Royal Welch Fusiliers

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The Royal Welch Fusiliers
Royal Welch Fusiliers.jpg
Cap badge of the Royal Welch Fusiliers
Active 16 March 1689–28 February 2006
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Type Line Infantry
Role Infantry
Motto Ich Dien
Anniversaries St. David's Day (1 March)
Engagements Williamite War
War of the Grand Alliance
War of the Spanish Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
American War of Independence
Wars of the French Revolution
Napoleonic Wars
Crimean War
Second China War
Indian Mutiny
Third Anglo-Burmese War
South African War
First World War
Second World War
The Troubles
Yugoslav wars
Commanders
Ceremonial chief HM The Queen
Colonel of
the Regiment
Major-General Brian Plummer

The Royal Welch Fusiliers was an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales' Division. It was founded in 1689 to oppose James II and to take part in the imminent war with France. The regiment was numbered as the 23rd Regiment of Foot, though it was one of the first regiments to be granted the honour of a fusilier title and so was known as The Welsh Regiment of Fusiliers from 1702. The "Royal" accolade was earned fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713.

It was one of the oldest regiments in the regular army, hence the archaic spelling of the word Welch instead of Welsh. In the Boer War and throughout the First World War, the army officially called the regiment "The Royal Welsh Fusiliers" but the archaic "Welch" was officially restored to the regiment's title in 1920 under Army Order No.56. During those decades, the regiment itself unofficially used the "Welch" form. The regiment was amalgamated with the Royal Regiment of Wales (RRW) on 1 March 2006, to become 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh (RRW becoming the 2nd Bn).

The regiment primarily recruited from North Wales.[1] It should not be confused with the Welch Regiment, which recruited from South and West Wales.

History[edit]

Regimental Colour of the 6th (Caernarvonshire and Anglesey) Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers were formed by Lord Henry Herbert at Ludlow in March 1689 to oppose James II and to take part in the imminent war with France.[2]

The regiment served in the Williamite War, fighting at the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim. In the War of the Grand Alliance, they were at the Siege of Namur and in the War of the Spanish Succession, they were at Schellenberg and Blenheim. During the War of the Austrian Succession, they were at Dettingen, Fontenoy and Lauffeld and in the Seven Years' War, they fought at Minden, Warburg, Kloster Kampen and Wilhelmsthal.[3]

American Revolution[edit]

The light infantry and grenadier companies of the Fusiliers saw bloody action at the Battle of Bunker Hill, the light infantry only had 5 men left un-wounded. All companies, except the grenadiers who were garrisoning New York City, at the Battle of Guilford Court House in the American War of Independence. The regiment participated in nearly every campaign from the Lexington & Concord to Yorktown.[4]

At the surrender of Yorktown, the Royal Welch Fusiliers were the only British Regiment not to surrender their colours, these were smuggled out tied around the Ensign’s waist.[5]

In the Wars of the French Revolution, the Fusiliers served in the West Indies in 1793-94, before going to Europe for the Helder Expedition and to Egypt for the Battle of Alexandria.[6]

23rd Royal Welch Fusilier depicted guarding Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

During the Napoleonic Wars, they served from 1810 to 1814 in the Peninsular War; fighting at Albuera, Badajoz, Salamanca, the Pyrenees, Nivelle and Toulouse and took part in the Battle of Waterloo[7] where they fought in the 4th Brigade under Lt-Col. Hugh Henry Mitchell, in the 4th British Infantry Division (see Order of Battle of the Waterloo Campaign).[8]

In the nineteenth century, the regiment took part in the Crimean War, the Second China War, the Indian Mutiny and the Third Anglo-Burmese War before serving in the South African War of 1899-1902.[9]

First World War[edit]

Several battalions of the regiment saw notable service in France and Belgium during the First World War, in particular the 1st, which became forever associated with the terribly destructive action at Mametz Wood in 1916, and the 2nd, which endured the horrors of the massacre in the mud of Passchendaele (Third Ypres) in 1917. In 1914 The Royal Welch participated in the legendary Christmas 1914 Football Game with the Germans.[10]

During this war, several writers served with various battalions of the regiment in France, including the poets Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, David Jones and Hedd Wyn. Their memoirs, including Graves' Good-Bye to All That and Frank Richards' Old Soldiers Never Die have resulted in the activities of this regiment being vividly recorded for posterity. Captain J. C. Dunn, a medical officer attached to the regiment's 2nd Battalion, compiled a chronicle of that unit's experiences during its more than four years of service in France and Belgium. His epic, The War The Infantry Knew, has become a classic among military historians for its comprehensive treatment of all aspects of daily life and death in the trenches. The best known account by one of the Other Ranks is Old Soldiers Never Die by Frank Richards DCM, MM. Fusilier Richards was a reservist recalled to the colours at the outbreak of the First World War, and served on the Western Front (including being in the front line during the famous Christmas Truce of 1914).[11]

Second World War[edit]

Royal Welsh Fusiliers move forward on a jungle path near Pinbaw, Burma, December 1944.

