( Shah of Persia from 1834-1948), when he presented them to Queen Victoria as a gift in 1837 upon her accession to the throne.




 Major 'Billy' on Duty ... 



In 1884, Queen Victoria presented the regiment, then called the Royal Welch Fusiliers, with a Kashmir goat from that same royal herd, and a tradition was started. Ever Since the British Monarchy has presented an unbroken series of Kashmir goats to the Royal Welch Fusiliers from the Crown's own royal herd. All the goats are called "William Windsor" or "Billy" for short.
The present Billy was chosen from a herd of goats living on the Great Orme in Llandudno (North Wales) in June 2009. After his selection, months of work followed to get him used to his fellow soldiers and to make him learn what is expected of him. As the goat progressed, he was taught to get used to sounds and noises coming from marching soldiers.

Photocomposition © DK

The predecessor mascot, a Kashmir goat from the royal herd at Whipsnade Zoo, was presented to the Regiment by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001 with the military
number 25232301 and promoted to the rank of major.


IN THE US MILITARY TOO: "No Goats, No Glory" for

George Clooney and an All Star Cast in The Men Who Stare atGoats


More Than Just a Mascot:

Following eight years of distinguished military service, he retired in 20 May 2009 due to his age. As he left Dale Barracks, Chester for the last time, hundreds of soldiers from the Battalion lined the route from his pen to the trailer to say farewell and thank you for his many years of good service.

Goat Major:

It was
Lance-Corporal Ryan Arthur, known as the 'Goat Major', who ensured Billy's welfare at all times. Billy was led into the trailer by the battalion's Goat Major in full ceremonial dress that included a silver headdress which was a gift from the Queen in 1955. He was taken to Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire where he is spending his honorable retirement. Zoo keepers say he is having an easy life at the Children's Farm.

Qajar Goat Is A Full Member Of the First Battalion:

Billy the Qajar Goat is a full member of the battalion and in the days gone by, when it was a 1,000-strong unit, it was 999 men plus the goat. As a soldier, the goat can move up the ranks. It starts as a Fusilier and if it is well behaved and does well on parades, quite often it is promoted to Lance Corporal, a non-commissioned officer rank.


George Clooney in 'Men Who Stare at Goats': The story of a secret unit within the US Army called the First Earth Battalion, whose paranormal military ideas mutated over the decades to influence interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay.

As a full member of the battalion, he is accorded the full status and privileges of the rank. These include membership in the Corporals' Mess and the right to be saluted by his subordinates. The goat mascot that just retired in 20 May 2009 was a Lance Corporal.

There are perks to the job of regimental mascot. Billy gets a two-a-day cigarette ration (He eats them, as traditionally, the tobacco is thought to be good for the coat.) and Guinness to drink when he is older "to keep the iron up".

Photocomposition © DK

Royal Welch Fusiliers/Royal Regiment of Wales:

The Royal Welch Fusiliers (known as Royal Regiment of Wales since 1969) was a regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales' Division. It was founded in 1689 to oppose James II and the imminent war with France. The regiment was numbered as the 23rd Regiment of Foot, though it was one of the first regiments to be granted the honor of a fusilier title and so was known as The Welsh Regiment of Fusiliers from 1702. The "Royal" accolade was earned fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713.


It is one of the oldest regiments in the regular army, hence the archaic spelling of the word Welch instead of Welsh. In the Boer War and throughout the First World War, the army officially called the regiment "The Royal Welsh Fusiliers" but the archaic "Welch" was officially restored to the regiment's title in 1920 under Army Order No.56. During those decades, the regiment itself unofficially used the "Welch" form. As of 2004, it was one of five line infantry regiments never to have been amalgamated in their entire histories, the others being:

The regiment was amalgamated with the Royal Regiment of Wales (RRW) on 1 March 2006 to become 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh (RRW becoming the 2nd Bn).


Soldiers of this regiment were distinguishable by the unique feature of the "flash", consisting of five overlapping black silk ribbons (seven inches long for soldiers and nine inches long for officers) on the back of the uniform jacket at neck level. This is a legacy of the days when it was normal for soldiers to wear pigtails. In 1808, this practice was discontinued, but the RWF were serving in Canada when the order to discontinue the use of the flash was issued. Upon their return they decided to retain the ribbons with which the pigtail was tied, and were granted this special concession by the King. The Army Council attempted to remove the flash during the First World War citing the grounds that it would help the Germans identify which unit was facing them.

