Volunteers and Cadets

The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars had been reduced to cadre strength of three officers and four sergeants in 1969, but in 1971 were resurrected to form “A” and “C” Squadrons of the newly created Wessex Yeomanry, a Royal Armoured Corps regiment in the Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve.

In April 1967 5th (Territorial) Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment had been disbanded and reconstituted as “A” Company, Wessex Volunteers of the Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve. In 1976 the Wessex Volunteers were renamed as the Wessex Regiment (Rifle Volunteers), the Rifle Volunteer designation harking back to the nineteenth century.

The Royal Wessex Yeomanry and the Wessex Regiment (Rifle Volunteers) were to come together under the command of 43 (Wessex) Brigade.

The opportunities available to the part-time soldiers of the British Army are well illustrated by two exercises, one undertaken by a composite Squadron of the Wessex Yeomanry, and the other by “A” Company (Gloucestershire), 1st Battalion, The Wessex Regiment (Rifle Volunteers) in 1978.

In March 1978 a composite squadron of the Wessex Yeomanry, (composed of soldiers from Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Devon) flew to Gibraltar, as the Historical Journal of the Regiment tells:-

“The principal duty of the composite Squadron was to take over the border duty and this was allocated to Troops on a daily basis with A Troop taking the first day. Consequently, for us, there was no-one from which to crib on procedure and routine, but the day went by without any major crises. We also came to terms with the eccentricities of international diplomacy, which meant that we saluted the Spanish Flag but they ignored ours, and their border gates were closed while ours were open every morning. (However SOPs for the border provided that if the Spanish gates were ever opened, then we had to close ours at once and send for the Customs and Excise). The Regiment’s collection of flags also provided an excellent opportunity to confuse the Spanish. They were a little surprised to see the RGH flag on day one instead of that of the 2 Queens, who were the resident battalion, even more surprised when B Troop ran up the Royal Berkshire Yeomanry flag on day two and were totally mystified when C Troop for a change ran up the Regimental flag. This the Spaniards mistook for their own national flag and rang up to enquire if the British were at last going to hand over the Rock.

“Apart from the border duty which in fact became rather monotonous, Gibraltar, for all its lack of space, provided excellent opportunities for training, both on the various ranges and with the Gibraltar Regiment, for sports in the form of abseiling, canoeing and football and recreation with the various Rock tours and sight seeing expeditions.”

On 8th June 1979 the Wessex Yeomanry was granted the title of Royal, in recognition of the Duke of Beaufort’s long service. For no less than fifty-four years he had been Honorary Colonel of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, Honorary Colonel of the Wessex Yeomanry for eight years, and had recently retired after forty-three years of service as Master of the Horse to four reigning monarchs.

“A” Company of 1st Battalion, The Wessex Regiment (Rifle Volunteers) took part in Exercise Full House with the British Army of the Rhine in October 1978. The Gloucestershire Regimental Journal, The Back Badge, recounted:-

“The weekend infantryman is not used to manoeuvring over large tracks of virgin farm land, in unknown terrain and surrounded by a civilian population. He is diffident at first about trespassing in the fields and buildings of the local people, following years of training to respect private property . . . , but once that initial shyness has worn off, the relative freedom from training restrictions provides him with a most welcome feeling of freshness and realism, and for most at least of the members of the Company who went to Germany camp was a rare glimpse of the real thing, for which the battles fought on wet winter weekends on Salisbury Plain are only rehearsals.

“. . . 2 Platoon (from Bristol) developed an unhappy knack of being in the right place at the wrong time, or perhaps vice versa, so far as exercise activity was concerned, and scarcely fired a shot. Little incenses a volunteer soldier more than going on an exercise which is overflowing with tanks, A.P.C.s, helicopters and even real foreigners, only to find that the battle is invariably half a mile away and that his magazine is as full on day three as it was when he first loaded it!

“But if there were some private soldiers and junior leaders for whom the tactical work might have seemed unrewarding, there can be no doubt that from the point of view of the officers and senior ranks the training was extremely valuable and the experience gained, albeit unconsciously, by all ranks will stand them in good stead if mobilization is ever required.”

The degree of cooperation and friendly relations between the Regulars and the Territorials on the Exercise was also commented upon:-

“Nothing can do more to enhance the respect and understanding of the volunteer for the regular and (we hope) vice versa than contact both on the training ground and in the bar. In the last six months or so, seven soldiers have left our ranks to join the Regular Army, most with a view to joining 1 Glosters. On the other side of the coin, we have signed up three soldiers who have for one reason or another recently completed their regular service . . . but who nonetheless want to maintain contact with the army life and have a commitment to it.”

The historical connections between regiments, regular and volunteer, of the counties of the Wessex region of England were, and still are, constantly being updated. And it is not just the links between the Regular Army and the Territorial Army that are important. The Army Cadet Force and the Combined Cadet Force both provide the teenagers of Gloucestershire and other counties with the opportunity to learn about the army and perhaps train for service with the Territorials or the Regulars in later life. With around eighteen platoons of the ACF in the villages and towns of Gloucestershire, and some of its major public schools still maintaining a CCF, the importance of recruiting locally has not diminished.
Picture: Avon ACF cadets with a Chieftain tank in West Germany, 1975.