Guardsman Richard Stokes

Richard G Stokes was the first black man to serve in the Grenadier Guards and the first guardsman in the whole Guards Division. Born on 16 December 1969, Stokes joined the Army in September 1986 as a Junior Leader. During his service he was posted to Ballykelly in Northern Ireland (1987-1988), Kenya (1988), Canada (1989) and Caterham, Surrey (1988-1990). He also took part in many ceremonial occasions including Trooping the Colour. Stokes was the first black guardsman to take part in the Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace. He left the Army as a Guardsman in December 1990 after suffering racist taunts and abuse. He was awarded the General Service medal with a clasp for Northern Ireland, which is now in the collection of the National Army Museum.

The idea of black men in the Guards was regarded as out of the question prior to the 1980s but Denis Healey, when he was Defence Secretary in Harold Wilson's government tried to increase the number of ethnic minority soldiers in the army. He wrote in his autobiography about his approach to a colonel in the Brigade of Guards: " he found the idea that black men should serve in a Guards fighting unit was so preposterous that his mind simply refused to encompass the idea. I had to give up in despair." And in 1969 he paid a visit to the Guards: "I was very well received until I raised the matter of the absence of coloured Coldstream Guards. In the Sergeants' Mess I got a most violent reaction. Several of the senior NCO's said that if they had any coloured men in their Regiment they would walk out! Later on that day I raised the same subject in the Officers' Mess over lunch, and the Officers' reaction was just as violent, including the then General in Command."

Prince Charles urged the Guards to include a quota of ethnic minorities in the 1980s and this opened the gates to men like Richard Stokes. But in 2006 Richard Stokes recalled his time in the Grenadier Guards: "The first day I got to the camp in Northern Ireland I went into the Mess Hall. Of the three or four hundred guardsmen in there most of them just got up and walked out. The others threw bananas at me, stubbed their cigarettes out in my food, called me names - nigger, coon. Before I left the army I was receiving hate mail from guardsmen in two other battalions on a regular basis."

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by Stephen Luscombe