Commonwealth Expedition.
Comex - 2000.


Lionel GregoryIn 1964, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, invited selected groups (contingents) of young men and women to India 'to organise a new consciousness in the Commonwealth through cultural and intellectual activities as well as in common adventure.' The response from the Commonwealth was lukewarm (Crying Drums - foreword by Prince Philip - pages 39 to 49). In order to preserve the initiative therefore, a Commonwealth Expedition, known as Comex 1, comprising five contingents of 42 each from the universities of Edinburgh, London, Cambridge, Oxford and Cardiff - including members from Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan and Zambia - was mounted in 1965 under the patronage of His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh. The idea was inspired by the success of the annual Ten Tors Expeditions, 'an outlet for the spirit of adventure in an overcrowded island', on Dartmoor, Devon, of which HRH is also the patron. To date about 100,000 young people have taken part.

Comex has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands, distinguished wherever it went by a green pennant with Prince Philip's cypher and the Asoka wheel in gold. Two prototypes, mounted on silver stands, were embroidered in India for the late Jawaharlal Nehru's successor and Prince Philip. Despite innumerable difficulties, 13 expeditions followed culminating in The Green Pennant Awards, 'identifying the spirit of adventure with crossing the barriers that divide people,' inaugurated by Prince Philip at the Commonwealth Institute in London after Comex 10 in 1980, endorsed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in New Zealand in 1995, after Comex 14, and presented at a reception for Heads of Government hosted by the Lord Provost on the eve of the Edinburgh CHOGM in 1997. The model for the awards (in silver by Garrard of London) was commissioned by Devon County Council in recognition of the origins of Comex. It was later redesigned in copper by Hamilton and Inches of Edinburgh to incorporate the African continent in the existing symbolism of the oldest and largest democracies in the world. Thereafter, the stands were manufactured by coppersmiths in Kitwe, Zambia, and the pennants by embroiderers in Malerkotla, Punjab, India. A replica of the model was presented to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and is displayed in the City Chambers. The Comex experience has been well documented, most recently in Journey of a Lifetime by Lionel Gregory, published by Northcote House Publishers in Plymouth.

The Proposal.

The Government of India to consider reviving the 1964 initiative (as only India can) by calling on member countries to join in a Millennium Commonwealth Expedition, Comex 2000, around the states of India, culminating in a celebration of the Commonwealth in Delhi (where the new Commonwealth was born in 1947) and The Green Pennant Awards in the presence of His Excellency, The President of India..


Selected contingents of up to 30 young men and women from all Commonwealth countries and Indian states making in total an expedition of 2000. Token contingents from the United States (represented on Comex 3, 6 and 8) and the Holy Land (on the Comex 1 route and represented on Comex 3) to be included. The United Kingdom contingent might be drawn from Ten Tors - in recognition of the origins of Comex - with an input of pipers and dancers from Edinburgh.

Timing and Duration.

The expedition would last for about six weeks in the Autumn, straddling the festival of Diwali and providing the ideal environment when the weather and the hospitable face of India are at their best. This would also allow for a preplanned programme of two days duration in each state capital.


It would be highly desirable for all participants to assemble in a convenient and easily accessible location, for the purpose of orientation and briefing, to get to know one another and to rehearse the cultural programme.

Cultural Programme.

The cultural programme could be modelled on the ceremony held at the inauguration of the idea of the Green Pennant Awards, which was recorded live, and built around the Commonwealth Raga Nannhey Harey Dhwaj (little green flags) devised by Promod Shanker (sarod) and Kamal Kant Sharma (tabla) from a tune written for bagpipes and recorded at the School of Piping in Edinburgh Castle by the late Pipe Major Angus MacDonald MBE. Original recordings are available.


Contingents from abroad would travel by air and proceed directly to the assembly area Host contingents would move by rail and road; and in effect carry out a reconnaissance of the millennium route in sections before themselves proceeding to the assembly area. The expedition would be transported around the states of India in a Millennium Express, bearing the national emblems of participating countries. The locomotives could be drawn from each state in turn and carry its name. Where possible, it would be desirable for feeding arrangements to be organised on board.


The final itinerary would be the responsibility of Indian Railways in consultation with host states: Punjab – Himachal Pradesh – Haryana – Uttar Pradesh – Bihar – West Bengal – Orissa – Madhya Pradesh – Andhra Pradesh – Tamil Nadu – Kerala – Karnataka – Maharashtra – Rajastan……


Flights to and from India would be the responsibility of participating countries. With a little co-operation, Commonwealth airlines might be persuaded to offer special terms, either directly or through expedition headquarters in India. Within India, all participating countries and states would share the cost of transportation, food and accommodation.


All participants would be responsible for their personal immunisation and medical insurance. A medical team should accompany the expedition throughout. This could be made up of medical personnel provided by the host country and assisted by others accompanying individual contingents.


The media would be kept informed through regular press briefings organised by expedition headquarters. In addition, Air India and other Commonwealth airlines may be prepared to play the Commonwealth Raga in flight – duration about two minutes – and particularly during embarkation. The melody lends itself to the kind of soporific music common on such occasions. It might also be possible for copies of the raga to be made available well in advance of Comex 2000.


Given the endorsement of Commonwealth leaders, Comex 2000 would probably be the largest single Commonwealth event for the millennium. But its success depends 'on the intelligent participation of all concerned'. At first glance the whole concept looks excessively ambitious. In fact, it is no more than the selection, preparation and financing of a single contingent. The logistics are of course enormous, but India enjoys a world-wide reputation for organising such things. It may even be possible for a souvenir booklet, including a route map, the final itinerary, state programmes, security arrangements, the names of all participants (if received in time) and details of the awards ceremony to be circulated in advance. It might also be appropriate, in this instance, for Green Pennant Awards to be presented to all participating countries and states.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh at the inauguration of the idea of the Green Pennant Awards.

'In a world being torn apart by men of narrow ideological and nationalist horizons, men who seem to believe that they can reform the world by violence and terrorism, and the destruction of communications; in this sad and depressing situation, the Commonwealth ideal of the brotherhood of man, of peace and co-operation, stands out like the beam from a lighthouse on a stormy night; and I hope that the spirit of Comex, represented by these little green flags (The Green Pennant), will help to keep that light shining brightly giving hope and encouragement to all who share the Commonwealth ideal'

Lionel Gregory may be contacted at 1 Lennox Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH4 1QB or by e-mail.

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Last changed
2nd November 1999.