During the Second World War, the 1st Battalion was in the 6th Infantry Brigade, assigned to the 2nd infantry Division and served in France with the British Expeditionary Force. They fought in the short but fierce Battle of France and were forced to retreat and be evacuated during the Dunkirk evacuation. After 2 years spent in the United Kingdom, waiting and preparing for an invasion that never came, Operation Sealion - the German invasion of Britain -, the 2nd division was sent to India. They were involved in the Burma Campaign and the Battle of Kohima that helped to turn of the war in the Far East. The 2nd Battalion was also serving in India during the war and was a part of the 36th Infantry Division. Both the 1st and 2nd Battalions came under the command of Lieutenant-General William Slim, Commander of the British Fourteenth Army. The 4th, 6th and 7th Battalions all served in the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, and took part in Operation Overlord, and throughout the entire North-West Europe Campaign. The 10th Battalion was converted in 1942 to become the 6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and were assigned to the 2nd Parachute Brigade of the 1st Airborne Division. The brigade played a small part in the Italian Campaign before becoming an indepedent brigade group. The brigade took part in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France, being the only British troops to do so. They went back to Italy before being sent to Greece. [2]

Fusilier Tom Payne from 11 Platoon, 'B' Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Normandy, 12 August 1944.

Post Second World War[edit]

After the War ended, the regiment was mostly based in Germany and other British colonies. The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1957. The regiment did not take part in the Gulf War and did several tours in Northern Ireland (Operation Banner) before being deployed to the Balkans.[2]

During the Yugoslav Wars, the regiment came to attention when 33 of their men and 350 other UN servicemen part of UNPROFOR were taken hostage by Bosnian Serbs at Goražde in 28 May 1995.[12][13] The situation caused some political debate as the UN troops had been given orders only to "deter attacks" and did not have a mandate or adequate equipment to fully defend the mainly Muslim town of Goražde, which was initially declared "safe" by the UN, thus rendering them exposed when armed members of the Army of Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Army) ignored the NATO ultimatum and attacked the town without warning. The regiment managed to hold off the Bosnian Serbs until they were forced to retreat into bunkers - those who did not make it quickly enough were taken hostage - and remained trapped underground while Muslim Serb reinforcements arrived and fought back. The commanding officer Lt Col Jonathon Riley (later promoted to Lieutenant General) broke with protocol and directly reported to then Prime Minister John Major about the situation over the phone while in the bunker.[14] All the men were eventually safely rescued. An unprecedented five gallantry awards, seven mentions in despatches and two Queen's Commendations for Valuable Service were awarded to the regiment.[15] Although the incident was largely unreported at that time, the regiment was credited in hindsight by observers for saving the town from a possible genocide - after failing to overtake Goražde the Bosnian Serbs continued south to Srebrenica where they would massacre over 8000 Bosniaks.[16]

Amalgamation[edit]

It was one of only five line infantry regiments never to have been amalgamated in its entire history, the others being the The Royal Scots, The Green Howards, The Cheshire Regiment, and the The King's Own Scottish Borderers. However, in 2004 it was announced that, as part of the restructuring of the infantry, the Royal Welch Fusiliers would merge with the Royal Regiment of Wales to form a new large regiment, the Royal Welsh.[2]

Regimental Goat[edit]

As with the Royal Regiment of Wales, the regiment traditionally had a goat, never called a mascot. The tradition dated back to at least 1884, and possibly to the regiment's formation. The goat was always named 'Billy'.[17]

Uniform[edit]

Soldiers of this regiment were distinguishable by the unique feature of the "flash", consisting of five overlapping black silk ribbons (seven inches long for soldiers and nine inches long for officers) on the back of the uniform jacket at neck level.[18] This is a legacy of the days when it was normal for soldiers to wear pigtails. In 1808, this practice was discontinued but when the order was issued the RWF were serving in Nova Scotia and had not received the instruction when the regiment departed to join an expedition to the West Indies.[19] In 1834 the officers of the 23rd Foot were finally granted permission by William IV to wear this non-regulation item as a distinction on the full dress uniform as "a peculiarity whereby to mark the dress of that distinguished regiment".[20] This was extended to all ranks in 1900.[21]