Ahmad Shah Qajar welcomed at the Guildhall, London by Albert Frederick Arthur George
King George VI (1919)


As Fusilier English Poet Robert Graves reported, "the regiment retorted by inquiring on what occasion since the retreat from Corunna, when the regiment was the last to leave Spain, with the keys of the town postern in the pocket of one of its officers, had any of His Majesty's enemies seen the back of a Royal Welch Fusilier?," and the matter remained "in abeyance throughout the war." As a fusilier regiment, the RWF wore a hackle, which consists of a plume of white feathers worn on headdress and mounted behind the cap-badge.


Last Royal Exchange: Mohamed Reza Shah Pahlavi and
Shahbanou Farah during State Visit to Canada are happily
greeted by a Qajar Mascot of the 22nd Regiment  of the
Royal Welsh Guards. (circa 1965) ( Watch Video)
Photocomposition © DK

The light infantry and grenadier companies of the Fusiliers saw bloody action at the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Battle of Guilford Court House in the American War of Independence. The regiment participated in nearly every campaign from the Lexington & Concord to Yorktown. Many first hand accounts of the American War of Independence can be found in "the Diary of Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie" or Serjeant Roger Lamb's "Original and Authentic Journal of Occurrences During the Late American War". The regiment also participated in the Napoleonic Wars - for example, at Waterloo, in the 4th Brigade under Lt-Col. Harry Mitchell, in the 4th British Infantry Division.

Several battalions of the regiment saw notable service in France and Belgium during the First World War, in particular the 1st, which became forever associated with the terribly destructive action at Mametz Wood in 1916, and the 2nd, which endured the horrors of the massacre in the mud of Passchendaele (Third Ypres) in 1917.In 1915 The Royal Welsh Fusiliers participated in the legendary Christmas 1915 Football Game with the Germans.


During this war, several writers served with various battalions of the regiment in France, including the poets Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, David Jones and Hedd Wyn. Their memoirs, including Graves' Good-Bye to All That, have resulted in the activities of this regiment being vividly recorded for posterity. Ford Madox Ford wrote movingly of the Welsh soldiers he commanded in his four-volume novel Parade's End. Captain James C. Dunn, a medical officer attached to the regiment's 2nd Battalion during the First World War, compiled a chronicle of that unit's experiences during its more than four years of service in France and Belgium. His epic, The War The Infantry Knew, has become a classic among military historians for its comprehensive treatment of all aspects of daily life and death in the trenches. The best known account by one of the Other Ranks is 'Old Soldiers Never Die' by Frank Richards DCM,MM. Fusilier Richards was a Reservist recalled to the colours at the outbreak of WW1, and served on the Western Front 1914-1918 (including being in the front line during the famous Christmas Truce of 1914). He also wrote about his pre-war service in a book called 'Old Soldier Sahib'.


Photocomposition © DK

In 2004, it was announced that, as part of the restructuring of the infantry, the Royal Welch Fusiliers would amalgamate with the Royal Regiment of Wales to form a new large regiment, the Royal Welsh. This merger took place on 1 March 2006, leaving only two Welsh foot regiments in the British Army: the Welsh Guards and the Royal Welsh. The Royal Welch Fusiliers is now the name of the first battalion of the new regiment, which still recruits from across Wales.

The Royal Regiment of Wales was one of two British regiments to have a goat as its mascot. The other one was the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The regiment's goats were always named Taffy plus a Roman numeral to show the succession, and are traditionally selected from the royal herd kept at Whipsnade Zoo, an outstation of the London Zoo. It's fitting that the two regiments with goat-mascots have now combined as one. The soldier in charge of the mascot is styled as the "Goat Major", who, unlike what the rank suggests, is a corporal.


The "green" goat-coat has replaced the Welch Regiment's

"red" one since 1969 upon Prince Charles' Appointment as

 Colonel-in-Chief of the New Regiment. A Sign of Times? ;0)
Photocomposition © DK


Prince Charles was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the new regiment in early 1969, his first Army appointment. The amalgamation parade of the two regiments took place in Cardiff Castle in early 1969, in front of Prince Charles. The point of formation of the new regiment is taken as the point at which Prince Charles placed the new Royal Regiment of Wales green goat-coat upon Taffy the goat-mascot, replacing the Welch Regiment's red one.

Major 'Billy' is said to enjoy his retirement and wishes the best to his successor chosen from the same Royal Persian Herd.




Authors Notes:

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About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to
OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.

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