History

The Regimental History of The Royal Welch Fusiliers

imageThe ‘c’ in Welch. In 1702, when the Welsh designation was granted, the spelling ‘Welch’ was common usage but was swept away during the eighteenth century by ‘Welsh’. The Regiment, however, stuck resolutely to the old spelling although it was not until 1920 that they persuaded the War Office to agree with them.
imageThe Regimental Goat. No record exists of the origin of the Regimental Goat. It was apparently a custom of long standing when in 1771 it was written that “The Royal Regiment of Welch Fusiliers has a privilege and honour of passing in review preceded by a Goat with gilded horns.. (and that) the corps values itself much on the ancientness of the custom”. The first Royal Goat was presented by Queen Victoria in 1844 from a herd started by some goats given to her by the Shah of Persia. The Regimental goat, not a mascot, wears a silver headplate and is in the care of a non-commissioned officer with the honorary title of Goat Major.
imageThe Flash. In the days when soldiers had pigtails they were worn powdered and greased. In order to protect their tunics the pigtails were enclosed in what was known as a ‘queue bag’. In 1808 hair was ordered to be cut close to the neck and the queue was abolished. The officers decided to retain the ribbons with which the queue was tied, and, using an old slang term for a wig, they were known as the ‘Flash’. In 1834, after the complaint by the General, King William IV was pleased to approve the Flash “ as a peculiarity whereby to mark the dress of that distinguished regiment”. Until 1900 it was worn only by officers, warrant officers and staff sergeants but in that year its use was extended to all ranks in full dress. In 1924 it was approved for wear on ceremonial parades and when walking out. It is worn by all who are badged Royal Welch, including regular, territorial army and cadet battalions.
imageCeremonial Pioneers. Eight Pioneers wearing white buckskin aprons and gauntlets, and carrying their traditional tools, march behind the Regimental Goat at the head of the battalion on ceremonial parades. The unique distinction was authorised for the Regiment in 1887. it is a reminder of time past when they prepared the route for the battalion before the days of good roads and bridges.
imageThe Literary Tradition. An amazing outpouring of literature resulted from the Great War, none more so than amongst the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Robert Graves, Goodbye To All That and Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer served together and also wrote much poetry based on their experiences. Dr J C Dunn, Medical Officer of the 2nd Battalion, wrote The War the Infantry Know. Old Soldiers Never Die came from the pen of Frank Richards, a Private throughout the War. David Jones poet and artist, author of In Parenthesis, served in the 15th Battalion. Ellis Humphrey Evans (Hedd Wynn), poet and shepherd, winner at the Eisteddfod in 1917, was killed two weeks before taking the Bardic Chair. Others included Llewelyn Wyn Griffith, Up to Mametz and Vivian de Sola Pinto, The City That Shone.
imageSt David’s Day. The 1st of March, in peace or war, at home or abroad, is observed whenever possible as a holiday and leeks are worn by all ranks. It has almost certainly been celebrated since the earliest days for on the traditional toast list is ‘Toby Purcell, His Spurs and St David’. Toby Purcell distinguished himself as Second-in-Command at the battle of the Boyne, and his spurs were worn by successive seconds-in-command until they were lost in a fire at Montreal in 1842. The ceremonial eating of the leek in the Officers’ Mess remains unchanged over the years. The Goat is led round the table by the Goat Major, followed by a drummer, a fifer, the Drum Major bearing a silver salver with raw leeks, and the Mess Sergeant carrying a silver loving cup filled with champagne. The latest joined subaltern stands on his chair with one foot on the table and eats a leek to the continuous roll of the drum. The Mess Sergeant then hands him the loving cup for the toast to ‘St David’. Anyone present, including guests, who has not eaten the leek with the Regiment will be asked to do so. Similar ceremonial is carried out in the Sergeants’ Mess, and in the soldiers’ Dining Hall where the youngest solider in each company.
imageThe White Hackle. The custom originated in 1702 when the 23rd became Fusiliers. It was continued up to and including the busby but it was not considered suitable for wear with caps. With the introduction of the blue beret in 1950 its use was permitted as a distinction for Fusilier regiments.
Alliances. Between the wars alliances with regiments from Commonwealth countries became common. The Royal Welch Fusiliers have alliances with:
Royal 22nd Regiment of Canada in 1927
12th Infantry (Pretoria Regiment) in 1927
4th Battalion The Malay Regiment in 1954
3rd Battalion Frontier Force Regiment in 1966
The unofficial alliance established with the United States Marine Corps in 1900 still exists.

The overthrow of James II and the succession of William III and Mary in early 1689 signalled a major expansion of the Army to oppose James’s French and Irish troops in Ireland and the imminent war with France. On 16th March 1689 Henry, 4th Lord Herbert of Chirbury received a warrant to raise volunteers for a Regiment of Foot to be assembled at Ludlow, with precedence soon to be granted as the 23rd Regiment of Foot

In the following month he handed over to his cousin Charles and by August Herbert’s Regiment joined the army in Ireland to deal with the threat posed by James and his French allies. In June 1690 King William joined his troops in Ireland and on the 1st July led them to victory at the battle of the Boyne. The Regiment remained in Ireland and in 1691 took part in the victory at Aughrim, where their Colonel, Charles Herbert, was “unfortunately taken prisoner, and a few hours later barbarously murdered to prevent his being rescued”.

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Henry, 4th Lord Herbert of Chirbury

In 1694 the Regiment landed on continental Europe and in the following year participated in the siege of Namur, where it earned its first Battle Honour. In 1701, after a short period in England and Ireland, war broke out, and the Regiment was ordered to Holland where it was placed under the command of John Churchill, shortly to become the Duke of Marlborough. The Regiment fought in all Marlborough’s major battles – Blenheim, Ramilies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet – and remained in Holland until after peace had been signed at Utrecht in 1713.

