Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry (1794-1994)

Taken from 'A Brief History of the Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars' by Derek Woodward

Formation

This (1994) is the bicentennial year of the formation of the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry. In 1794 King George III was on the throne, William Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister, and across the Channel Britain was faced by a French nation which had recently guillotined its King and which possessed a revolutionary army numbering half a million men. The Prime Minister proposed that the Counties form a force of Volunteer Yeoman Cavalry which could be called on by the King to defend the country against invasion or by the Lord Lieutenant to subdue any civil disorder within the country.

Worcestershire's High Sheriff responded quickly and from the Guildhall in April 1794 he invited subscriptions which generously totalled 6,000 to be used to support the militia and a corps of Yeoman Cavalry. The first troop paraded in front of the Unicorn Inn in Worcester on 25th October 1794 under the command of Captain John Somers-Cocks and Lieutenant Thomas Spooner. After two weeks of daily drilling as Powke Ham they were reported to be "complete in every particular of equipment and numbers". Each man provided his own horse and was armed with a curved broad-bladed sabre and a heavy pistol; the cost was borne by the government and county subscription.

The threat of a French invasion appeared to recede with the signing of the Peace of Amiens in 1802 and the King commended the Worcestershire Yeoman Cavalry for their "honourable distinction in forming an essential part of the defence of the country against a foreign enemy in circumstances of extraordinary emergency". This was particularly so at a time when a large part of the regular army was abroad or in Ireland.

When the French menace disappeared after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815 all the Volunteers were disbanded but the Yeoman Cavalry were not reduced except by their own consent. The Worcestershire troops decided to continue to serve and preserved in Worcestershire an "honourable immunity" from the civil disorder that swept the country in the early decades of the 1800's.

By 1827 large national debts and falling revenues forced the disbandment of the Yeoman Cavalry 33 years after its formation. Their success in keeping peace throughout the county of Worcestershire was made an excuse for dispensing with their services.

Within only two years there was an alarming rise in civil disorder in Worcestershire and elsewhere caused by low wages and unemployment following the introduction of machinery into agriculture. The magistrates decided to resuscitate the Yeoman Cavalry in September 1831 and Lord Plymouth took command of 50 NCOs and men, obtaining the services of the most efficient adjutant Captain William Emmott. During the next few years the troops were occasionally called out to support the civil powers but in general their very presence was sufficient to restore order. Lord Plymouth's generosity and patriotism enabled the County of Worcestershire to possess the strongest and best equipped regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry in the country and this was deservedly recognised by a grateful King William IV in 1831. In 1887 Her Majesty was pleased to alter the title of the regiment which was for the future to bear the designation of the Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars.

The Boer War

In the final fifty years of the century the Yeomanry Cavalry was characterised by government discouragement and neglect. The year 1899, however, proved to be eventful for them and they were to be called upon for the first time, to take an active part in war. President Kruger of the Transvaal Republic was at odds with Britain over the monopoly in explosives which the government supported against the expanding mining industry of the Transvaal. The War Office was not prepared to meet the growing Boer offensive and sent only 10,000 Indian troops, under Lord Methuen, to face some 70,000 Boers. After some initial success the British soon found themselves in trouble and unable to meet the emergency mainly owing to lack of cavalry. The English Yeomanry Cavalry were called upon and the response was immediate. Lord Windsor, Commanding Officer of the Worcestershire Yeoman Cavalry, asked for volunteers for a newly formed Imperial Yeomanry Cavalry and was able to select 129 men from the 3,021 patriotic men who offered their services. Lady Dudley presented each yeoman with a hat badge, worked in silk, depicting pear blossom, before men and horses embarked for cap Town on 7th February 1899. The Worcestershire contingent formed the 6th Squadron of the 5th Regiment of the Imperial Yeoman Cavalry under the command of Colonel Meyrick. The squadron's orders were to protect the railways, pacify the Boer farmers and, most difficult of all, to capture the Boer forces together with their supplies, arms and equipment. The Regiment relied on the Martini-Henri carbine and 2lb and 3lb guns which were, in fact, the private property of Lord Plymouth and paid for out of private funds. Many long and arduous marches were made in difficult terrain and weather with the columns being constantly subjected to sniper fire and guerrilla attack by the Boers. The vicious nature of the war can be illustrated by the death of Captain Wood who was first wounded and then shot dead whilst being stretchered off the field of battle under the sign of the Red Cross. The Worcestershire Yeomanry acquitted themselves with great courage and effectiveness under the overall command of Lord Methuen and were deemed to have had "more than an average share of hard fighting". The Boer War ended in June 1902 and the Regiment returned to a hero's welcome in Worcester having lost 16 NCOs killed in action and 20 wounded.

