The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment

A Royal Warrant dated January 7th, 1756, authorised Colonel James Abercrombie to raise men, from any part of Great Britain, to serve in a new Regiment of Foot, the 52nd. In December of that same year the 50th and 51st regiments were disbanded, whereupon the 52nd was renumbered as the 50th.

The Regiment served in the following campaigns: – The Seven Years War from 1756 to 1763 taking part in actions at Corbach, Warburg and Wilhelmstahl In 1778 as Marines they took part in the indecisive naval battle of Ushant. In 1782 became associated with counties and the 50th was ordered to assume the designation “The 50th or West Kent Regiment.” In 1794 the Regiment was part of the expedition, serving under Nelson, which drove the French from the island of Corsica. This was followed in 1801 when the 50th landed at Aboukir Bay, Egypt in the face of strong French opposition. Having been part of the army that defeated Napoleon in the hard fought battle near Alexandria it marched on to Cairo and Napoleon’s Legions were driven from Egypt. The 50th were subsequently authorised to bear the word EGYPT on its colours in honour of this campaign.

In 1807 the 50th joined the expedition which was sent to Copenhagen to prevent the French from seizing the Danish Fleet. In 1808 the Peninsular War started as a result of the French invading Spain and Portugal and the Regiment was part of the army of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) that landed in Portugal in August of that year and moved on VIMERA.

Part of the army under Sir John Moore then marched north-eastwards to menace the French supply lines. Napoleon swiftly turned a large army against him and Moore was forced to retire to the coast at CORUNNA. During a battle fought on January 16th 1809 the 50th re-took the village of ELVINA with a spirited bayonet charge. Sir John Moore witnessed this success and cried, “Well done, 50th! Well done my Majors!” The majors were Napier (later General Sir Charles James Napier and Stanhope. One of Major Stanhope’s epaulettes is in the Regimental Museum in Maidstone. Thereafter it was the custom of the officers of 1st Battalion to drink to the memory of “The Corunna Majors” on the anniversary of the battle.

The Regiment subsequently took part in the battles at ALMARAZ, VITTORIA and for the passes of the PYRENEES and at the forcing of the passage across the River NIVE where the 50th forded the river breast high in a rapid current under very heavy musket fire. After the war, PENNINSULA was awarded as a Battle Honour covering all of those actions for which special honours had not been granted. It was during the Peninsular War that the nickname “The Dirty half Hundred” was given to The 50th. According to tradition the reason for it was that the dye came off their black cuffs when the troops wiped the perspiration from their faces. “Not a good-looking Regiment, but devilish steady,” said Sir Arthur Wellesley in 1808.

In January 1831 the Regiment assumed the title “The 50th or Queen’s Own Regiment” in honour of Queen Adelaide, wife of William 1V.There followed service in India and the Gwalior Campaign of 1843, the Sutlej Campaign 1845 to 1846, the Crimea War between 1854 and 1856 and New Zealand from 1863 to 1866. Subsequent to a tour in Australia between 1867 and 1869 the Regiment sailed for service at Home where it remained until it became the 1st Battalion The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). In 1824 major General Sir James Lyon was informed that a new regiment, numbered the 97th was to be “placed upon the establishment of the Army from March 25th, 1824, inclusive.” The Regiment assembled at Winchester. In September 1826 the King approved the title The 97th or Earl of Ulster’s Regiment. In the following month the Regiment was given permission to bear the motto “Quo fas et gloria ducunt”. Owing to their sky-blue facings to their uniforms they also earned the nickname “The Celestials”. The 97th saw service in Ceylon, Corfu, Halifax, Nova Scotia and for a short time in Greece.

In November1854 the 97th landed at Balaclava and took part in the Crimea War where it served alongside the 50th with great distinction. During a Russian sally from Sevastopol on March 22nd, 1855, seventy men under Captain Hedley Vicars repulsed a force although out-numbered by at least ten to one. In August of that same year a party from the 97th re-took, with severe loss, a sap from the Russians. During this fight Sergeant Coleman remained in the open, exposed to the enemy’s rifle fire until all around him had been killed or wounded. Finally he carried back an officer who had been mortally wounded. For this action Sergeant John Coleman was awarded the Victoria Cross which is in the Regimental Museum.