Until 1702 the Regiment, in common with more others, was known by the name of its Colonel, but as a newspaper of the time reported, “Major General Ingoldsby’s (the Colonel) Regiment is to be formed into a regiment of Fusiliers, and will be called the Welsh Regiment of Fusiliers.” The specific task of fusilier regiments was to protect the artillery. This was because they were armed with the early flintlock, known as the fusil, a much safer weapon to use when near gunpowder. When the flintlock was issued to all the infantry in the early eighteenth century the Fusiliers lost their special role, but the three regiments, 7th, 21st and 23rd, succeeded in establishing themselves as elite regiments. In 1713, as a reward for its great gallantry under Marlborough, the Regiment was styled The Royal Regiment of Welsh Fusiliers. In the following year, as a result of its close connection with the Prince of Wales, it was authorised to bear three of his badges: The Red Dragon, The Rising Sun, and the Prince of Wales’s Feathers, on the Colours.

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The Battle of Ramillies by Richard Simpkin

For the next thirty years the Regiment remained in England, with occasional forays north of the border, once to help in the suppression of the Porteous Riots in Edinburgh. Peace, which rarely lasted for long in 18th century Europe, ended in 1740. Britain managed to avoid involvement until 1742 when an expeditionary force, including the 23rd foot, sailed for Holland. At the battle of Dettingen in 1743, in which George II was the last British Sovereign to lead his army in battle, Colonel Newsham Peers was the last Colonel of the Welch Fusiliers to lead his Regiment in person, and died doing it. To commemorate this battle the white Horse of Hanover is carried on the Regiment Colour. At Fontenoy in 1745, although defeated, the British army was not disgraced, and the 23rd were one of heaviest sufferers, sustaining over three hundred casualties. After the battle, as a reward for his gallant conduct, Sergeant Peter Hewitt was granted a commission in the Regiment, almost certainly the first such occurrence in the history of the Regiment.

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Colonel Newsham Peers

The outbreak of war in 1756 found the 23rd as part of the garrison of the island of Minorca in the Mediterranean. Britain was on the side of Prussia against Austria, France and Russia. A large French force attacked the island, but the defenders held out for two months. Eventually the small garrison was overwhelmed and had to surrender. As a mark of respect for their gallant defence the regiments were allowed to march out with all the honours of war, namely “fire-locks on their shoulders, drums beating, colours flying ….”. The losses of the Royal Welch exceeded those of any other regiment.

In the same year a second battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers was raised, in which Captain Peter Hewitt of Fontenoy fame, was a company commander. In 1758 it was formed into a separate regiment, the 68th, later the Durham Light Infantry.

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The Battle of Minden by Richard Simpkin

In July 1759 the 23rd were part of an allied army under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, confronting the French who were established close to the impregnable fortress of Minden on the river Weser. Although outnumbered Ferdinand determined to bring the French to battle. At last he succeeded, and on 1st August the two armies faced each other in battle array. The Royal Welch Fusiliers were in Waldegrave’s Brigade with the 12th and 37th Regiments, with the 20th, 25th, and 51st forming a second line to the rear. An ADC gave Waldegrave the warning order that “when the troops advance, they will do so with drums beating”. Waldegrave, assuming this to be an executive order, led his three battalions towards the French cavalry. The latter, with massive artillery support, advanced to the charge. The steadfast British line held its fire until the last, with devastating effect, and dead men and horses soon lay around them. After three hours of fighting the French army was in flight. The Royal Welch had suffered forty per cent casualties. The behaviour of the six British battalions was a marvellous example of skills, courage, discipline and firepower. The French commander, Marshal Contades, said later “I never thought to see a single line of infantry break through three lines of cavalry ranked in order of battle and tumble them to ruin”. The war continued until a peace treaty was signed at Fontainebleau in 1762.

Thirteen years of peace followed which the 23rd spent at home. Following a review by George III in 1771, a newspaper, the Gazetteer, reported that “The Royal Regiment of Welch Fusiliers is as well known to all veterans in Europe as any regiment in their respective nations”.


In 1773 the Regiment sailed for America where it was soon embroiled in the conflict with the disaffected colonists. The 23rd were in the thick of the fighting and particularly distinguished themselves at the battles of Bunker Hill in 1775 and Guildford Court House in 1781. Leadership of the army in America was less than impressive, and in the September 1781 American troops invested Yorktown, the garrison which included the Royal Welch Fusiliers. They were holding a redoubt at the end of the line and beat off three major assaults. In the face of overwhelming odds, General Cornwallis offered to surrender. Those who could stand marched out with the Honours of War, and the Colours of the Regiment were saved by being concealed under the jackets of officers. The Fusilier Redoubt, with its memorial to the Regiment, marks the spot to this day. A contemporary diary records that “Even the French…….. gave the Royal Welch Fusiliers their unqualified approbation and praise for their intrepidity and firmness in repulsing three attacks made by such vastly superior numbers on the redoubt and could not easily believe that so few men had defended it”. In 1783 the war ended and in the following year the regiment was back in Britain.

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The Battle of Bunker Hill by Percy Moran

The advent of the French Revolution in 1789, and the subsequent rise to power of Napoleon, led to almost twenty-five years of war in Europe and the New World. In the early years Britain’s share of the fighting was limited to naval actions and small expeditions such as those to Santa Domingo (Haiti) in the West Indies, Ostend, North Holland, and Ferrol in Spain, in all of which the Royal Welch Fusiliers took part.

In 1797 a number of naval mutinies broke out. The Regiment was despatched to the Nore to stop the mutineers from lading. On arrival an attempt was made to suborn the soldiers, but they resisted and submitted the following address to the King, “How much we detest the infamous attempts made on the minds of the army of late, in the distribution of certain seditious handbills. We are happy to say that no atrocious villain has every yet been daring enough to attempt by artifice (or otherwise) to seduce the Royal Welch Fusiliers from their hitherto unerring fidelity”. It is believed that the King’s gratification was such that he gave permission for the officers of the Regiment to dispense with the drinking of the Loyal Toast, a tradition which continues to this day.

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2nd Battalion locking the gates to Corunna

In 1799 an amphibious expedition was despatched to the Heldeer to capture the Dutch fleet and to raise a rebellion in Holland. The Royal Welch were amongst the first ashore and secured a beachhead. After the capture of a number of Dutch ships it was decided to evacuate the force. Nearly half of the Regiment, including a number of women and children, were embarked on a captured Dutch frigate, the Valk, with an inexperienced Dutch crew. A sudden storm drove the ship onto a sandbank, and 235 were drowned.

