Gentlemen and Yeomen
During the threat of invasion by the French in 1794, the Prime Minister, William Pitt, proposed raising a volunteer force of trained, armed men, forming both infantry and cavalry units on a county basis. The cavalry troops would consist of landowners, their tenant farmers and other yeomen of the county, men who were able to provide their own horses and could relate to the countryside.
The first troop in Gloucestershire was raised by Capt. Powell Snell of Guiting Power, at the Plough Hotel, Cheltenham, in 1795. In the next few years other troops were raised at Minchinhampton, Wotton-under-Edge, Stow on the Wold, Henbury, Gloucester and Bristol. In 1798 a further troop was formed in Stroud – the ‘Bisley, Longtree and Whitstone Troop’. With the defeat of Napoleonic ambition at Waterloo in 1815, the volunteer forces disbanded. Civil unrest however followed and, alarmed by rural riots in Wiltshire in 1830, troops were quickly formed in Dodington, Fairford, Cirencester, Stroud, Tetbury, Gloucester and two in Bristol to help disperse disturbances.
In March 1834 the Captains of the independent troops met at Petit France, near Badminton, and agreed to combine into a single regiment, The Regiment of Gloucestershire Yeomanry Cavalry. Command was given to the Marquis of Worcester, heir to the 6th Duke of Beaufort. The title of ‘Royal’ was granted in 1841 and in 1845 the Regiment was renamed The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars.
Active Service – The Boer War
The first opportunity for active service came during the Boer War, when the national Yeomanry themselves suggested the use of their members to act as mounted infantry to help defeat the highly mobile Boer forces. One hundred and twenty three volunteers of the RGH formed a Company of the 1st Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry, but sickness caused more casualties than did the fighting.
The Great War
The RGH mobilised in August 1914 and was initially involved in Home Defence in East Anglia. With recruits rapidly volunteering in 1914 and early 1915, it eventually formed three regiments. In April 1915 1RGH sailed to Egypt and in August received the unexpected orders to proceed to Gallipoli, leaving their horses in the care of a small rear party. After two months of manning front and reserve lines and their numbers dropping from 300 to 85, the Regiment was withdrawn to Egypt and their beloved horses. In 1916, as the Turkish Army moved towards the Suez Canal, the RGH formed part of the force defending the eastern approaches to the Canal. In April the German-led Turks overwhelmed a Squadron of the RGH at Qatia, but were repulsed in August, at the Battle of Romani; the RGH taking part in the fighting. From here the British and Empire forces, under command of General Allenby, were able to advance through Palestine and Syria, the RGH finishing the War in Aleppo. 2RGH, swapping their horses for bicycles, remained in the UK until they were sent to Dublin in April 1918 and 3RGH remained as a training regiment in the UK.
The Intervening Years
In 1921 the RGH was reduced to an armoured car company of the Royal Tank Corps, equipped with Peerless armoured cars, and later with Rolls Royce vehicles, capable of higher speeds. In 1938, with another war looming, it resumed its original title and, with recruits swelling the numbers, it was able to split into two, forming 1RGH and 2RGH, whilst at annual camp.
The Second World War
The 1RGH remained in England throughout the war as a Training/Home Defence Regiment but in 1946 was sent to Austria as part of the occupying force. The 2RGH was sent to Egypt in 1941 as part of the 22nd Armoured Brigade of the 8th Army. Fighting in the North African desert from 1941 until 1943, gaining ten Battle Honours and over twenty decorations for gallantry, its surviving members were finally dispersed to other Regiments when so many officers and men had become casualties. With these units they fought their way either through Italy or from Normandy, to end the war in Germany.
Post War, The Territorial Soldier
In 1947, the RGH reformed as a Reconnaissance Regiment, in Daimler armoured cars, their numbers being boosted by National Servicemen completing their period on Reserve. In 1967 the Regiment was reduced to a cadre of 7 officers and men before the Territorial Army, under a new Government in 1971, was expanded. The RGH contributed two Squadrons to a newly formed, infantry rolled, Home Defence Regiment, the Wessex Yeomanry; the other squadrons coming from the Wiltshire and the Devon Yeomanry. In 1979 this yeomanry regiment was granted the title The Royal Wessex Yeomanry and, in 1983, given a new role and mounted in stripped-down Land Rovers, served again as a highly mobile Home Defence Reconnaissance Regiment.
South West’s Armoured Reserve Regiment
The Royal Wessex Yeomanry, with the RGH Squadron at Cirencester, now consists of five squadrons, all descended from the yeomanry of the South West of England, equipped with the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank. Its role is to provide fully trained and highly skilled tank crews to support the Regular Army