Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment

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Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment
Royal West Kent Regiment helmet plate.jpg
Helmet Plate of the Royal West Kent Regiment
Active 1881–1961
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Type Infantry
Role Line Infantry
Size

1-2 Regular Battalions
1-2 Militia Battalions
2-4 Territorial and Volunteer Battalions

Up to 12 Hostilities-only Battalions
Garrison/HQ Invicta Park Barracks, Maidstone, Kent
Nickname The Blind Half Hundred, The Celestials, The Devils Royals, The Dirty Half Hundred
Motto Invicta (Invincible), Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt (Whither Duty and Glory Lead)

The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1961. It was formed as the Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) as part of the Childers Reforms by the amalgamation of the 50th (Queen's Own) Regiment of Foot and the 97th (Earl of Ulster's) Regiment of Foot. In January 1921, it was renamed the Royal West Kent Regiment (Queen's Own) and in April of the same year the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment. In 1961 it was amalgamated with the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) to form the Queen's Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment. It was popularly, and operationally, known as the "Royal West Kents."

Early years[edit]

When the regiment was formed, Kent was one of five counties (the others being Surrey, Staffordshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire) which was split to create more than one regiment. Kent was split into two areas, with those in West Kent forming the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment, while those in East Kent becoming the Royal East Kent Regiment, The Buffs. The dividing line that separated the two regimental areas was east of the River Medway. The regiment's recruitment area covered both the towns and rural areas of West Kent and a number of south-east London suburbs that were later included in the County of London.[1]

The Childers reforms also affiliated militia and volunteer battalions with their local county regiments, giving the Royal West Kents the following organisation:[2][3]

Regulars

  • 1st Battalion – former 50th Foot
  • 2nd Battalion – former 97th Foot

Militia

Volunteers

1881–1914[edit]

The 1st Battalion took part in the Egypt Intervention in 1882, fighting in the second battle at Kassassin on 9 September and the Battle of Tel el-Kebir a few days later. It then spent two years on garrison duty in Cyprus before being shipped to the Sudan and the Mahdist War, in which it fought at the Battle of Ginnis, notable for being the last battle fought by British Redcoats. It spent the years up to the outbreak of the Great War on garrison duty, both at home and throughout the British Empire.

The 2nd Battalion was shipped to South Africa shortly after its formation, in the aftermath of the First Boer War. The following year, it was posted to Ireland and spent the remaining years of the 19th century in Britain, being sent back to South Africa for the Second Boer War. Its only action was a skirmish at Biddulphsberg, in the company of the 2nd Battalions of the Grenadier and Scots Guards. It then moved to the East, being stationed in Ceylon, Hong Kong, Singapore, Peshawar and Multan before the outbreak of the Great War.

Between 1881 and 1913, the regiment lost 219 men: 22 killed in action or died from wounding, 12 by accident, and 185 from disease. A memorial for those who died in service exists in All Saints Church, Maidstone, which is located next to the regiment's barracks. (Chaplin 1959, p. vii)

By the time the Territorial Force was created in 1908, the suburban area of West Kent had been transferred to the County of London, so the 2nd and 3rd Volunteer Battalions became the 20th (County of London) Battalion (Blackheath and Woolwich) in the new London Regiment. The 4th Volunteer Battalion was disbanded, and the 1st VB was formed into the 4th and 5th Battalions of the QORWK in the Kent Brigade of the TF's Home Counties Division.[2][3][4][5]

World War I[edit]

Headstone of a private, 4th Nov 1917

The 1st Battalion, which was in Dublin at the outbreak of war in August 1914, was one of the first units to be moved to France where it became part of the 13th Infantry Brigade in the 5th Infantry Division. Among its first major engagements were the Battle of Mons on 23 August and Le Cateau three days later. In October the battalion made a heroic stand at Neuve Chapelle; being the only unit not to fall back. Out of 750 men, only 300 commanded by a Lieutenant and a Second Lieutenant survived.[6] Apart from a brief period from December 1917 to April 1918, when it was moved with the 5th Division to Italy, the 1st Battalion was stationed on the Western Front for the duration of the war.