An expedition in 1801 under Sir Ralph Abercromby drove Napoleon out of Egypt. The 23rd, which was in Sir John Moore’s Brigade, were amongst the first to land. Fixing bayonets, they rushed up the sandy hills and drove the French from them. This ensured the safe landing of the rest of the army which led to the surrender of Alexandria and complete victory. In recognition of their conduct the troops received the thanks of Parliament and permission to bear the Sphinx on their Colours with the word “Egypt”.

After Egypt the Regiment returned to Gibraltar and thence to England. In 1807 they took part in the seizure of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen, and in 1808 were stationed in Nova Scotia. In January 1809 they were part of a successful expedition sent to take the island of Martinique in the West Indies, and captured a French eagle standard, one of four surrendered when Fort Bourbon capitulated. They returned to Nova Scotia where they remained until 1810.

 

Meanwhile, in 1804, the Regiment was instructed to raise a second battalion. Initially stationed in England, in 1808 it was despatched to Portugal to reinforce the army of Sir John Moore, who was supporting Spanish guerrillas against the French. Learning that the former had been routed, and that Napoleon, with a vastly superior army, intended to envelope and rout the British, Moore began his famous retreat to Corunna. The men suffered terribly from a lack of supplies in the snow-covered mountains but, thanks to their discipline Corunna was reached. The next day, when the army was embarked, the rearguard was commanded by Captain Thomas Fletcher of the 23rd. Being the last to leave, Fletcher pocketed the keys with which his corporal had locked the gates, and to this day the keys of Corunna, with the marks where a bayonet was used to turn them, may be seen in the Regimental Museum. Shortly after its return from Portugal the 2nd Battalion took part in the expedition to capture the French fleet at Antwerp. It failed, and the troops were brought home seriously weakened by sickness. Thus ended the war services of the 2nd Battalion which was disbanded in 1814 on the reduction of the Army.

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The Fusilier Brigade at the Battle of Albuhera

In November 1810 the 1st Battalion left Nova Scotia to join Wellington’s army in Portugal, where the Peninsular War was hanging in the balance. The Royal Welch, together with the 1st and 2nd Battalions The Royal Fusiliers, were in the Fusilier Brigade, which formed part of Cole’s 4th Division. On 16th May 1811 an allied army under Beresford was drawn up near Albuhera. The French attacked and seized some high ground from which they were able to rake the whole British position. Two counter attacks failed and retreat appeared almost inevitable when the 4th division was brought up as a last resort. Emerging through the midst of the smoke they met with a fearful discharge of grape and in the words of Napier, “The fusilier battalions, struck by the iron tempest, reeled and staggered like sinking ships; but suddenly and sternly recovering they closed on their terrible enemies, and then was seen with what a strength and majesty the British soldier fights…. Nothing could stop that astonishing infantry… their dreadful volleys swept away the head of every formation”. In the battle the 23rd suffered 340 casualties.

imageThe Regiment had earned another eight Battle Honours in the Peninsular before Napoleon was forced to abdicate in April 1814. The peace, however, was short-lived for he soon escaped from Elba and on 18th June 1815 Wellington and Napoleon faced each other at Waterloo. Just before the battle Wellington wrote, “I saw the 23rd the other day, and I never saw a regiment in such order. They are not strong, but it was the most complete and handsome military body I ever looked at”. Starting the battle in reserve it was not long before they were engaged, and they took part in the final rout of the Imperial Guard, in which their highly regarded commanding officer, Colonel Henry Walton Ellis, was mortally wounded. As a reward for the victory every private soldier received a medal, and prize money of £2.11s 4d (2.62).

The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo brought peace once again, and this time it was almost forty years before Britain was involved in another European War. The Regiment served with the army of occupation in France until 1818, and then spent five years in Ireland before being posted to Gibraltar and Portugal. Returning to England in November 1834 after eleven years abroad they learnt of a recent inspection of the depot companies at which the General had complained of “superfluous decoration on the collar of the coat”.

The Battalion remained in England for two years before proceeding to Ireland. In 1838 it sailed for Canada where, in 1842, it was joined by the newly raised Reserve Battalion. In the following year the 1st Battalion left Canada for the West Indies, where it remained until it returned to England, via Canada, in 1848. The 2nd Battalion suffered a tragedy in 1850 when the steamer Commerce, which was carrying a company on Lake Erie, collided with another ship and sank with the loss of thirty-three, including families. The Officers’ Mess silver was also lost. Three years later the Battalion returned home to be disbanded and amalgamated with the 1st.

In 1854 the Crimean War broke out between Russia and Turkey, with Britain and France on the side of the latter. In April the 23rd embarked at Southampton and were amongst in the first to land in the Crimea, at Kalamita Bay, 35 miles north of Sevastopol. The Royal Welch formed part of the Light Division. Soon after the advance on Sevastopol began, the allies were threatened by a Russian force drawn up on high ground behind the River Alma, with the ‘Great Redoubt’ containing fourteen heavy guns, in the centre. This redoubt was the objective of the Light Division. On 20th September, as the 23rd surged up the steep slope towards the redoubt, the Ensigns carrying the Colours were killed. Sergeant Luke O’Connor, already badly wounded, seized the Queen’s colour and dashing forward succeeded in planting it on the redoubt. In the confusion Captain Edward Bell captured a Russian gun almost single-handed and took it back to the British lines. A Russian counter attack drove the Light Division from the redoubt but, reinforced by the 1st Division, they succeeded in recapturing it. The Royal Welch sustained over 200 casualties in the battle. Captain Bell and Sergeant O’Connor were both awarded the Victoria Cross, and the latter was commissioned in the field.

The siege of Sevastopol, which began in November, was sustained throughout the terrible Russian winter during which the soldiers suffered appalling hardships, and continued until it fell on the 8th September 1855. The 23rd took part in the final assault on the Redan which, although it ended in failure, earned the Regiment two more Victoria Crosses. They were won by Assistant Surgeon Sylvester and Corporal Shields who, under heavy fire, brought in the mortally wounded Adjutant. Casualties in the assault totalled 263.

