If ever we question the place of tradition and the ceremony in the 21st century, then occasions such as the special event held this summer in the Tower of London should dispel any doubts.
New recruits to the Company along with other members and guests were treated to a memorable evening on 18 June, which included viewing the Ceremony of the Keys, when the main gates to the Tower are locked and the Last Post is sounded.
The Tower hosts the regimental HQ of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. And it was a former captain in the regiment, Tony Harris, who delivered an inspirational after-dinner speech. Surrounded by the regimental and Queen’s colours in the officers’ mess, we were enthralled by his account of the glorious deeds of the fusiliers through the centuries to the present day.
Then our speaker, who served in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, went on to reveal his own personal battle, and extraordinary achievements in adversity.
Leading a fire support group in Sangin, Helmand province, in the bloody summer campaign of 2009, Captain Harris’s vehicle was hit by an explosion. The bomb blast threw him 20 metres from the vehicle and shattered both his feet and his left arm. He was airlifted to Camp Bastion and later back to the UK where he underwent 20 operations in a bid to save his left foot. In March 2010 his leg was finally amputated.
Just eight weeks afterwards, he climbed Pen-y-Fan mountain, the highest peak in South Wales, and the first of a series of remarkable feats he has since achieved.
Later that year he co-founded the Row2Recovery charity, which saw injured servicemen accomplish a gruelling crossing of the Atlantic in January 2012 amid intense media interest. The charity raised over £1.2m for service charities and – true to Tony’s philosophy – “proved that they could go beyond injury and achieve the extraordinary”.
Meanwhile Tony was setting up his own charity, Race2Recovery. The aim was to be the first disability team to complete the world’s toughest motor race, the Dakar Rally. Race2Recovery attracted major corporate sponsors and the support of Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Race2Recovery is the first and only motorsport team with members injured in combat to have twice entered and completed the rally, which since 2009 has been staged in South America across some of the continent’s most challenging terrain.
Tony was also chosen to drive the Royal Car during the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Rally car driver, motivational speaker, fundraiser for veteran charities, Tony Harris this year began providing corporate leadership coaching in partnership with another ex-serviceman injured in Afghanistan.
The course they have developed has been delivered to managers in a string of blue-chip companies. It draws on the military’s unique experience of applying theories and planning in the real world.
“The message is: if we can do it, so can you,” Tony explains, adding: “though it’s important to be true to your own individual style of leadership.”
His 10 years of army training and experience provide lessons for business and personal life, and helped shape his motto: “The mark of man isn’t the manner in which he falls, but the manner in which he rises”. The tradition and 300-year history of the regiment also continues to exert an influence beyond the walls of the Tower.
“It still has a part to play – we draw strength from it on the battlefield and it affects how we conduct ourselves in our personal and professional lives,” he explains.
In Afghanistan, Captain Harris’s own company lost seven killed in action and 20 wounded. “When heads drop a bit and morale is in danger of going down, you remind people of the mission, but also the courage of our forebears in the face of what seemed certain defeat,” he says.
His speech to the Worshipful Company referenced the Battle of Minden in 1759 when the regiment’s infantry – who fought alongside the Germans to recover Hannover from the French – withstood three waves of cavalry, a feat celebrated in the annals of military history and commemorated each year on 1 August.
Tony is a respecter of civilian traditions too. “I attended a Haberdashers’ School, and I do believe the city guilds and livery companies and their traditions are part of the fabric of the city and the country.
“The pomp and circumstance is one of the beauties, but the livery companies do a huge amount of work within the community, a lot of it unsung. It was interesting to learn about a new livery company and meet a very diverse group of people with great experience over a multitude of areas, and some fascinating characters.
“There’s a hugely important role for business and the livery companies to play in support of the armed forces, particularly when people are getting out or are casualties.”
Tony also recognises the value of livery company membership in terms of networking and social occasions, but believes it goes further. “It’s not just about money, but integrity. It influences the way you conduct your business and your life,” he adds.
For more information about Tony Harris and his work, visit: www.tonyharrisracing.co.uk