The First World War

The Earl of Dudley who took command of the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry in November 1913 was already convinced that another European war was approaching. He energetically started to make the regiment into a more modern fighting force. A newly appointed permanent staff of instructors trained recruits in musketry and he also opened a riding school.

War was declared in August 1914 and the Worcestershire Yeomanry formed the 1st Midland Brigade commanded by Brigadier E.A. Wiggin. The Brigade was ordered to Egypt and was based in Chatby Camp, close to Alexandria, by April 1915. Conditions were difficult as the camp was hard on the seashore and completely unprotected against the full glare of the blazing sun. Within a few days of their arrival the Yeomanry were initiated into the sufferings of war when they assisted in the unloading of the untreated wounded and dead Anzac troops from the landings at Gallipoli.

In August the Brigade were given only three days notice that they were to fight as infantry, and were sent to Suvla Bay, and took part in the Gallipoli campaign. The Regiment were to support the Anzacs and other British soldiers, in an attempt to break through the Turkish defences. In fact, after tremendous suffering in the trenches and under constant bombardment, the Turkish defences on the hills overlooking the beaches proved too strong. All the water had to be brought in by sea and the narrowness of the beach position made the supply of the regiments too difficult and Gallipoli was finally evacuated in January 1916.

The casualties suffered in the Galipoli campaign were replaced by fresh troops from England and the Regiment was sent to the eastern side of the Suez Canal. Increasing numbers of Turkish troops were approaching the Canal whilst the British took up defensive positions, dug wells and sent out patrols for reconnaissance to establish the likely lines of Turkish attack. The Regiment, which was based both at Qatia and Oghratine, extreme outposts of the Canal defences, were responsible for patrolling the whole of the Qatia water area. The prospect was one of soft, deep, shifting sands except for the palm tree groves which surrounded the wells. The desert made life difficult for both horses and men and meant that navigation had to be by compass in the featureless, ever-changing landscape.

The small isolated garrison at Oghratine had been ordered to protect a well-digging party of fifty unmounted engineers. At dawn on 23rd April 1916, 3,000 Turks, including a machine gun battery of 12 guns, attacked. The defending troops repulsed the first attack but were gradually forced back by the weight of the onslaught. The defender's machine gun had been put out of action early in the engagement after all the gunners had been killed or wounded. The defenders formed a circle which became ever smaller as losses mounted. When the commanding officer Sir John Jaffey died, the enemy rushed in and the small number of survivors made prisoner.

The victorious Turkish troops then moved on to reinforce the attack taking place simultaneously against the small garrison at Qatia. Despite a gallant defence and attempts at relief by returning squadrons of patrolling Gloucestershires and Warwickshires, who had heard the gunfire, Qatia fell to the Turks with the loss of all of the Yeomanry's officers except Major W.H. Wiggin who was wounded yet managed to withdraw with about half the squadron; the survivors were made prisoners. Anzac troops, who occupied both Qatia and Oghradine four days later, testified to the ferocity of the battle and paid tribute to the valour and tenacity of the defenders. In these actions 9 officers and 102 NCOs and men of the Worcestershire Yeomanry were killed and many other wounded. A composite regiment, including Worcestershire Yeomen, was rebuilt by August 1916 and together with Anzac regiments was given the task of forcing back some 48,000 Turks from Romani, another nearby strategically important fortified waterhole which was to be the Turkish base for a major attack on the Suez Canal itself. After a fierce battle the Turks were forced to retreat and large numbers of guns and prisoners were captured.

The Turkish army regrouped at Gaza where they made a spirited stand which brought the British advance to a halt until the arrival of General Allenby; he reorganised his command allowing the sphere of operations to be extended towards Turkish positions at Beersheba. The resulting operation took the Turks by surprise and they were forced to make a hasty withdrawal. In the ensuing pursuit and harrying operations the Worcestershire Yeomanry with the Warwickshire Yeomanry took part in the last cavalry charge on guns in British Military history. Under Colonel Hugh Cheape and the aforementioned Major Wiggin the cavalry charged a group of Turkish guns at a place called Huj in November 1917. This action, in defence of the beleaguered 60th London Division, who were pinned down by withering enemy fire, succeeded in putting the enemy to flight and resulted in the capture of the guns. Yeomanry losses were heavy indeed. Two out of nine officers were killed and four wounded and of 96 NCOs and men 17 were killed and 35 wounded. The casualty list of the Warwickshire squadron was about the same.

