Cavalier colonel goes out with a bang

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The Independent Online
Ronnie Kray, the gangland killer, asked that he be laid next to his mother, Violet, at the family plot in Chingford in Essex. Charles Irving, the former MP for Cheltenham, asked that his ashes be scattered over his constituency from a plane.

Dying wishes are sometimes sentimental, occasionally sensible and very often strange. But few are more peculiar than those of Colonel-in-Chief William Annetts, whose final request was carried out yesterday morning.

Shortly after 11.15, at an apparently dignified ceremony attended by more than 100 men wearing ancient military costume, Mr Annetts' mortal remains were scattered by three 17th century cannons. It is admittedly very corny - but equally irresistible - to report that Mr Annetts went out with a bang.

His strange request is rendered slightly less bizarre by the fact that he was a founder member of the Sealed Knot Society, - the often-teased folk who re-enact battles from the English Civil War. For 27 years Mr Annetts, who was 71, had travelled the globe acting out clashes between Royalists and Roundheads.

His wife Joyce said: "This was a fitting and moving tribute to someone who loved his life and his service with the Sealed Knot Society.

"The society became his life. It used to get rid of the stresses of everyday life and he would come home a different person."

Yesterday's ceremony was in the grounds of Donnington Castle close to Mr Annetts home in Newbury in Berkshire and was attended by 100 members of his regiment. A two-minute silence preceded the firing and guests tried not to wipe their eyes when smoke from the cannons engulfed them.

Mr Annetts, a retired mechanic, was Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Earl Rivers Regiment, a position he obtained by rising through the ranks. Major Eric Joyce, the officer who last year launched an attack on privilege and favour operating within the British Army, will be heartened by the indication there was no nepotism among the soldiers of the 17th century.

While Mr Annetts may not have been a real soldier, it would be wrong to imagine he did not receive real injuries. His wife revealed yesterday a catalogue of wounds her husband received on the field of battle.

"It once took a nurse 11 weeks to extract a pellet from his thigh after he shot himself in the leg in a battle in Jersey," she recalled.

A procession at Donnington Castle was led by Mr Annetts' cousin, Robert Blissett, 45, who has taken over running the regiment.

"When you get dressed up you feel you are part of that era. Bill always felt that. It was more than in his blood. He felt that he was a Cavalier, he was a part of the 17th century way of life," he said. "There were a few tears but we tried to keep the ceremony as upbeat as we could because Bill was full of life, full of fun, a very jolly person."