On September 8th the 97th took part in the assault on the Grand Redan. Captain Lumley was one of the first to enter the redoubt where he engaged three Russian gunners. He shot two with his pistol but was then stunned by a missile. He recovered, drew his sword to urge his men on when he was wounded. He was awarded the Victoria Cross. The 97th held the Redan despite the fact that of the 360 who had taken part in the assault,11 officers and 201 men had become casualties.After the Crimea War the Regiment sailed to India in 1857 and was part of the Field Force which relieved the Residency in Lucknow.

After a spell in England of four years the 97th was stationed in Ireland from 1871 to 1873, the West Indies from 1873 to 1877 and in 1880 arrived in Gibraltar from where it was immediately ordered to South Africa where the Boer settlers in the Transvaal had invaded Natal.

On July 1st 1871 the 50th Foot and 97th Foot became the 1st and 2nd Battalions, and the West Kent Light Infantry Militia became the 3rd and 4th Battalions of The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). With The 50th came the Lion and Crown badge and the royal blue facings on the uniform and the 97th brought with them the motto “Quo fas et gloria ducunt”. With the Militia came the cap badge the White Horse and Invicta of Kent.Between 1881 and 1914 the Battalions saw service in Egypt in 1882 , on The North West Frontier from 1897 to 1989, as part of the Aden Expedition of 1901 and in South Africa between 1899 and 1902 and subsequently in Ceylon, Hong Kong, China, Singapore and India.

In the Great War of 1914 to 1918 The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment raised 14 battalions who saw service on The Western Front,, Italy, Gallipoli and Palestine and Mesopotamia. On September 26th the 8th Battalion received its baptism of fire at the battle of Loos where it played a gallant part in an unsuccessful counter-attack. Its losses were severe 23 out of 24 officers and 550 other ranks out of 800 became casualties.In the summer of 1916 the 6th and 7th Battalions were part of the attack on the River Somme. The German defences were formidable, with machine guns, deep dug-outs and extensive barbed wire obstacles.

On the night of July 13th 250 men of the 7th Battalion beat off numerous German attacks and held on until relived. The 1st Battalion lost nearly 400 men in an attack on High Wood. In April 1917 the 1st and 6th Battalions took part in the attack on Vimy Ridge where the Canadians won great honour Meanwhile in other theatres the 10th and 11th Battalion saw service in Italy, the 2/4th Battalion in Palestine and Gallipoli, the 2nd and 1/5th Battalions in Mesopotamia.And so it went on, the Regiment lost many men and there were a great number of acts of self sacrifice and gallantry. Three Victoria Crosses were won by members of The Regiment, details of which are given on the following page.In November 1918 the guns fell silent; The Regiment had lost 6,866 men killed and many thousands more had been seriously wounded, some to be disabled for life.

In March 1921 the brackets were removed from the title of the Regiment, which became The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. In July of the same year the Regimental Memorial for those who had given their lives during the Great War was unveiled in Brenchley Gardens, Maidstone. In 1920 the 1st Battalion were in India and in 1922 were called out to aid the Civil Power and to cordon off an area of Calcutta where they were stationed. One of those subsequently arrested was Mahatma Ghandi. In December 1937 the battalion embarked for England and were stationed at Shorncliffe. The 2nd Battalion were unexpectedly sent to join the Army of Occupation in Germany in March 1920 where a civil war had broken out. In 1922 the battalion was rushed back to England where coal-miners had come out on strike and there was fear of a General Strike. The Army Reserve was called out and 250 reservists joined the battalion at Dover Castle.. The strike over the battalion was ordered to Ireland to deal with the Sinn Fein rising. The train carrying the battalion from Kingstown Harbour to Dublin was ambushed and three men were wounded, one mortally. After Ireland tours in Woking from 1925 to 27 and in Guernsey from 1927 to 1930 and Aldershot in 1931 were followed by Shorncliffe in November 1934 where they stayed until 1937.

In early 1938 the battalion arrived in Palestine and were allotted duties of protecting the railway and preventing sabotage in the Haifa area. On July 6th, as a result of a bomb attack by some Jews, the Arabs began to muster in large gangs and were prepared to shoot it out with the troops. Within a short time over 20 Arabs had been killed and 5 rifles had been captured by the battalion. In November the 2nd Battalion fought its most effective action when 40 Arabs were killed and 17 rifles captured.