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Sergeant Luke O’Connor’s VC action at the Battle of the Alma

With the war over, the 23rd returned to Britain, but it was not long before they were again on active service abroad. In 1857 they embarked for China, but the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny caused them to be diverted, and they joined Sir Colin Campbell’s relieving force near Lucknow. During the evacuation Lieutenant Hackett and Band Boy George Monger, aged only seventeen, brought in a seriously wounded corporal whilst “exposed to a heavy musketry fire”. For this display of gallantry both were awarded the Victoria Cross. In March 1858 the Battalion participated in the recapture of Lucknow, earning high praise for its part in the capture of the Residency with “the 23rd Fusiliers charging through the gateway, and driving the enemy before them at the point of the bayonet….”. They remained in India until 1869 when they returned to Britain.

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Band Boy George Monger on left and Lieutenant Hackett on right

Meanwhile, in 1858, a second battalion was formed yet again. In 1873-74 it took part in the expedition under Sir Garnet Wolseley to Ashanti on the west coast of Africa. Their task was to punish the Ashanti people for raiding and plundering settled tribes in the Gold Coast. A long march through dense jungle led to the capital, Kumasi, which was razed to the ground. “So ended”, wrote Wolseley, “the most horrible war I ever took part in”.

After a tour in Ireland the 1st Battalion embarked in 1880 for India, where it was to remain for the next sixteen years, two of which were spent on operations in Burma, including the capture of King Theebaw at Mandalay. In 1891 it was on the North West Frontier of India as part of the Hazarad Black Mountain Expedition. It returned to Britain in 1896 and was at Pembroke Dock in 1899 when war broke out in South Africa. The 2nd Battalion, following its return from Ashanti, was stationed in Gibraltar until 1880. After a short tour in Britain it arrived in Ireland in 1883 where it remained until 1892. In January 1899 it reached Hong Kong via Britain, Malta, and Crete.

In 1877 the Regiment acquired its first permanent base when the Depot was established at Wrexham. Four years later, under the major reforms instituted by Cardwell, the Regiment was reorganised into four battalions. The 1st and 2nd remained as line battalions, and the Royal Denbigh and Merioneth Rifle Militia, and the Royal Carnarvon Rifle Corps became the 3rd and 4th Battalions respectively. It ceased to be the “Twenty-third” and was henceforth known as The Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The fact that this title, rather than some less appropriate one, was approved was due in no small part to the good offices of Lord Powis, collateral descendant of the founder of the Regiment.

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Hightown Barracks, Wrexham home to the Royal Welch Fusiliers from 1877

War with the Boers broke out in 1899 and an Army Corps was despatched to South Africa. The 1st Battalion reached Cape Town in November where they joined the Fusilier Brigade, part of the column marching to the relief of Ladysmith. Their first major engagement was at Horse Shoe Hill in February 1900, where the Commanding Officer was killed. This was followed by the triumphal entry into Ladysmith on 3rd March. For the rest of the war the Battalion was engaged on anti-guerrilla operations to protect army supply lines from Boer detachments. It was a thankless task that involved prodigious feats of marching in blazing sun and bitter cold, through dust storms, and always short of food and shelter. Peace was signed in 1902 and in the following year the Battalion returned to England.

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1 RWF Bridge building on the “Velt”

 

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Men of 1st Battalion on the veldt in South Africa

 

The 2nd Battalion meanwhile had been despatched from Hong Kong to China in June 1900 where the ‘Boxers’, a secret society of xenophobes, were besieging the foreigners sheltering in the British Legation in Peking. The Battalion fought alongside the United States Marine Corps at Tientsin, and later at the relief of Peking, thus beginning a close relationship that exists to this day. The Battle Honour ‘Pekin 1900’ is unique to the Royal Welch Fusiliers, as they were the only British Infantry Regiment present.

In 1901 the Regiment was honoured when the Prince of Wales, later King George V, became its first Colonel-in-Chief.

During the short time remaining until the outbreak of the First World War, the 1st Battle served in Britain and Ireland before being posted to Malta in January 1914. The 2nd Battalion was in India from 1902 until it returned to England in March 1914. It had been abroad for eighteen years. It was in this year that Major General Sir Luke O’Connor VC, of Alma frame, was appointed Colonel of the Regiment.

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Men of the 2nd Battalion advance in searing heat in China.

The assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne at Sarajevo in June 1914 plunged Europe into war. At the time the Regiment consisted of seven battalions: two regular – the 1st and 2nd; the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion; and four Territorial battalions – the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th. By 1917 that number had risen to forty battalions, of which over half saw active service abroad. It is impossible in the space available to do more than give the briefest indication of the part played by the Regiment in the War.

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Men of the 6th Battalion training before departing for Gallipoli

The 2nd Battalion, recently returned to Britain from India, was the first to be engaged in Europe, at Mons in August 1914. The 1st Battalion followed in October, and by the end of the year they were joined by the 4th (Denbighshire) Battalion. In the meantime Lord Kitchener had called for a hundred thousand volunteers, and Lloyd George and other prominent Welshmen determined to raise a Welsh Army Corps. Such were the numbers who flocked to the recruiting offices that the Territorial Force battalions formed second and third line battalions, and ‘service’ battalions were raised from scratch, two of which were enlisted in London.

In May 1915 the 1st Battalion played a distinguished part in the battle of Festubert in which Company Sergeant Major Barter together with other men seized and held five hundred yards of trench. The Battalion suffered five hundred and fifty casualties and Barter was awarded the Victoria Cross.

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CSM Barter VC


Meanwhile, the landing at Gallipoli had got off to an inauspicious start in April. The 8th Battalion landed at Anzac Cove in June in support of the Australian and New Zealander Army Corps, and they were followed in August at Suvla Bay by 53rd (Welsh) Division which included the 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th Battalions. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie won a posthumous Victoria Cross at Sedd-el-Bahr when, as a staff officer and armed only with a cane, he led a disparate group of soldiers against a key Turkish position and was killed as it was overrun.