Khaki service dress replaced the scarlet tunic as the principal uniform, and the Army Council attempted to remove the flash during the First World War citing the grounds that it would help the Germans identify which unit was facing them. As Fusilier officer Robert Graves reported, "the regiment retorted by inquiring on what occasion since the retreat from Corunna, when the regiment was the last to leave Spain, with the keys of the town postern in the pocket of one of its officers, had any of His Majesty's enemies seen the back of a Royal Welch Fusilier?," and the matter remained "in abeyance throughout the war."[22] The efforts of the regiment to retain the distinction was further reinforced at a medal ceremony when King George V saw an officer of the regiment in the line. He ordered an about face and seeing the flash still on the tunic said sotto voce, "don't ever let anyone take it from you!"[23] The wearing of the flash on service dress was extended to other ranks in 1924.[24]

As a fusilier regiment, the RWF wore a hackle, which consisted of a plume of white feathers mounted behind the cap-badge of the modern beret.[18] The full dress of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, as worn by the entire regiment until 1914, included a racoon-skin hat (bearskin for officers) with a white hackle and a scarlet tunic with the dark blue facings of a Royal regiment. This uniform continued to be worn by the RWF's Corps of Drums and the Regimental Pioneers until the merger of 2006.[25]

Museum[edit]

The Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum is located in Caernarfon, Wales.[26]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum safeguards valuable First World War memories". Welsh Government. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Royal Welch Fusiliers". National Army Museum. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  3. ^ Westlake, p. 75
  4. ^ Many first hand accounts of the American War of Independence can be found in "the Diary of Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie" or Serjeant Roger Lamb's "Original and Authentic Journal of Occurrences During the Late American War". Other accounts can be found in the book Fusiliers by Mark Urban
  5. ^ "Sign at the Royal Welch Fusiliers Redoubt in Yorktown, Virginia". Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  6. ^ "Dates". The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh (Brecon). Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Westlake, pp. 75-76.
  8. ^ "A Short Account of the Life and adventures of Private Thomas Jeremiah 23rd or Royal Welch Fusiliers 1812-37". The Gareth Glover Collection. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  9. ^ Westlake, p. 76
  10. ^ "Christmas Truce 1914: Frelinghien Plaque". Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  11. ^ Richards, Frank (2001). Old Soldiers Never Die. Naval & Military Press. ISBN 978-1843420262. 
  12. ^ "31 May 1995". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Commons). col. 999–1009. 
  13. ^ "Conflict in the Balkans: The Peacekeepers". New York Times. 30 May 1995. 
  14. ^ "Commander in Bosnia mission impossible". BBC. 5 December 2002. 
  15. ^ "Bosnia's troops' tally of medal set a record". The Independent. 10 May 1996. 
  16. ^ "Fusiliers' battle to save Bosnians". BBC. 5 December 2002. 
  17. ^ "Soldiers choose regimental goat". BBC. 15 June 2009. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  18. ^ a b "23rd Foot - 7th Foot". Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  19. ^ British Army Uniforms & Insignia of World War Two; Brian L. Davis
  20. ^ Broughton-Mainwaring, Rowland (1889). Historical Record of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, Late the Twenty-third Regiment: Or, Royal Welsh Fusiliers (the Prince of Wales's Own Royal Regiment of Welsh Fuzeliers) Containing an Account of the Formation of the Regiment in 1689, and of Its Subsequent Services to 1889. Hatchards. p. 147. 
  21. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: What is "The Flash"?". Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  22. ^ Graves, Robert (1929). Goodbye To All That. Anchor. p. 85. 
  23. ^ Fussell, Paul (2013). The Great War and Modern Memory. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199971978. 
  24. ^ "The Wearing Of The Flash. Royal Welch Fusiliers' Distinction.". The Times. 29 January 1924. p. 14. 
  25. ^ "British Headdress (1856-current)". Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  26. ^ "The Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum". Retrieved 24 May 2014. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Westlake, Ray (2002), English and Welsh Infantry Regiments: An Illustrated Record of Service. Staplehurst. Spellmount. ISBN 1-86227-147-X.

External links[edit]