In March 1939 the battalion sailed for Malta. Whilst in Palestine, eleven members of the battalion had been killed in action or who had died of wounds.Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939 and on the 3rd, Britain and France declared war on Germany. During the autumn of 1939 the British Expeditionary Force, and with it the 1st Battalion, crossed to France and moved up to the Franco-Belgian border. In April, 1940, the 4th and 5th Battalions went over with 44th (Home Counties) Division and on May 4th, the 1st Battalion joined them at Bailleul to form, for the first time in history, a Queen’s Own Brigade. Subsequent to Germany attacking Holland and Belgium on May 10th, 44th Division prepared a second line of defence behind the river Scheldt. The sector allotted to The Queen’s Own Brigade included Eekhout and Oudenarde. On May 14th, the Germans penetrated the French front at Sedan causing 1 and 11 Corps to fall back through Oudenarde. On the morning of May 21st, the 1st Battalion was engaged at Eekhout and came under considerable pressure. A counter-attack by the reserve companies of the 1st and 4th Battalions redressed the situation . The Germans made repeated attempts to cross the river in the brigade sector but the garrison stood firm and the bren-gun carriers and mortars of the 4th checked the German advance on Oudenarde.

That evening orders came to withdraw. The 6th and 7th Battalions had also crossed to France with 12th Division and by May 20th, the 7th, having already checked a German column on the Canal du Nord, moved to Albert and the 6th to Doullens. Suddenly a strong attack was launched, supported by tanks, by the Germans. The 7th was forced to retire and then to split up into small parties. Only about 70 avoided capture.

The 6th defended road-blocks in Doullens for 8 hours but the German pressure was overwhelming and all but 25 of the survivors were taken prisoner. Having passed through Doullens the Germans reached the English Channel. By 24th May, Dunkirk was the only port available to the British. The next day The Queen’s Own Brigade took up a position facing west along Hazebrouck Canal to secure the lines of communication with the coast.. On May 26th the outposts were attacked by tanks and one company of the 4th became cut off. Next morning the 5th Battalion was attacked by infantry and forced to retire to the main position. On 28th, the Germans turned the left flank of the brigade so that the 5th had to withdraw. At dusk came the orders to retreat to Dunkirk, a distance of some 50 miles. While breaking contact on the canal some of the 4th were captured. The forward companies of the 1st were extricated with difficulty and during the retreat two of them were captured..

The remnants of the brigade were evacuated by destroyers, trawlers and pleasure boats. The Queen’s Own Brigade casualties, since May 20th, had been about 1,000 of the 2,400 who had gone into action.

The 2nd Battalion were in Malta when war was declared. Italy entered the war in June 1940 and the battalion found that the 200 air-raids that the Italians launched against the island were not a serious menace.. The German air squadrons arrived in Sicily at the beginning of 1942 and the battalion, now disposed in defence of Luqa Airfield, bore the brunt of the bombing. By the middle of April 1942 the Germans had complete mastery in the air over Malta but on May 9th, large reinforcements of Spitfires flew in from an aircraft carrier. As the RAF were short of ground staff, Queen’s Own soldiers helped to wheel these machines into pens and refuel them as soon as they arrived. By June 1942, food, already severely rationed, was reduced further to 2,000 calories a day instead of the normal 4,000. Events in North Africa the moved in Malta’s favour and the siege was raised on November 19th.

The 4th and 5th Battalions arrived in Egypt in July,1942 when the 8th Army was defending a position at Alamein. On August 31st the enemy launched an attack which was halted at Alam Halfa Ridge. The British plan was to threaten the enemy’s supply route. A night operation was carried by a force which included the 4th and 5th Battalions. On reaching their objective these battalions were met with a hail of fire. Nonetheless they stormed some of the trenches but, having suffered fifty per cent casualties, were forced to withdraw just before dawn. However this threat to the enemy’s supply and escape route hastened their retreat in to the desert where the RAF took a very heavy toll.In December 1941 America had entered the war and in November 1942 an allied army landed in Algeria. 78th Division, which included the 6th Battalion moved swiftly east towards Tunis. They distinguished themselves by holding the cross roads at Djebel Aboid for four days against an armoured column.After this successful defence the advance continued only to be halted on November 30th at Green Hill (Djebel Azzag), where the 6th lost 11 officers and 150 other ranks in a heroic attack.