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Lt Col Charlies Doughty-Wylie VC

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North Wales Pals from the Battalions of the 38th (Welsh) Division

During 1915 seven more Service Battalions, the 9th, 10th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16 and 17th, arrived in France, the last five in 38th (Welsh) Division. The 11th (Service) Battalion went to Macedonia (Salonika) in November where it was engaged alongside the Serbs against Austrians, Germans and Bulgarians until the end of the war in an inhospitable terrain made worse by the presence of malarial mosquitoes.

In 1916, ten battalions were engaged in the battle of the Somme, including those in 38th Division, which fought with great heroism at Mametz Wood. By the time the Germans had been cleared from the wood the Royal Welch losses amounted to well over 1,000 men, and included four out of five commanding officers. On 20th July, Corporal Joseph Davies and Private Albert Hill, both of the 10th Battalion, won Victoria Crosses for their gallantry in attacking, killing and driving off superior numbers of Germans.

In February 1916 the 8th Battalion was sent to Mesopotamia as part of the force involved in the abortive attempt to relieve the troops besieged at Kut al Amara. It remained in Mesopotamia until the end of the war.

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Soldiers of the 8th Battalion in Mesopotamia December 1917


Two new Territorial battalions were formed in Egypt in 1917 when three Yeomanry regiments, the Denbighshire Yeomanry, with the Welsh Horse, and Montgomeryshire Yeomanry were converted to infantry to form the 24th and 25th Battalions respectively. They were soon engaged in Palestine together with the 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th Battalions. At Beersheba in October, Corporal Collins of the 25th Battalion, gained a Victoria Cross for bringing in the wounded under heavy fire and saving many lives.

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Soldiers of the 1st 5th Battalion in Palestine 1917

In Europe, 1917 was marked by the battles of Ypres and Cambrai. Nine battalions fought at Ypres, including the five with 38th Division, which distinguished itself at Pilckem Ridge, where Corporal James Davies of the 13th Battalion won a posthumous Victoria Cross for capturing two supposedly impregnable pill-boxes with bayonet and grenade. At Cambrai, the first time that massed tanks were used, the 19th, a bantam battalion, upheld the Regiment’s reputation for steadiness whilst suffering 370 casualties. In southern Europe the Italian army was shattered by an Austro-German assault at Caporetto in November 1917. The 1st Battalion were part of the reinforcements sent to bolster the Italian front.

The German spring offensive that opened the last year of the war destroyed much of Fifth Army. In the initial stages the 9th Battalion suffered over 450 casualties, and the 4th, which was subjected to a mustard gas bombardment, nearly three hundred. The former went on to fight with great tenacity at Lys, Bailleul, Kemmel and Scherpenberg in spite of being reduced to a skeleton force three times in three months.

In Palestine, the 24th and 25th Battalions took part in the capture of Jericho before being sent to France as reinforcements. The 5th, 6th and 7th Battalions fought at Tel’Asur, and went on to serve in Allenby’s final offensive and defeat of the Turks.

In Italy the 1st Battalion was at the crossing of the Piave, and in the battle of Vittorio Veneto which led to the rout of the Austrian Army.

Back in France the German offensive ran out of steam and in July the allies began to strike back. Corporal Weale, 14th Battalion and Lance Sergeant Waring, 25th Battalion, the latter posthumously, won Victoria Crosses in the closing stages of the war.

The cost of the war was enormous. Almost 10,000 officers and men gave their lives, and in so doing an amazing eighty-eight Battle Honours were won by the Regiment.

Very quickly the Regiment was reduced to its two regular battalions as others were disbanded, and it was soon back to business as usual. The 1st Battalion, after reforming at Oswestry, was sent overseas to India where life was little different to what it had been before the War, with drill, marching and sport occupying the time. Ireland, where the situation was deteriorating rapidly, required reinforcements and the 2nd Battalion arrived in 1919 and remained until December 1922. The tour was marred by the tragic loss of Major G L Compton-Smith DSO who had commanded the 10th Battalion in 1917. He was kidnapped by Sinn Fein in April 1921 and shot. In a note discovered sometime later he wrote, “I should like my death to lessen rather than increase the bitterness which exists between England and Ireland. I have been treated with great kindness and …. have learned to regard Sinn Feiners rather as mistaken idealists than as a ‘Murder Gang’”.

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Major G L Compton-Smith DSO

From Ireland the Battalion moved to Pembroke Dock and then, in 1926, it joined the British Army of the Rhine at Bingen, remaining until the final withdrawal in 1929. Returning briefly to Tidworth they received in 1930 a visit from Lieutenant Commander J P Sousa, the American composer, who presented the Regiment with the score of his march ‘The Royal Welch Fusiliers’ in honour of its close relationship with the unit States Marine Corps. In 1931 the Battalion went to Gibraltar.

The 1st Battalion, meanwhile, had been sent to the North West Frontier of India where the Mahsuds were causing trouble in Waziristan. The Battalion suffered many casualties from snipers as they piqueted routes and escorted convoys. In one such action at Split Hill Piquet in February 1923 no less that four soldiers won Military Medals for rescuing wounded comrades under fire. Shortly after this the Battalion returned to India and were pleased to learn that the War Office had approved of the use of the rank ‘Fusilier’ for private soldiers. When the tour in India ended in 1930 the Battalion was sent to the Sudan, with one company detached to Cyprus. In October 1931 a revolt broke out in Cyprus and the Governor’s house was burnt to the ground. C Coy, the only troops on the island, managed to restore order before reinforcements could arrive by air. On their way home in April 1932 the two battalions met at Gibraltar, and the officers were able to dine together for the first time since 1914 in Malta.

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Soldiers of 1 RWF training in India

The 1st Battalion remained in England until the outbreak of war in 1939, and endured the frustrations of trying to train using taxis as armoured cars and rattles to represent machine guns. The 2nd Battalion, which reached Hong Kong in 1934, was called upon to go to Shanghai in 1937 as part of a multinational force formed to protect the International Settlements which the Sino-Japanese war threatened to engulf. Whilst there, the close links with the Unit States Marine Corps were renewed. By the end of 1938 the Battalion was in India.

