White Helmets start final month of farewell tour

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The famous White Helmets - the Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team - have begun their final month of shows before they are disbanded.

The setting of their latest display, at the Chatsworth Country Show, in front of the grandeur of Chatsworth House, could not have been further from the battlefield environment from which the team was developed when it was founded 90 years ago.

Thousands of people cheered the soldiers on Friday as they climbed aboard their classic 750cc Triumph Tiger bikes for their familiar display of jumps, acrobatics and high speed riding in the Derbyshire sunshine.

Their appearances over the weekend are the start of a final month of displays which will end on September 27 with a special farewell parade through Blandford Forum, which is close to their Dorset base.

Their final full public performance will be at the Preston Military Show on September 16.

The decision was made earlier this year to disband the White Helmets as the Royal Signals promotes its 21st century role at the cutting edge of digital technology and cyber warfare.

Capt McLelland said he understood the reasons for the decision to disband and was proud to be a member of the final line-up.

He said: "It's a multitude of things but the main one being that it's been a long time since we've used motorcycles to communicate around the battlefield.

"It's been 90 years the team's being going - 1927 is when we were formed - and the Royal Signals is about cutting-edge technology, is about being leaders in the digital age, and it's about modernising our image to show that we're in line with that and, as such, unfortunately, the team's being disbanded."

The White Helmets
The White Helmets have been performing at the Chatsworth Country Show (Danny Lawson/PA)

Capt McLelland said: "I won't lie, I am obviously disappointed. I am sad and I think every rider here is.

"However, we're very proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to be able to ride and be involved in such a unique job.

"And also, to be here at the end, whilst it is a sad thing to do, it is a very proud moment for us - especially on the last show, it will certainly be a proud moment for everybody involved."

Sandwiched between Dzhigitovka - a display of Cossack horse riding - and the Dog & Duck Show at the fair, the team thrilled the thousands gathered around the main arena at Chatsworth, particularly with their trademark jumps through burning rings.

White Helmets
A White Helmets member jumps through burning rings (Danny Lawson/PA)

The unit was formed in 1927 to showcase the skills used to carry messages in combat. The team, who always perform in full Royal Signals uniform, first used horses but these gave way to motorcycles in 1937, although many of the tricks they still perform are related to horseback stunts. They adopted the White Helmets title in 1963.

An Army spokesman said: "The Royal Corps of Signals have come far since using motorbikes to carry messages across the battlefield, and are now highly trained 'Leaders in a Digital Age' with expertise in cyber operations. 2017 will be the last season for the iconic White Helmets Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team."