THEY are the people who combine soldiering with regular jobs in shops, factories and offices. They choose to serve their country their spare time and most of them are based in Gwent.

The Argus reported how on April 10, 1967, 104 Light Air Defence Regiment, Royal Artillery (Volunteers) marked its formation with a parade where the Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire took the salute at Raglan Barracks. The unit’s formation was part of the re-organisation of the Army’s reserve forces on April 1.

Although the current regiment came into being 50 years ago, its lineage goes back much farther than 1967. On a wall at Raglan Barracks hangs a carefully drawn family tree setting out the various regiments and units which came together to form the regiment in its current form.

The time-line stretches back to 1860, when the unit’s forebears included Companies of the Rifle Volunteers in Newport, Pontypool, Usk, Monmouth and Abergavenny. This later became the 3rd Monmouthshire Rifle Volunteers in 1880 before becoming 3rd Battalion The Monmouthshire Regiment in 1908.

During the First World War the unit’s forebears joined the 53rd (Welsh) Division in 1915. In 1917 the brigade took part in the invasion of Palestine and in the battles of Gaza which led to the collapse of the Turkish army. While the brigade fought in the desert a sister unit was raised in Newport and left for France. Both units suffered heavy casualties and returned to Newport the winners of two Distinguished Service Orders, six Military Crosses, three Distinguished Conduct Medals and four Military Medals.

In the Second World War they saw action in the battle for S’hertogenbosch in the Netherlands and in the winter fighting in the Reichswald Forest which began the invasion of Germany. They had reached Hamburg by VE-Day and the regiment was demobilised and sent back home again. Men of the regiment had won two DSOs, seven MCs, six MMs and eleven mentions in dispatches. It had lost 27 officers and men.

They are also ‘related’ to units of the South Wales Borderers in Brecon. These ancestral lines came together in 1967 with 282 Glamorgan and Monmouthshire Field Regiment and the 638 Brecon and Monmouthshire Light Air Defence Regiment merging to create 104 Regiment.

One of their first deployments was to the then West Germany in 1969. Then at the front line of the Cold War, the Gwent soldiers travelled to Munster where they, their guns and lorries spent two weeks in the field training for the work they would have to do in war-time.

The full battery took its 18 Bofors light anti-aircraft guns, which could fire four rounds a second and were radar-equipped to deny air space to attacking aircraft travelling at speeds of up to 600 miles per hour.

For many of the part-time soldiers it was an eye-opening experience. New recruits Robert Shopland of High Cross and Tony Wait of Ridgeway had their first boat trip on the way put and their first flight when they were airlifted back to Lyneham in Wiltshire.

Later deployments saw the Gwent gunners go to Den Helder near Amsterdam. After live firing, they move to Osnabruck for mobilisation exercises in the fields and woods of northern Germany - where if the Cold War ever turned hot they would have to fight.

The late 70s saw two momentous events for the regiment. They were granted the freedom of the borough of Newport in 1978 in recognition of nearly 120 years’ “close association” with Newport. This freedom, celebrated with a parade and great ceremony saw the regiment given “in perpetuity, the right, title, privilege, honour and distinction of passing with their colours through the streets of the borough on all ceremonial occasions with drums beating, bands playing and bayonets fixed.”

In 1979, the regiment left its big guns behind and moved into the missile age when they took delivery of the Blowpipe surface-to-air missile system. This new weapon was guided electronically by the operator towards enemy fighters and cost around £3,000. The soldier would hold the weapon bazooka-like on his shoulder from where he launched it to speed at over 1,000mph in pursuit of fast-moving enemy aircraft. The missiles were then described as “a different world” to the Bofors and had at least a 50 per cent chance of hitting its target.

The unit later deployed the Javelin missile in the 1990s and upgraded to the High Velocity Missile (HVM) in the 2000s.

In this role the regiment regularly deployed to Germany, and as in the Bofors days,was poised to fight Warsaw Pact forces should war have ever broken out in Europe.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany in the early 90s, the role of the British Army changed and new conflicts erupted which required units like 104. One such was the Second Gulf War and the regiment was sent to Iraq in 2003.

Later, the gunners exchanged their missiles for more cutting edge technology. The Desert Hawk is an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) that is used to survey the battlefield from thousands of feet in the air.

The surveillance system is designed to ensure safe routes for patrols and identify suspicious activity and help send support for troops in need of help.

The handheld aircraft is launched by throwing into the air and follows a pre-planned route and its camera sends a live feed and still images to stations on the ground so plans can be made. The camera is controlled using an Xbox-style control pad.

The unit was the only unmanned air systems regiment in the British Army and acted as the eyes and ears for the troops on the ground, checking the surrounding area for enemy forces and ensuring the soldiers know what’s around the corner.

They were deployed to Afghanistan to do just that and it was their job to operate Desert Hawk in support of ground operations in Helmand Province. In 2011 the Argus spoke to five 104 Regiment soldiers from across Gwent when they returned home after a six-month tour of Afghanistan.

Lance Bombardier Scott Dance, from Ringland in Newport said afterwards: “I am glad I’ve done the tours – I wanted to step up to the plate and help my fellow comrades, it’s nice to go out there and make a difference.”

Gunner Lewis Taylor from Trefil said “It was a bit nerve-racking but a bit exciting at the same time”. He added: “I’m definitely glad I did it and it’s great to see so many reserves out there supporting the regular Army.”

Their last ventures overseas have included training in Californian and Jordan where they trained with their UAVs.

As of April 1 this year they began converting to an artillery unit after operating UAVs in battlefield reconnaissance.

Their new role sees them moving from a ‘find’ with the Desert Hawk to ‘strike’ with the L118 Light Gun. This weapon is a more conventional artillery piece and marks a return to mainstream operations in the Royal Artillery as a whole.

Now, much of their training will be devoted to their new role and all training will be done for this at the artillery training centre in Larkhill.

Throughout these changes a constant role has been to provide ceremonial gun salutes in Wales. Royal salutes are fired to mark many anniversaries and special occasions and the regiment also supports events such as the 160 (Wales) Brigade Beating the Retreat ceremonies, Six Nations games at the Principality Stadium and provides guns for Remembrance Sunday services.

So for occasions like the Queen’s birthday if you hear guns saluting, they will be fired by 104 Regiment.

The regiment’s principal units are 217 (City of Newport) Battery based in Newport, 211 (South Wales) Battery, based in Abertillery and 214 (Worcester) Battery. Training is held every Tuesday night and around two weekends per month. While training for their new role will take up much of their time, there will still be plenty of opportunities for travel, adventurous training like rock climbing, sailing and scuba diving and sport.

Although their role has changed many times in their fifty years, their position as Gwent’s own regiment remains unchanged.