The Queen's Own Hussars returned from Palestine in 1919 much depleted but the Yeomanry units were quickly reformed and up to strength after Colonel Coventry's appeal. It had become clear during the war that cavalry was obsolete and in 1922 it was announced that the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry was to become a gunnery regiment and was to provide two batteries of horsed field artillery which together with two batteries of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry was to form the 100th Field Brigade Royal Artillery. The horses were replaced by tractors in 1922.

Annual camps continued to be held even during the financial crisis of 1931. At this time, under Colonel W.H. Wiggin, the officers went without pay and the other ranks received only half pay supplied by Regimental funds. By 1934 the Brigade had attained such a high standard of shooting that it was judged to be the best Territorial Brigade of the year.

The Second World War

By 1938 it was evident that a new war with Germany was near and the Brigade was chosen to convert into an anti-tank Regiment. Its eighteen-pounders were replaced by two-pounders and the 53rd Worcestershire Yeomanry Anti-tank regiment R.A. came into being. This Regiment consisted of four batteries; the 209 at Kidderminster, the 210 and 212 at Kings Heath and the 211 at Bewdley.

The time between the declaration of war in September 1939 and the Regiment's departure for Northern France in January 1940 was spent at Wantage in training in gun drill, Bren gun and anti-tank rifle instruction and anti-tank trench digging. Equipment and motor transport arrived slowly, making training, driving and maintenance tuition difficult. In France the Regiment then under the command of Lt. Col. E.J. Medley, took part in limited field exercises, practised selecting gun sites and helped to improve defences by digging anti-tank ditches.

On May 10th the expected German attack started and the British Army moved forwards across the Belgian frontier to take position on the River Dyle. The Regiment's first task was to protect the advance of the 48th Division against low-flying air attack. The British held the River Dyle but the German breakthroughs to the North and South threatened to cut the army off from the sea and their bases. A succession of withdrawals, often at night, followed between the 16th and 19th May. The four Batteries of the Regiment took up a series of defensive positions. The British Commanding Officer, Lord Gort, had foreseen the possibility of a northward retreat and used the 48th Division to cover the 28 miles of the La Bassee Canal. Their purpose was to protect the western flank of the British Army by holding strongpoints such as canal crossings. Large enemy losses were inflicted by the 210 battery together with troops of the 211 in support of the Royal Warwickshires who were holding the town of Wormhoudt. Orders were then received from Brigade to destroy the guns and vehicles and proceed to Dunkirk through the chaotic roads jammed with civilians, troops and trucks with German air attacks adding to the confusion.

Near Oost-Cappell the 212 Battery defended the crossroads against German tanks, some of which were destroyed, until the Battery Commander Major Williams-Thomas, and ten other ranks were forced to withdraw after disabling their guns and vehicles, leaving their Captain Evers for dead.

Battery Commander Major Ronald Cartland, M.P., of the remaining 209 was given the task of organising the anti-tank defence of Cassel through which an important road ran towards Dunkirk. The town was on a prominent hill with a good view of the surrounding countryside and the 209's with eleven two-pounders and 6 French 75mm's with supporting infantry dominated the position. The constant rain of mortar shells seemed to have the range of the transport coming through the town. At 10am on 27th May a large force of German tanks and infantry could be seen approaching. These advanced to within 200yds of Brigade H.Q. before being driven back by the Bren guns of the Oxfordshires and Buckinghamshires. The Germans lost approximately 40 tanks and the next morning made only half-hearted attacks without air support. Orders to the Brigade, to destroy vehicles and attempt to reach Dunkirk by any means, did not arrive until next day and twenty four hours were lost, by which time the arrival of German tanks and infantry reinforcements prevented any escape to the beaches for the defenders of Cassel. As the morning mist rose on May 30th the Regiment found itself pinned down in ditches by heavy fire. Sadly the 209 lost Major Cartland in the last moments and Lieutenant Hutton-Squire died while trying to escape through a hopfield.

Each battery in turn had been ordered to destroy equipment and escape on foot to Dunkirk. Five officers and 284 men of the Regiment were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo but many fellow officers and men were left behind in France either as dead or prisoners of war together with their disabled equipment. The Regiment had, however, destroyed more enemy tanks than any other anti-tank Regiment.

Britain was virtually defenceless and the Regiment was organised into a Home Defence Company under Major R.A. Wiggin, but by July a new Commanding Officer, Lt. Colonel A.C. Savill, was appointed and guns and equipment slowly arrived enabling firing training to take place on the ranges. By 1942 more emphasis was being placed on co-operation with other units such as the Royal Engineers in training in street fighting and river crossing and the Regiment was joined by an R.A. Signals section together with wireless trucks and new six-pounder guns.