The 1st Battalion arrived in North Africa in March 1943, and fought well. They were involved in several attacks including that on Peter’s Corner and later against Cactus Farm. Its casualties were 16 officers and 317 other ranks. Meanwhile the 6th Battalion had taken part in an attack by 36th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier B Howlett of the Queen’s Own, on the famous Longstop Hill. The battle opened on the night of April 22nd but it was not until April 26th that the whole hill was captured.

After the successful conclusion of the North African campaign the 6th Battalion took part in the invasion of Sicily. The thrust up the east coast was stopped at a town, built on high ground, called Centuripe “Cherry Ripe” to the troops. The 6th Battalion drove in the enemy outposts on August 1st and that night and all the next day continued the fight amongst loose rocks and steep gorges. The town was taken and the 6th pressed on to capture and hold Monte Rivoglia, which they did with great gallantry.

After taking part in the heroic defence of Malta the 2nd Battalion was sent to Samos in September as part of a force sent to occupy islands in the Aegean. On November 12th the Battalion was ordered to reinforce the island of Leros which was being invaded by the Germans. The companies arrived on Leros at different times and three of them fought in separate actions with considerable losses. Most of the survivors were taken prisoner when the garrison, overwhelmed by air attack, surrendered on November 16th. Only ninety managed to escape and were sent home to England where they were amalgamated with the 7th Battalion to form a new 2nd Battalion.

On September 3rd 1943 Italy was invaded by the Allies. On September 8th the Italians surrendered leaving the Germans to oppose two allied armies which included the 1st, 5th and 6th Battalions. By October 3rd the leading troops of the 8th Army had reached the River Bifero. After commandos had seized Termoli, 36th Brigade landed unopposed. The 6th moved inland to form a breach-head but later had to fall back in the face of a determined attack by German armour to await our own armour.The Germans retreated to the River Sangro and for none days patrols of the 6th waded the river to reconnoitre the enemy positions.

The 5th battalion, which had arrived with the 8th Indian Division, crossed the Sangro in reserve to the main attack. On November 30th it moved up to assault Romangnoli. The attack went in on the left flank to give the 5th a notable victory. Later the battalion captured Villa Grande.In the Spring of 1944 the three Queen’s Own battalions, although in different divisions, came together at Cassino, with the 6th in the Castle and on Castle Hill, the 1st in the town and the 5th at the railway station. The Germans overlooked these positions from Monastery Hill so movement was impossible in daylight hours. The 6th withstood two counter-attacks and inflicted sever casualties on the enemy.

In the town, which had been smashed by bombing into heaps of rubble, the 1st Battalion lived in cellars or weapon pits dug amongst the rubble. At the station the Germans were, in places, only 20 yards away and rations and water had to taken up to the 5th on tanks.The final battle in the Cassino sector began on the night of May 11th. On 13th the 5th took part in the successful assault on the village of Pignataro; the 1st, still with the 4th Indian Division, attacked and captured its first objective and later reached and took its second. It then beat off an attempt by the Germans to escape from Monastery Hill. The 5th then took part in an attack on Piedimonte. The 6th. In reserve for the battle, joined in the advance on Rome.Rome fell on June 4th 1944 and the Germans retreated to Lake Trasimenem, where the 6th were in action again. The 1st took part in several actions including the one on San Pancrazio and lost some 200 casualties.

By August 12th the Germans had withdrawn from Florence and the 5th entered the city to restore order. The fighting continued across the northern neck of Italy with the 5th capturing Monte Romana, the 6th making a series of attacks in the mountains south of Bologna seizing Monte Maggiore just before winter set in bringing the offensive to an end.The 1st had moved to the Adriatic sector and was involved in the crossing of the River Savio where it established a bridgehead. In December 1944 the 1st battalion was sent to Greece where rebel troops were attempting to seize the reins of government.In April 1945 the 5th and 6th Battalions took part in the great offensive which was launched in the Adriatic sector. On May 2nd the unconditional surrender of the Germans in Italy was announced.

The Japanese had invaded Burma in January 1942. By the time the 4th Battalion arrived with the 5th Indian Division in October 1943, the British had been driven back to positions north of Razabil in the Arakan and Imphal in Manipur. The first task was the re-capture of Razabil but before then two hills had to be secured. During these attacks the 4th Battalion suffered some 75 casual;ties. After Razabil the next task was to seize two tunnels through which the main lateral road passed. The Japanese held these tunnels very stubbornly and several attempts failed. During one of these attacks the 4th suffered over 60 casualties from “friendly” artillery fire.In March 1944 the 5th Indian Division was flown to the Imphal area, where the enemy had launched a strong attack.

By April 4th the Japanese had reached Kohima and on the next day the 4th Battalion was sent to reinforce the garrison. The garrison consisted of untried Indian troops, a handful of British soldiers at a Convalescence Depot and the administrative staff. On April 6th the Japanese launched a strong attack and the Indian troops were forced to withdraw from two positions on the southern perimeter. On the 8th the Japanese established a machine gun position which overlooked the area. Lance Corporal Harman went forward alone, threw a grenade into the post, annihilated the crew and returned with the machine gun. For this act of gallantry, and more the following day during which he was killed, John Harman was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. Kohima was now under direct artillery fire from three sides Many wounded were hit for a second time and the water reservoir had fallen into Jap hands. Men now had to crawl out at night to try and fill their water bottles from a spring. Later on water as well as medical stores and ammunition had to be dropped from the air to the garrison.The garrison held out despite continual fierce attacks which were thrown back only by hand-to-hand fighting. The perimeter had to be shortened continually and by the 18th April the Japs were within 40 yards of the Command Post.

When the Battalion was relieved on April 20th it had lost 199 out of the 500 that went into action. Its staunch defence had held up a Japanese division for 15 days, long enough to allow two British divisions to arrive and prevent the invasion of India. This was indeed a fine episode in the history of a very fine county regiment. The 4th Battalion joined in the pursuit of the Japanese in the race for Rangoon. Towards the final days of the race the 4th was at the head of the column when it was involved in a very sharp clash with Japanese at Pyu, where six enemy guns were taken; one of which, an anti-tank gun, is now in the Regimental Museum. Rangoon was captured on May 3rd 1945.

On August 15th the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. The war was finally over!Between August 1945 and February 1947 the 1st Battalion was in Greece and Egypt; the 2nd served in Germany and the 4th was placed in suspended animation; and the 5th and 6th were disbanded.

In the autumn of 1947 both the 1st and 2nd moved to England. The Field Army was re-organised and in 1948 the Infantry was reduced by half. This caused the 1st Battalion to be placed in suspended animation. The amalgamation of its Cadre with the 2nd Battalion was completed on June 1st, 1948. The title of the new unit became “1st Battalion The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment (50th and 97th).

In February 1951 the 1st Battalion sailed for Malaya. Its operational area, which consisted mainly of thick jungle with a few tin mines and rubber estates, extended for several miles on either side of the main trunk road from a point 11 miles north of Kuala Lumpur to 70 miles to the north. There followed a most successful operational tour. When the Battalion embarked for England in March 1954, 24 of its members had died or been killed in action. One OBE, three M.B.E.’s, three B.E.M.’s, four M.C.’s, two D.C.M.’s and four M.M.’s had been won.

In 1956 the Battalion took part in the Suez landings after which instead of returning home the Battalion was ordered to Cyprus where they had a most successful tour. On their departure the Governor of Cyprus, Sir Hugh Foot, said “The Royal West Kent’s have been in the thick of the troubles of the emergency and have answered every call made on them magnificently”.

At 11 a.m. on March 1st 1961 The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment were amalgamated with The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) to form The Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment.

On 31st December 1966 1st Battalion The Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment was renamed: The 2nd Battalion The Queen’s Regiment.

On 9th September 1992, as a result of ‘Options for Change’, a new regiment was formed from the three regular battalions of The Queen’s Regiment and The 5th and The 6/7th Territorial Queen’s Battalions amalgamated with The Royal Hampshire Regiment (37th and 67th) to become

The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR)

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