The 2nd Battalion was shipped from Multan to Mesopotamia, via Bombay, arriving in Basra in February 1915, where it was attached to the 12th Indian Brigade. Two Companies were attached to the 30th Brigade (part of the 6th (Poona) Division) and were captured in the Siege of Kut in April 1916. The remaining Companies were attached to 34th Brigade (part of 15th Indian Division), and were transferred to 17th Indian Division in August 1917. The Battalion remained in Mesopotamia for the duration of the war.

Most of the Territorial battalions spent the war on garrison duty, particularly in India and Egypt, relieving the Regular battalions for front-line service. However, the 2/4th Battalion took part in the Gallipoli Campaign and the 3/4th Battalion served as a Pioneer battalion in France.

Several of the Service (sc. Hostilities-only) battalions of the New Army fought in France and Flanders and in the Italian Campaign. At Loos, the 8th Battalion lost all but one of its officers, and 550 men.[7]

Former Kent Police Chief officer Robert Cyril Morton Jenkins served in the regiment during the conflict, and wrote about his experiences on the Western Front in an article for the Kentish Gazette in 1964.

Inter-war period[edit]

At the end of the war, the 1st Battalion was transferred back to India, where it took part (along with the Territorial 1/4th Battalion) in the Third Afghan War and the putting down of a Mahsud tribal rebellion in the Northwest Frontier in 1920. It spent the next years in India, returning home to Britain in 1937.

The 2nd Battalion returned to India from Mesopotamia in 1919, and to Britain in 1921, briefly becoming part of the Army of Occupation in Germany (the British Army of the Rhine). It was stationed at various garrisons in Britain until 1937, when it moved to Palestine to aid suppression of the Arab revolt. In 1939, it was transferred to Malta.

The London Regiment had ceased to function in 1916, the battalions reverting to the administrative control of their pre-1908 affiliated Regular regiments – the QORWK in the case of the 20th Londons, which reformed in the new Territorial Army as the 20th London Regiment (The Queen's Own). In 1935, the 20th Londons was selected for conversion to the searchlight role as 34th (The Queen's Own Royal West Kent) Anti-Aircraft Battalion of the Royal Engineers, later 34th (The Queen's Own Royal West Kent) Searchlight Regiment of the Royal Artillery.[8][9][10] Despite transfer to the RE, the battalion continued to wear its Kentish White Horse cap badge and 20th Londons buttons.[8][11]

World War II[edit]

The 1st Battalion was part of the 4th Infantry Division of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940, returning to Britain via Dunkirk. It remained in Britain until 1943, leaving to take part in the Tunisian Campaign, the Italian Campaign and the Greek Civil War that broke out after the German withdrawal in 1944.

The 2nd Battalion was part of the garrison of Malta during its protracted siege. It then formed part of the 234th Infantry Brigade in the abortive assault on the Italian-held Dodecanese islands in 1943, being captured by the Germans on the island of Leros. (Kenneth Probert - one of the many soldiers captured - states that a British submarine took officers away before capture, leaving those left behind to serve in prisoner of war camps in Germany. These prisoners were transported in cattle trucks from Greece to Wernigerode in the Harz Mountains where they were forced to work in support of the German war effort). It was reconstituted in 1944 by redesignation of the 7th Battalion.

The 4th Battalion was originally part of the 132nd Infantry Brigade, 44th (Home Counties) Infantry Division, that was sent to France in 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force. They were involved in the Battle of Dunkirk and were evacuated to Britain. They went on to serve in the North African Campaign until the 44th Division was disbanded in 1943. The Battalion then transferred to the 161st Indian Infantry Brigade, part of the 5th Indian Infantry Division, and fought in the Burma Campaign and played a major role in the Battle of Kohima against the Japanese. During the battle,Lance-Corporal John Pennington Harman of the 4th Battalion was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The 5th Battalion served with the 4th Battalion in the 132nd Brigade throughout France and North Africa until the 44th Division disbanded. The Battalion was then transferred to the 21st Indian Infantry Brigade of the 8th Indian Infantry Division that fought in the Italian Campaign alongside the 6th Battalion.

One of the greatest accomplishments that the Royal West Kent Regiment achieved was in the winter to spring of 1943-1944 when the regiment was under siege in Kohima, from three Japanese Battalions, numbering all together roughly 65,000 troops. The British garrison was a numerically inferior force of around 2,000 British and Indian troops, reliant on RAF airdrops of supplies. After months of heavy fighting, both sides were roughly 10 yards away from each other. At this point, the Royal West Kent Regiment was relieved by the Second Battalion, bolstered by personnel drafted from the Dorset and Northumberland Regiments among others. This relief force approached from the shipping town 50 miles to the west of Kohima.

The 6th Battalion was part of the 36th Infantry Brigade, which included the 5th Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) and 7th Royal West Kent Regiment, which was assigned to the 12th (Eastern) Division, a 2nd Line Territorial Army duplicate of the 44th (Home Counties) Division. They were sent to France in 1940 to join the rest of the British Expeditionary Force. The division suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of Dunkirk and was disbanded in 1940. The brigade was then assigned to the 78th Battleaxe Infantry Division and fought in the Tunisia Campaign notably helping to capture Longstop Hill in April 1943. The 6th Battalion was with the 78th Infantry Division throughout the Italian Campaign.

The 9th Battalion was raised in 1940[12] converted to armour in 1942 as 162nd Regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps but retained its Royal West Kent Regiment cap badge on the black beret of the Royal Tank Regiment.[13]

Other hostilities-only battalions of the regiment fought in North Africa, notably at El Alamein and Alam el Halfa, and in Burma.

By the end of 1944, 21st Army Group fighting in North West Europe was suffering a severe manpower shortage, particularly among the infantry.[14] At the same time the Luftwaffe was so short of pilots, aircraft and fuel that serious aerial attacks on the United Kingdom could be discounted. In January 1945 the War Office began to reorganise surplus AA regiments in the UK into infantry battalions, primarily for line of communication and occupation duties in North West Europe, thereby releasing trained infantry for frontline service.[15][16] The 34th was one of the units selected for conversion to the infantry role, becoming 633rd (Queen's Own Royal West Kent) Infantry Regiment, Royal Artillery.[8][17][18]

Post-war[edit]

The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1948 (nominally being amalgamated with the 1st Battalion).

When the TA was reconstituted in 1947, 633 Infantry Regiment reformed at Blackheath as 569 (The Queen's Own) Searchlight Regiment. In March 1949 it was redesignated 569 (The Queen's Own) (Mixed) Light Anti-Aircraft/Searchlight Regiment, reflecting a partially changed role and the inclusion of members of the Women's Royal Army Corps (hence the designation 'Mixed').[4][8][19] The regiment still wore its 20th Londons cap badge, together with RA collar badges. About 1951 its personnel adopted a supplementary shoulder title of 'THE QUEEN'S OWN' in grey on black beneath the RA shoulder title and above the AA Command arm badge.[8] AA Command was disbanded in March 1955, and as part of the reduction the regiment was merged into 265 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, becoming 'Q Battery (The Queens Own)', based at Lewisham. Further reductions in 1961 saw the whole regiment become 'Q (London) Battery' at Grove Park, perpetuating the history of four separate London battalions and regiments, and the Queen's Own lineage was discontinued.[4][8][19][20]

From 1951-1954, the sole remaining Regular Battalion contributed to the security forces that successfully contained the Communist guerrilla uprising in Malaya. Less happily, it was involved in the militarily successful, but politically disastrous, occupation of the Suez canal zone in 1956. It then took part in the campaign in Cyprus against EOKA guerrillas around 1958/59.

In 1959, it returned to Britain for the last time, being amalgamated in 1961 with the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment), to form the Queen's Own Buffs, Royal Kent Regiment.

In popular culture[edit]

The Home Guard platoon in the BBC series Dad's Army wore the cap badge of the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment.

Battle honours[edit]

Combined battle honours of 50th Regiment and 97th Regiment, plus:

  • Egypt 1882, Nile 1884-85, South Africa 1900-02
  • The Great War (18 battalions): Mons, Le Cateau, Retreat from Mons, Marne 1914, Aisne 1914, La Bassée, Messines 1914 '17, Ypres 1914 '15 '17 '18, Hill 60, Gravenstafel, St. Julien, Frezenberg, Loos, Somme 1916 '18, Albert 1916 '18, Bazentin, Delville Wood, Pozières, Guillemont, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Thiepval, Le Transloy, Ancre Heights, Ancre 1916 '18, Arras 1917 '18, Vimy 1917, Scarpe 1917, Oppy, Pilckem, Langemarck 1917, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Passchendaele, Cambrai 1917 '18, St. Quentin, Rosières, Avre, Villers Bretonneux, Lys, Hazebrouck, Kemmel, Amiens, Bapaume 1918, Hindenburg Line, Épéhy, Canal du Nord, St. Quentin Canal, Courtrai, Selle, Sambre, France and Flanders 1914-18, Italy 1917-18, Suvla, Landing at Suvla, Scimitar Hill, Gallipoli 1915, Rumani, Egypt 1915-16, Gaza, El Mughar, Jerusalem, Jericho, Tell 'Asur, Palestine 1917-18, Defence of Kut al Amara, Sharqat, Mesopotamia 1915-18
  • Afghanistan 1919
  • The Second World War: Defence of Escaut, Forêt de Nieppe, North-West Europe 1940, Alam el Halfa, El Alamein, Djebel Abiod, Djebel Azzag 1942, Oued Zarga, Djebel Ang, Medjez Plain, Longstop Hill 1943, Si Abdallah, North Africa 1942-43, Centuripe, Monte Rivoglia, Sicily 1943, Termoli, San Salvo, Sangro, Romagnoli, Impossible Bridge, Villa Grande, Cassino, Castle Hill, Liri Valley, Piedimonte Hill, Trasimene Line, Arezzo, Advance to Florence, Monte Scalari, Casa fortis, Rimini Line, Savio Bridgehead, Monte Pianoereno, Monte Spaduro, Senio, Argenta Gap, Italy 1943-45, Greece 1944-45, Leros, Malta 1940-42, North Arakan, Razabil, Mayu Tunnels, Defence of Kohima, Taungtha, Sittang 1945, Burma 1943-45

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ (Chaplin 1959, p. ix)
  2. ^ a b QORWK at Regiments.org
  3. ^ a b Westlake, pp. 114–22.
  4. ^ a b c 20th London Regiment at Regiments.org
  5. ^ Becke, pp. 49–54.
  6. ^ Maidstone Museum: Battalions of The Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
  7. ^ The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment (50th and 97th) Living History Group: A Brief History of the Regiment in the Great War[dead link]
  8. ^ a b c d e f Litchfield, p. 171.
  9. ^ 1 AA Division 1936–38 at British Military History
  10. ^ 34 S/L Rgt at RA 39–45.
  11. ^ Regimental Badges.
  12. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. 2006-01-04. Archived from the original on 2006-01-04. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  13. ^ George Forty, "British Army Handbook 1939-1945", Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998, p.51.
  14. ^ Ellis, pp. 141–2.
  15. ^ Ellis, pp. 369, 380.
  16. ^ Infantry Regiments RA at RA 39–45.
  17. ^ 633 Infantry Rgt at RA 39–45.
  18. ^ Joslen, p. 404.
  19. ^ a b 564–591 Regiments at British Army units from 1945 on
  20. ^ 8th London RA at Regiments.org

References[edit]

  • Chaplin, H.D. (1959). The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment: 1881–1914. Maidstone, Kent: The Queen's Own Regimental History Committee. ISBN 1-84342-692-7. 
  • Atkinson, C.T. (1924). The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment: 1914—1919. Uckfield, East Sussex: Naval & Military Press Ltd. ISBN 1-84342-690-0. 
  • Chaplin, H. D. (1954). The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment: 1920–1950. Michael Joseph. ISBN 1-84574-150-1. 
  • Chaplin, H. D. (1964). The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment: 1951–1961. Maidstone, Kent: The Queen's Own Museum Committee. ISBN 1-84342-691-9. 
  • Anon, Regimental Badges and Service Caps, London: George Philip & Sons, 1941.
  • Maj A.F. Becke,History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2a: The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and the 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42–56), London: HM Stationery Office, 1935/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2007, ISBN 1-847347-39-8.
  • Maj L.F. Ellis, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series: Victory in the West, Vol II: The Defeat of Germany, London: HM Stationery Office, 1968/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2004, ISBN 1-845740-59-9.
  • Lt-Col H.F. Joslen, Orders of Battle, United Kingdom and Colonial Formations and Units in the Second World War, 1939–1945, London: HM Stationery Office, 1960/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2003, ISBN 1843424746.
  • Norman E.H. Litchfield, The Territorial Artillery 1908–1988 (Their Lineage, Uniforms and Badges), Nottingham: Sherwood Press, 1992, ISBN 0-9508205-2-0.


External links[edit]