Long marches took place from range to range and in June 1943 it brought the Regiment home to Worcester Pitchcroft where they were inspected by the Regiment's Honorary Colonel, Viscount Cobham. The drums and fifes played the Regiment through the City to the Cathedral where the Lord Bishop of Worcester preached the sermon and the salute was taken by Colonel W.H. Wiggin.

Changes were in the air when in August 1943 the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Teacher was asked if the Worcestershire Regiment would care to join the 6th Airborne Division and become its only field regiment as the 53rd Worcestershire Yeomanry Airlanding Light Regiment R.A. The invitation was accepted with alacrity.

This new role meant a change from the simplicities of the towed anti-tank gun to the complexities of indirect fire with the jeep-towed 75mm pack howitzer and new training in glider-borne techniques. Mobilisation was complete by the end of January 1944 and the whole Regiment became airborne for the first time in 80 gliders. All leave was cancelled as preparations were made for the Normandy landings. Owing to a shortage of gliders only 211 Battery could take part in the assault on D Day together with the 6th Airborne Division whose task was to seize and hold the high wooded area behind Caen on the eastern flank of the Normandy bridgehead. 211 battery, accordingly under the command of Major Craigie, landed near Caen in 27 gliders on June 6th - the first British Field Battery ever to have flown into action against an enemy. The whole of the Divisional Artillery was available and in action by the afternoon, defeating several attacks and effectively supporting the infantry. It was essential to take the heavily defended town of Breville which was in a gap dominating the River Orme valley towards Caen and the Regiment with its Forward Observers directed the Artillery. Breville was pounded with concentrated artillery fire including that of the 211 before the Parachutists moved in and took the town. German losses were heavy, while the attackers losses were light, although Captain Hugh Ward of the 211 died on the road just outside Breville.

210 and 212 Batteries landed by sea at Colleville-sur-Orme on June 14th and joined up with 211 on the next day, the complete Regiment going into action on the 15th. A period of static warfare followed, attacking the huge concentration of German troops in Caen and its outskirts after the Allied air bombardment. The Regiment also manned a wide series of Forward Observation Posts providing valuable information for the Parachute and Special Brigades against German mortar strongpoints. By August 16th it was reported that the enemy was pulling out eastwards.

Major General Gale, Commanding Officer of the 6th Airborne, received orders that his command together with the Regiment was to maintain pressure on the retreating Germans on the coastal route towards the Seine in Operation Paddle. Minefields, snipers and machine-gun fire made the initial progress slow but constant fighting brought the Regiment to its rest area near Honfleur on August 27th. They returned to England to reform and in October attended a service of remembrance and thanksgiving conducted by the Very Reverend Dean Davies in Worcester Cathedral while Lieutenant Colonel Teacher laid a wreath in memory of the officers and men who had fallen in the Normandy battles.

On December 20th 1944 the Regiment received orders to proceed overseas again and by Boxing Day were in action near Dinant in support of the 6th Airlanding Brigade as the British defended against a successful German offensive in the Ardennes. Hitler's last throw was repulsed by the reinforced Americans and the again retreating Germans were pursued by the Allies with the Regiment providing Forward Observation Posts in the snow. 210 Battery claimed to be the first to land shells over the frontier on German soil. On January 30th Lieutenant Colonel Eden, D.S.O. took over command of the Regiment from Lieutenant Colonel Teacher and the Regiment was withdrawn back to England on 20th February.

They only remained there for four weeks of intensive preparation for Operation Varsity, the airborne crossing of the Rhine. The plan was to drop two Airborne Divisions, including the Regiment, behind enemy lines north of Wesel so as to isolate the industrial Ruhr and disrupt enemy rear defences. 210 Battery was split between 211 and 212. On March 24th, 78 gliders set off from England to follow in a successful night attack that had established bridgeheads on the eastern bank of the Rhine. The first guns were in action within 10 minutes of the gliders landing. Unfortunately, 22 gliders were destroyed either on landing or in the air, emphasising that the most dangerous part of an airborne landing can be the arrival by glider. By the evening all of the Divisions objectives had been taken but 2 Battery Commanders and 20 Other Ranks had been killed, with 8 officers and 59 men missing or prisoners of war. Following the Batteries help in destroying a final attempt at an enemy counter-attack the great advance began which was to end six weeks later on the Baltic coast. The Regiment reverted to its three-Battery formation under Major Godfrey, Major Craigie and Major Anderson. They fought in day and night moves with little rest capturing many stragglers and deserters as they advanced north-east through Greven, Lengerich, Osnabruck, Minden and Lahder. The most determined German resistance was encountered near Celle on April 15th when enemy self-propelled guns caused much difficulty until the 6th Airborne outflanked it after heavy shelling by the Batteries. The Allies eastwards advance met with the Russians westward advance finally on 30th April on the Baltic Coast at Wismar, crushing the German forces between them. In its persistent efforts to be always in range of the infantry it was supporting it is doubtful if any artillery Regiment had every occupied so many gun positions as did the Worcestershire Yeomanry during the six weeks of the German campaign.

