In 1986, Bristolian Richard Stokes became the first Black to join the late Queen Elizabeth’s royal guard as one of the members of the Grenadier Guards after his adoptive father urged him to do so. Stokes was adopted by a white family when he was nine months old and was fond of the army cadet since growing up.
His future dream was to join the military, particularly, the Foot Guards when he was old enough. But, according to the BBC, they would not have him there because he was neither Irish, Scots nor Welsh, with the color of his skin erecting a higher barrier to exploring a chance to live his dream.
With determination and perseverance, however, he opted for the Coldstream Guards but was moved to the Grenadiers barely a few weeks into his training with no tangible reason. He claimed to have endured terrible moments of abuse during his days as one of the Grenadier Guards.
He recalled that the most challenging period was his first and second years as a guard. “…In fact my first six months to a year during training was probably the worst experience of my life,” he told the BBC. He said there was one moment when 200 soldiers shouted racial slurs at him when the minibus conveying new trainees stopped over at the Pirbright Camp in Surrey.
Stokes said there were times when he was scared to death to move around the camp because his colleagues in the army would be shouting racial slurs out of the windows. According to him, they were faceless but the noises they made kept reechoing in his ears even when he was asleep.
He said he was able to do four years at the regiment guarding royal residences including Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Clarence House. He added that he participated in ceremonial duties ranging from Trooping of the Colour and the Changing of the Guard to completing tours of duty in Northern Ireland, Kenya and Canada.
Stokes said he later moved on into a career in the Navy but later ventured into the fire and rescue service where he is now a diversity and inclusion manager for Avon Fire and Rescue Service. He is now in his early 50s and has taken to writing about his experiences. According to him, the decision to write a book is one of the ways to cope with the pain and trauma he endured.
The book, Trooping the Culture, which now sells on Amazon describes his experiences, the flashes of history and the tenacity he exercised during those dark periods of his life. He described it as a challenging road to walk to recount all that happened and put them down in writing.
He indicated that being the first Black person to join the elite regiment that provided security to the late Queen is an experience worth sharing. He also wants to inspire others on how to deal with racism at the high echelons of power.