The 1st Battalion fought in North West Europe in 1940. Overwhelmed by the Germans, and with their Commanding Officer killed, three officers and eighty men were evacuated from Dunkirk. The Battalion had suffered 759 casualties. Meanwhile, a commando company, with a significant number of Royal Welchmen, participated in the Norway campaign in May 1940.

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Men of the 1st Battalion under German shelling France 1940

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RWF soldiers of Stockforce in Norway May 1940

In 1942 the 2nd Battalion took part in the capture of the naval base in Madagascar from the Vichy French. In early 1943 it moved to India, thus joining the 1st Battalion which had arrived in the previous year. The latter first saw action against the Japanese at Donbaik in Burma in March 1943. In a battle which, according to General Slim, should never have been fought, he said that “….The last and final assault… was led by the Royal Welch Fusiliers and on that day they showed valour which I think has rarely been surpassed…”. The Battalion casualties amounted to thirteen officers and 149 other ranks. It returned to India but in April and May 1944 it fought in the bloody battle for the relief of Kohima, in Assam. It went on to Burma when it was engaged until the end of the war.

The 2nd Battalion operated in North Arakan during the first half of 1944 and the 1st Battalion went to Northern Burma where it was engaged in clearing the ‘Railway Corridor’.
imageA patrol of the 2nd Battalion in Burma

In 1942 the 10th Battalion was converted to the parachute role as 6th (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion. They served as infantry on the Adriatic flank of the Italian campaign and at Cassino before taking part in the airborne landings in the South of France in August 1944. Two months later they dropped near Athens and became involved in ending the Greek Civil War.

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A Company, 6th Battalion (Royal Welch) Parachute Regiment Greece 1944.


The three territorial battalions, the 4th, 6th and 7th, landed in Normandy in June 1944 as part of 53rd (Welsh) Division. They received a bloody baptism of fire at Evrecy in July. They fought across France, Belgium, and in Holland where they were engaged in the successful battle for ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and went on to the Reichswald, the Rhine crossing, and the pursuit across Germany, ending the war in the Hamburg area.

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A Company, 7th Battalion Storming the Lockgates at s'Hertogenbosch, Holland

The Regiment’s casualties during the war included over 1,200 killed. In addition to the two Regular, three Territorial and one Parachute battalion, there were five Home Service and twenty-six Home Guard battalions, all of which bore the Regiment’s name and wore the Flash.

Having been brought up to strength in Wrexham in 1946 the 1st Battalion was sent to join the British Army of the Rhine in Germany where it remained until 1951. During its tour, it spent a year in Berlin at the time of the ‘airlift’ when all but aerial access to Berlin was denied by the Russians. At the end of the war the 2nd Battalion went to Japan as part of the army of occupation. It returned to Britain in 1948 to be disbanded.

With the impetus given to independence movements as a result of the war, internal security duties became an increasing part of the army’s life. In 1951 the 1st Battalion arrived in Jamaica and companies were detached to various other islands. It played a significant part in disaster relief following the hurricane in Jamaica in August. Whilst based in the West Indies eighteen soldiers and dependents lost their lives in an aircraft accident off Newfoundland.

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Her Majesty The Queen, Colonel-in-Chief Presenting Colours to 1st, 2nd and 4th Battalion 1954

The start of the Korean War led to an army expansion and the 2nd Battalion was re-formed in 1952, and in the following year went to Germany. Returning to the UK in 1954 it was joined by the 1st and 4th Battalions at a Presentation of Colours ceremony by HM The Queen. Immediately afterwards the 2nd Battalion left for Korea, but its destination was changed en route and it was diverted to Malaya to fight the Communist Terrorists. When its tour ended it was again disbanded.

The 1st Battalion, which had been in Germany and Berlin, went to Cyprus in 1958 to help combat the EOKA terrorist campaigning for union with Greece. The Battalion was conspicuously successful in eliminating terrorists from its area. Five years in Bulford was followed by a tour as a mechanised battalion in Iserlohn and Minden in Germany, and a six-month United Nations tour in Cyprus.

After two years at Honiton the Battalion was posted to Kowloon, Hong Kong and spent many weeks guarding the Sino-Hong Kong border at a time of much tension. In 1972 it went to Northern Ireland for the first of many anti-terrorist tours of duty which have dominated the life of the army since 1969. Others followed in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1986, 1987-89, and 1993. All have been most successful, but none more so than in 1981 when, following a particularly difficult tour, members of the Battalion were awarded a DSO, MBE, DCM, MC, MM, six Mentions in Despatches, and nine GOC’s Commendations.

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The 1st Battalion Belfast Northern Ireland 1981

From 1978 to 1982 the Battalion was based in Lemgo, Germany. On its return to England it became the demonstration battalion at the School of Infantry, Warminster. For six months in 1985 they formed the Falkland Islands garrison. In 1989, following the Tercentenary of the Regiment, the Battalion went to Berlin where they witnessed the end of the Cold War, and the hauling down of the “wall”. Whilst in Berlin they won the BAOR Rugby Cup for an unprecedented three consecutive times.

After two years in Tidworth the Battalion moved to RAF Brawdy in Pembrokeshire. It was the first time since 1926 that a regular battalion of the Regiment had served in Wales.

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Tercentenary Powys Castle 1989

On 1st March 1995 the 1st Battalion, which had just joined UNPROFOR in war-torn Bosnia, assumed responsibility for Gorazde, Kiseljak and Bugojno. It carried out its extremely difficult task of protecting the population until the ending of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement at the beginning of May, and the NATO bombing of Bosnian Serb positions, made it impossible. On 28th May thirty-three members of the Battalion were taken hostage by the Bosnian Serbs. The subject of their safety dominated the news until the last batch was released on 16th June. HM The Queen visited the Rear Party in Brawdy during the crisis and spoke with the families of the hostages. (Whilst in Bosnia the Battalion often used Welsh for security to communicate orders, as had been done fifty years earlier in Burma). On 28th August and not without difficulty the last elements evacuated Gorazde, and within a matter of days the Battalion was reunited in Wales. Awards for the tour included a DSO, a CGC, three MCs, two MBEs, seven MiDs, and numerous other commendations.