Palestine

The Regiment had returned home by May 23rd and some demobilisation took place but the remainder of the Regiment was sent in September 1945 to its old stamping ground of World War I in Palestine. Its task was to help establish and maintain security in the new Jewish state against Arab hostility and the internal Jewish battles for power. The Regiment, therefore, had to train on infantry lines and act as a police force, controlling and searching all traffic along the important north-south routes and cross-country roads feeding Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Their largest operation was to search Tel Aviv in three days, arresting men suspected of subversive activities and discovering hidden dumps of arms and stolen uniforms.

It had not been forgotten that the Regiment was Airlanding and by their return from a course at Ringway in December, 40 officers and 433 men were qualified parachutists and the Regiment was destined to become a Parachute Division. The 211 Battery left Palestine for England in January 1947 with Lieutenant Colonel Scott-Foster as commanding officer. In the meantime 210 and 212 were stationed at Haifa in charge of transhipment of illegal immigrants.

1948 - 1994

Another change in title to the 33rd Airborne Light Regiment (Worcestershire Yeomanry) R.A. foreshadowed the Regiment's posting in January 1948 to Schleswig-Holstein in Germany and the misleading "Worcestershire Yeomanry" was abandoned. However, the Worcestershire Yeomanry had already been reborn in 1947 in Worcestershire as the 300th Anti-tank Regiment R.A. (Worcestershire Yeomanry). It was commanded by Lt. Col. R.H. Wiggin with six-pounder anti-tank guns and later 17-pounder self-propelled guns. In 1950 the Regiment, then under the command of Lt. Col. L. Gray Cheape, whose family was connected with the Worcestershire Yeomanry since before the First World War, became cavalry again as The Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars.

Early in 1956 the Government announced its intention to reduce the size of the T.A. due to its then high cost. In November 1956 it was announced that the Warwickshire Yeomanry and The Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars were to be amalgamated. The new Regiment became "The Queen's Own Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry" in 1957 with headquarters at Coventry, Birmingham, Kidderminster and Stratford with R.H.Q. at Warwick. Her Majesty The Queen agreed to be Honorary Colonel of the Regiment, the only Regiment in the army to have that singular honour.

The Regiment continued as an Armoured Regiment with Comet tanks until 1962 when it became an Armoured Car Reconnaissance Regiment. In 1966 it became a light Reconnaissance Regiment equipped with Dinger Scout cars.

In 1969 the T.A. was dramatically reduced by the Labour Government and except for one Yeomanry Regiment all the others were disbanded but permitted to retain a small cadre of five members for possible expansion in later years. In addition the Regiment was invited to form a Signals Squadron, 67 (QOWWY) Signal Squadron at Stratford-on-Avon and Stourbridge with a Royal Signals role. This Squadron was raised from former members of the QOWWY (approx. 100 strong).

In 1971 with a change of government each Yeomanry cadre was authorised to expand to Squadron strength (120). The three squadrons raised from the cadres of the QOWWY, the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the Shropshire Yeomanry were formed into a new Regiment called "The Queen's Own Mercian Yeomanry" with a reconnaissance role.

With defence cuts in 1992 The Queen's Own Mercian Yeomanry were amalgamated with The Duke of Lancaster's Yeomanry to form The Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry with H.M. The Queen as its Colonel in Chief. It has a medium reconnaissance role and equipped with Land Rovers.

Therefore The Queen's Own Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry has two serving successor Squadrons in 1994 as follows:-

A (QOWWY) Squadron of the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry based at Stourbridge with 2 Troops at Coventry (strength 110).

67 (QOWWY) Signal Squadron of 37 Signal Regiment based at Stratford-on-Avon and Stourbridge (strength 100).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Yeomanry Cavalry of Worcestershire 1794-1913 by "QL".

The Yeomanry cavalry of Worcestershire 1914-1922 by "C".

The Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars 1922-1956 by D.R. Guttery.



Links to other Worcestershire Yeomanry sites:

Worcestershire Yeomanry Museum, Worcester
Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry Museum, Warwick
The Queen's Own Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry
Yeomanry Cavalry prints
A full listing of links for 'Worcestershire Yeomanry'

© Copyright 1994 Derek Woodward