Remember the Rifles



G Company 7 Rifles have been part of West Ham United’s Remembrance Day commemorations for a decade...
Every year, West Ham United and every other major football club in this country mark Remembrance Day with commemorations around their fixture which falls closest to 11 November.

Remembrance Day, or Poppy Day as it is informally known, is observed in Commonwealth Nations to pay tribute to members of their Armed Forces who have died in the line of duty.

The tradition, which was inaugurated by King George V in 1919, is observed at football matches by the wearing of playing shirts adorned with poppies, the laying of wreaths and the holding of a minute silence and playing of the Last Post before kick-off.

Many clubs invite local dignitaries – in the Hammers’ case, Joint-Chairman David Gold, Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales and Ken Hill from the Royal British Legion’s East Ham branch – and representatives of local branches of the Armed Forces, to take part in the ceremony.

For the past decade, that has seen G Company 7 Rifles – one of the two Army Reserve battalions, formed as part of the Strategic Defence Review in 2007 and based in West Ham – be part of Remembrance Day commemorations at the Boleyn Ground.

Today, the Rifles will form part of the very first ceremony to be held at London Stadium.

Capt. Lee Flitcroft, who will be leading the Rifles’ activities at West Ham’s new home today, revealed that the army’s presence in east London is far from being something new.

“The Rifles is made up of five regular battalions and two reserve battalions; 7 RIFLES is one of those reserve battalions,” he began by way of explanation.

“However, while the regiments of the army have formed, amalgamated and reformed over the years, G Company has existed in West Ham as an infantry company since the 1960s.

“G Company itself traces its ancestry back to 1780 with the formation of ‘The Rangers’ and also has later links to the ‘London Rifle Brigade’ formed in 1908.  Both The Rangers and the London Rifle Brigade fought with distinction through both World Wars.

“Close links are well maintained with the local Royal British Legion Branch and the Mayor of Newham.  On 23 June 2012 G Company 7 Rifles was granted the Honorary Freedom of the Borough.”



The British Army is made up of a large number of different regiments, from Cavalry and Tank regiments, through five divisions of the Infantry, the Brigade of Gurkhas and Special Forces, to the Army Air Corps, Royal Artillery, Engineers, Corps of Signals and Intelligence Corps, to the Royal Logistic Corps, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and Medical Services.

Many of the above are split into Regular (full-time) or Army Reserve (either full-time or casual), or a combination of both.

The Infantry is one of the latter, with the Rifles being a battalion which provides casual soldiers – people who have a regular day-job and serve in their spare time – who are trained to engage in military combat on foot.

The majority of 100-plus members of G Company 7 Rifles are infantrymen and women, while a smaller number serve as medics, chefs and administrative staff.

“The primary role of the Rifles is as an infantry battalion,” Capt. Flitcroft explained. “Within G Company we have some 100 Riflemen as well as a smaller number of medics, chefs and administrative staff – all reservists, serving and training in what would have been their spare time. 

“Riflemen are distinct within the British Army; every soldier from General down considers themselves to be a ‘Riflemen’ first and foremost.

“The people who walk through the gate to join G Company are typically looking for a challenge that may not always get as part of their day job.  Often they’re not quite sure why they joined, but they do know that walking through the gate on the first night was the hardest bit.

“Our Riflemen have a wide range of careers including doctors, vets, bin men, actors, mechanics and builders and we’ve turned them all into successful Riflemen.

“What we’re really after are people open to trying something a little bit different; if you’ve got an open attitude and a bit of grit we’ll help you through the training to become a Rifleman.”



As mentioned above, though, the presence of the British Army in east London did not begin with the formation of G Company 7 Rifles in February 2007.

Capt. Flitcroft explained that the history of the armed forces in and around West Ham instead dates back more than a century.

“Over the last 60 years a company made up of reservists from the Royal Green Jackets, and now ‘The Rifles’ has always been present at The Cedars, by West Ham Park,” he said.

“The army has always had a presence in East London, but it’s worth noting that our current location next to West Ham Park was used by the Essex Regiment during the First World War.

“West Ham and surrounding areas saw more than 100,000 men serve as soldiers, many with The Rangers and The London Rifle Brigade, with a similar pattern occurring during the Second World War.

“From the 1960s, the 4th Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets was based in London with a company next to West Ham Park, before eventually forming into the 7th Battalion, The Rifles.”

Just as it was one hundred years ago, when the West Ham Pals went off to fight for their country in northern France and Belgium, the modern-day Rifles are largely made up of local people.

In history, the people of east London have been among the hardiest anywhere, sending hundreds of young men off to the Great War, and later surviving the horrors of the German Blitz during the Second World War.

So, how does this long and historical relationship with conflict and being prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice manifest itself in G Company 7 Rifles?

“Units within the Army Reserve are, by their nature, made up from the local community,” Capt. Flitcroft explained. “We are deeply honoured to be part of the community and also be a small representation of the people of Newham.

“The connection between the community and the military is fundamental. It is from the community that we draw our strength, and it is for the community that we do what we do.

“Many members of G Company have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. Typically for a Reserve soldier this means three months of focussed training for the deployment working alongside the regular army, then six months overseas followed by two months of post-tour leave. 


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Unsurprisingly, given their geographical location, G Company 7 Rifles consists of many West Ham supporters, although Capt. Flitcroft did reveal that they do allow the fans of other clubs to join!

The mix of footballing allegiances makes for plenty of banter during training exercises, no doubt!

“G Company has a strong West Ham United following although we do have members of the company that support other London clubs,” Capt. Flitcroft confirmed. “But with the majority of G company supporting West Ham United the bar has a couple of West Ham mementoes to remind those that don’t!”

Thankfully, modern technology also allows the fans of all clubs, including the Hammers, to keep in touch with their football team while they are on active services overseas.

For Riflemen dealing with the very stark emotions that conflict presents, the distraction of a win, draw or defeat can be a welcome one.

“Thanks to the internet – and huge increases in bandwidth – communications with home have moved on significantly since the initial deployments in the early 2000s.

“This makes following West Ham a lot simpler than waiting to get several day old newspapers!

“It also provides a real release and distraction from operations. If anything sport becomes more important as it’s a link back to the real world and for those 90 minutes (if you’re lucky enough to be able to watch a match live) you can lose yourself and forget everything else.”

This afternoon, G Company 7 Rifles will be part of the first Remembrance Day commemorations at London Stadium.

While the occasion is naturally a sad one, as we all bow our heads and pay our own personal tributes to those who we have loved and lost, the opportunity to take part in events here at the home of West Ham United is one that the battalion would not have missed for the world.

“G Company 7 Rifles are immensely proud to be invited to the First Remembrance Day commemorations at the London Stadium,” Capt. Flitcroft confirmed.

“We truly are the local Riflemen within the Borough of Newham supporting West Ham United Football Club.  We are delighted today to wear the uniform of the British Army and also the West Ham United Club scarf. COYI!”

*For more information about G Company 7 Rifles and how you can become part of east London’s infantry battalion, please click here.