The 1st Battalion moved to Chepstow in December 1995 where it remains in 160 Brigade with the 3rd Battalion, whose headquarters is at Wrexham. Up to 2006, the Regiment was fortunate that, over three hundred years after it was raised at Ludlow, it was one of only five line infantry regiments never to have been amalgamated. In May 1996 the 1st Battalion was proud to receive new Colours from Her Majesty The Queen, its Colonel-in-Chief.

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The 1st Battalion on UN operations Bosnia 1995

In August 1998 the 1st Battalion moved from Chepstow to Ballykelly, Northern Ireland, for what would be their last two-year residential tour of the Province. The Good Friday Peace Agreement had been signed on the 10th April 1998 but the agreement was not implemented until 2nd December 1999. During this period, a series of Regimental Memorials were unveiled at St Venant, France commemorating 1st Battalion’s valiant last stand there, in 1940; at Evrecy, Normandy, commemorating the first major battle fought by the 4th, 6th and 7th Battalions in their North West Europe Campaign in July 1944 and in Holland a memorial to those who drowned from the Regiment when the troop ship de Valk sank in 1799.  In April 2000, the 1st Battalion rugby team, after many finals, won the Army Major Units Rugby Cup for the first time. In August of the same year the Battalion returned from Northern Ireland to Clive Barracks, Tern Hill, in Shropshire. Whilst stationed at Tern Hill the Battalion deployed as the Province reserve for the marching season in Northern Ireland.

In July 2002 the 1st Battalion moved to Aldershot and into the Mechanised Infantry role, equipped with Saxon armoured vehicles as part of the 1st UK Mechanised Brigade. Whilst in Aldershot, the Battalion deployed to central, south and west London on firefighting duties during a national fire service strike. Following training in Canada, the Battalion deployed to Iraq in April 2004 on Op TELIC 4, conducting security operations south of the southern city of Basra . A Company was detached to 1 PWRR in Al Amarah. Violence increased significantly over the summer with multiple Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks including a double vehicle suicide attack on B Company. The Battalion returned to Aldershot in October and as a result of conspicuous gallantry and leadership received 3 MCs and an OBE. The 1st Battalion had a short interval at home before deploying on operations again to Northern Ireland in September 2005. The battalion had the distinction of being the last major unit to conduct an emergency four month tour to the Province and the last major unit to be resident in Bessbrook Mill security force base, in South Armagh.

In December 2004 it was announced that a future infantry structure would see the formation of a number of larger regiments. In Wales the Royal Welch Fusiliers and Royal Regiment of Wales would amalgamate. Following regimental talks it was decided to form The Royal Welsh. 1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers thus became 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) with 1 RRW becoming the 2nd Battalion. The new regiment was formed on the 1st March, St David’s Day 2006. A subsequent amalgamation of the 1st and 2nd battalions in 2012 has resulted in one Regular and one Reserve Battalion of The Royal Welsh. It is these two Battalions that now carry the regimental traditions of both former regiments forward. The Royal Welsh still wear the Hackle and the Flash, with their Private soldiers still referred to as Fusiliers. There are a multitude of other smaller traditions from both Regiments that live on through The Royal Welsh.


 

VOLUNTEER, MILITIA AND TERRITORIAL BATTALIONS

The Militia, sometimes referred to as the ‘Constitutional Force’, is the oldest of the auxiliary forces and has an ancestry rooted in the military obligations of the Anglo-Saxons. These obligations were transmitted through medieval legislation to be enshrined in the first militia statutes of 1558. Thereafter, the Militia had a formal statutory existence almost continuously until 1908. Service was mostly based on property and wealth, but from 1757 manpower was raised by compulsory ballot, and after 1852 by voluntary enlistment. Control of the Militia was vested in the Lords Lieutenant of countries until the Cardwell reforms of 1871 placed them under the War Office.

The counties of North Wales: Anglesey, Carnarvonshire, Merionethshire, Denbighshire, and Flintshire, had all raised Militia battalions by 1763. In 1881, following the introduction of changes in the organisation of the Infantry of the Line and Militia, the latter became the 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Royal Denbigh and Flint Militia) and 4th Bn The Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Royal Carnavron and Merioneth Militia). The Anglesey Militia had become Engineers in 1877. In 1908 the 4th Battalion was disbanded and the 3rd became a Special Reserve battalion. During the Great War it acted as a Depot, first in Wrexham and then Liverpool, before being sent in November 1917 to Limerick because of fears of possible Sinn Fein activity. It was disembodied in 1919.

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Flintshire Militia

The volunteers, which had existed at various times simultaneously with the Militia, are principally associated with the Napoleonic period, 1794-1816, with volunteer infantry and mounted yeomanry. A revival occurred in 1859 when the War Office authorised the formation of volunteer corps. Shortly, Rifle Volunteer Corps battalions were formed in Anglesey, Carnarvonshire, Merionethshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Montgomeryshire. In 1881 the 1st Denbighshire and the 1st Flintshire and Carnarvonshire Rifle Volunteer Corps were affiliated to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and in 1884 became the 1st and 2nd (Volunteer) Bns The Royal Welsh Fusiliers respectively. Three years later a 3rd (Volunteer) Bn was formed as an offshoot of 2nd. The 1st Active Service Company, composed of volunteers from all three battalions, join the 1st Battalion and participated in the Boer War. As a result the Battle Honour ‘South Africa 1900-02’ was awarded to each Volunteer battalion.

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Porthmadoc Volunteers Crack Volley Competition winners 1891

In 1908, when the Territorial Force (TF) was formed, the three Volunteer Battalions became the 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions of the Regiment, and the 5th (Volunteer) Bn the South Wales Borderers, based in Montgomeryshire, became the 7th Battalion. In the following year, their official titles became the 4th (Denbighshire), 5th (Flintshire), 6th (Carnarvonshire a Anglesey), and 7th (Merioneth and Montgomery shire) Bns The Royal Welsh Fusiliers (TF).

All fought with great distinction in the Great War, the 4th in France and Flanders, and the rest with 53rd (Welsh) Division in Gallipoli, Egypt ad Palestine.

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5 RWF (Territorial Force) Colour Party

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7 RWF (Territorial Force) Bandsmen Summer Camp

After the war all four were disbanded but re-activated in 1921 with the formation of the Territorial Army (TA). In 1938, the 5th Battalion was converted to the anti-tank role and transferred to the Royal Artillery whilst keeping ‘Royal Welch Fusiliers’ in its title. In 1939 duplicate battalions, the 8th, 9th and 10th, were formed out of the 4th, 6th and 7th respectively. The latter three, again in 53rd (Welsh) Division, landed in Normandy in June 1944, and fought their way across France, Holland and Germany. In 1942, the 10th Battalion was converted to the parachute role, for which over two-thirds of its members volunteered, and was renamed 6 (Royal Welch) Parachute Battalion.

By 1947 only the 4th Battalion was still in existence, for in that year the 6th and 7th were converted to light anti-aircraft regiments Royal Artillery. In 1956, a 6th/7th Bn of the Regiment was formed with its Headquarters in Caernarfon. In 1967, the TA became the Territorial and Army volunteer Reserve (TAVR) and saw the formation of The Welsh Volunteers, with HQ Company (RWF) at Wrexham. The 4th and 6th/7th Battalions became smaller (Territorial) battalions for Home Defence. Two years later they were reduced to a cadre of three officers and five other ranks with the formation of D Company (RWF) Welsh Volunteers at Caernarfon. In April 1971, the TAVR in Wales was expanded, and the two Volunteer Companies formed the nucleus of the 3rd (Volunteer) Bn The Royal Welch Fusiliers, absorbing the cadres of the Territorial Battalions, and also that of the Flintshire, and Denbighshire Yeomanry.

The 3rd Battalion carried on the traditions of all those Volunteer and Militia battalions that have borne the title of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the last one hundred and ten years. Battalion Headquarters was based in Wrexham, with detachments at Caernarfon, Bangor, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Queensferry, Aberystwyth, and Newtown, in time of war the Battalion mobilised for Home Defence. Each year one company undertook overseas training, and individuals often trained with the 1st Battalion.

On the 15th May 1999 a disbandment parade was held for the 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion at Hightown Barracks, Wrexham. It had been decided to amalgamate the two volunteer infantry Battalions in Wales to form a new volunteer regiment The Royal Welsh Regiment (RWR). The new Battalion was formed from 3 (V) RWF and 2 (V) RRW, with A (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Company based in Wrexham and D (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Company in Colwyn Bay, both Companies had outstation Platoons in Queensferry and Caernarfon respectively. Throughout this period, volunteers deployed augmenting the 1st Battalion whenever the battalion deployed on operations either to Northern Ireland or Iraq. With the formation of the Royal Welsh in 2006, the RWR was disestablished and the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Welsh took its place. 3 Royal Welsh continued to support the 1st and 2nd Battalions when deployed to Afghanistan and today have a direct supporting role in time of conflict.

Other elements of the Regiment include five Volunteer battalions raised in North Wales during the Great War, and which became Royal Welch Fusilier battalions in 1918. They are additional to the forty battalions raised by the regiment during that War. Their role was similar to that of the twenty-six Home Guard battalions which were badged Royal Welch in the Second War.

Finally the Army Cadet Force, which had two battalions in North Wales. The 4th (Cadet) Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers is based on the county of Clwyd, with its HQ at Kinmel Camp and the 6th (Cadet) Battalion on that of Gwynedd with its HQ at Bethesda. They were two of only a handful of cadet battalions which carried the name of a Regular Infantry Regiment. On the creation of The Royal Welsh, the 4th and 6th cadet battalions assumed the titles of the new regiment. Under further restructuring of the Army Cadets, in April 2009, the two North Wales battalions were amalgamated to form the Clwyd and Gwynedd ACF. The unit is still affiliated with the Royal Welsh today and continue many of the traditions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Those in Bold type were borne on the Colours of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welch Fusiliers. Prior to 1914 they were on the Regimental Colour, and after that date on the Queen’s Colour.

Namur 1695, Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, Dettingen, Minden, Egypt, Corunna, Martinique 1809, Albuhera, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Orthes, Toulouse, Peninsula, Waterloo, Alma, Inkerman, Sevastopol, Lucknow, Ashantee 1873-4, Burma 1885-87, Relief of Ladysmith, South Africa 1899-1902, Pekin 1900.

The Great War – Mons, Le Cateau, Retreat from Mons, Marne 1914, Aisne 1914, 18, La Bassée 1914, Messines 1914, 17, 18, Armentiéres 1914, Ypres 1914, 17, 18, Langemark 1914, 17, Gheluvelt, Givenchy 1914, Neuve Chapelle, Aubers, Festubert 1915, Loos, Somme 1916, 18, Albert 1916, 18, Bazentin, Delville Wood, Poziéres, Guillemont, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Le Transloy, Ancre Heights, Ancre 1916, 18, Arras 1917, Scarpe 1917, Arleux, Bullecourt, Pilkem, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, Passchendaele, Cambrai 1917, 18, St Quentin, Bapaume 1918, Lys, Bailleul, Kemmel, Scherpenberg, Hindenburg Line, Havrincourt, Epéhy, St Qentin Canal, Beaurevoir, Selle, Valenciennes, Sambre, France and Flanders 1914-18, Piave, Vittorio Veneto, Italy 1917-18, Doiran 1917, 18, Macedonia 1915-18, Suvla, Sari Bair, Landing at Suvla, Scimitar Hill, Gallipoli 1915-16, Rumani, Egypt 1915-17, Gaza, El Mughar, Jerusalem, Jericho, Tel’Asur, Megiddo, Nablus, Palestine 1917-18, Tigris 1916, Kut al Amara 1917, Baghdad, Mesopotamia 1916-18.

The Second World War – Dyle, Defence of Escaut, St Omer-La Bassée, Caen, Esquay, Falaise, Nederrijn, Lower Maas, Venlo Pocket, Ourthe, Rhineland, Reichswald, Goch, Weeze, