9th-12th Royal Lancers battlefield study of the First World War
Army History

Dead Regiments – And Those Who Served In Them

9th-12th Royal Lancers battlefield study of the First World War

Armed Forces veterans are sharing their love for 'dead regiments' and speaking of their pride, honours and fond memories of units that no longer exist.

Tradition, home, and family – all these things can change or even disappear when a British Army regiment is subsumed or disbanded.

Yet regiments can still live on in some form, in their proud histories, and, in more recent decades, in the memories of those who served in them.

Given the long history and complexity of the British Army, it is a challenge to look at every former regiment but members of the Armed Forces community have been sharing their thoughts on those that stand out in their memories.

Dead Regiments And Their Histories

For some former soldiers, the old regiments were homes they were proud to be a part of precisely because of their long list of battle honours.

Former paratrooper Andrew Fox tweeted:

In fact, the Royal Welch Fusilier’s list of battle honours is so long, Mr Fox had to continue it on several more tweets.

Founded in 1689, it played a role in the Battle of the Boyne the following year, and then the War of Spanish Succession when that conflict broke out in the early 1700s. It participated in a number of engagements during that conflict, including Blenheim, he battle that helped create the legend behind Winston Churchill’s ancestor the Duke of Marlborough.

In 1714, it became The Prince of Wales’ Own Royal Regiment of Welsh Fusiliers and went on to fight in conflicts throughout that century, and the next before amassing a long list of First World War battle honours, many listed by Fox. Among them are many of the big names from that war: Mons, the Marne, Messines, Ypres, Cambrai, the Somme.

The Royal Welch are also noteworthy for having had the poets Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon as members during the First World War.

Although a traditional infantry regiment, some of its battalions were rerolled, one of which was 6th (Royal Welch) Battalion, Parachute Regiment. As a former paratrooper himself, Mr Fox noted in one tweet: “Never forget the 6th Parachute Battalion”.

Meanwhile, the regiment as a whole is noteworthy for being one of a handful that had not been amalgamated with any others until 2004. After that it became part of the Royal Welsh along with the Royal Regiment of Wales.

Mr Fox’s Tweets about dead regiments sparked a thread of comments from others who remember other former regirments that have been disbanded or altered by Army reforms over the years.

In response to Mr Fox, David Gell tweeted: “I was originally in the 1st Battalion The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment. (29th & 45th of Foot). Abbreviated to 1WFR and affectionately known as Woofers. A County regiment of the highest order with the finest traditions.”

Unlike the Royal Welch Fusiliers, ‘the Woofers’, or WFR, were themselves a product of previous amalgamation, namely the fusion of the Worcestershire Regiment and the Sherwood Foresters.

Although one then might be tempted to trace their history back to the days of Robin Hood, the WFR’s history is no less impressive for having in fact been recent. After it was formed in 1970, it performed a number of tours in Northern Ireland and Cyprus, as well as in Bosnia in 1996 and 1998 and more recently in Afghanistan.

Mr Fox said, in his response to the comment above, that he had worked alongside the Woofers in Afghanistan and found them to be “great lads”.

Not long after that, the WFR would also be amalgamated, in their case with the Cheshire Regiment and Staffordshire Regiment, with all three eventually becoming a part of the Mercian Regiment.

For his part, Sussex man Tom H tweeted about the Royal Sussex Regiment.

It too was the product of earlier Army reforms, though from much further back in time - the Childers reforms of 1881.

For the remainder of the 19th Century, the regiment served in Africa and India, with the first battalion remaining in India throughout World War 1 and from there participating in the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919.

The second battalion, meanwhile, served on the Western Front and, like many other older regiments such as the Royal Welch, it too participated in many of the war’s famous battles: Mons, the Marne, Ypres, the Somme, Loos, Passchendaele and others.

Other battalions within the regiment also served on the Western Front, as well as further afield such as at Gallipoli.

In the Second World War, it also served in various places, such as North Africa, Italy and France, with the second battalion of the regiment taking part in the Dunkirk evacuation. It later went on, along with volunteers from other units in the regiment, to become 10th Parachute Regiment, in the same way that Andrew Fox’s battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers had been converted to airborne troops during the war.

In 1966, the Royal Sussex became a part of the Queen’s Regiment (along with the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment, the Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment and the Middlesex Regiment), and then in 1992 it in turn fused with the Royal Hampshire Regiment and became the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. The Royal Sussex’s history, as with any Army amalgamations, becoming a proud part of the new regimental’s greater story, as Tom H alluded to.

Greg Colton, meanwhile, said he had been a Devon and Dorset, or a member of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment.

He included in his post battle honours of the regiment’s antecedent units, the Devonshire Regiment and the Dorset Regiment, the first of which was also known as the 11th Regiment of Foot and can trace its history all the way back to 1685, and second of which was itself an amalgamation of the 39th and 54th Regiments of Foot.

The history of the Devonshire and Dorsets (i.e. as a single unit) began with the formation of this amalgamated regiment in 1958 and it soon found itself in conflict with the EOKA in Cyprus, a Greek paramilitary group seeking to end British rule of the island.

The regiment also served in Malta, in Libya (helping to evacuate British citizens in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War), in Ghana, Northern Ireland, in the Falklands, as part of the BAOR (British Army on the Rhine) during the Cold War, and in the Gulf and the Balkans following the end of the Cold War.

The regiment became part of The Rifles in 2007.

The motto of the unit had been “Always Faithful”, or Semper Fidelis in Latin.

John Ross responded to Andrew Fox to say that he is proudly ex 1st Battalion of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

He included the fact that this unit was, like so many others, a combination of the 98th then 91st Argyllshire Highlanders, as well as the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, forever immortalised as the Thin red line.

The latter earnt the regiment the nickname “the Thin Red Line” when it held off a large Russian cavalry charge with only musket fire during the Crimean War. (The normal manner would have been to form infantry squares that bristled with bayonets that had been fixed to the men’s muskets).

The “thin” part in the nickname refers to the presence of only this battalion hold off he Russian cavalry and preventing them from reaching the British base located at Balaclava. It is derived from a report about the battle by a Times correspondent who witness it and wrote that the only thing between the British base the charging Russian cavalry was a …

" … thin red streak tipped with a line of steel of the 93rd."

Meanwhile, the “red” obviously refers to the red coats worn by the British soldiers.

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders would be combined with other Scottish regiments (the Royal Scots, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, Royal Highland Fusiliers, the Black Watch and the Highlanders – Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons) to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006.

Michael Emery, also commenting on the 'dead regiments, stood out from others in that he is a former member of a cavalry regiment that was amalgamated, rather than an infantry regiment.

His unit was the 9th/12th Royal Lancers, which, as the name suggests, was formed by combining the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers and 12th Royal Lancers in 1960.

Rather than horses, the 9th/12th Royal Lancers used Centurion tanks and served in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, the Gulf (and later Iraq), Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Michael spoke fondly of his days in the regiment in his tweet, referring to his comrades as "brilliant lads" from Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire. A fellow commentator named TheBlackLancer shared Michael’s enthusiasm for the unit, and tweeted “A proud Lancer!” in response.

In 2015, proud lancers in the 9th/12th Royal Lancers joined together with proud lancers from the Queen’s Royal Lancers, and both regiments became the parents of a new unit: the Royal Lancers.

Manyh others joined in the thread in response to Mr Fox’s tweet, with many other former regiments highlighted as the Armed Forces community shared their love and pride for their former units.

What are your memories of former regiments that no longer exist or that have been amalgamated? Tell us about your pride for your 'dead regiment' or any stories you have of your time in a regiment that has been consigned to history. Contact us at [email protected]

Cover image: The 9th/12th Royal Lancers on a battlefield study of the First World War tracing the regimental histories of their ancestor units (picture: MOD)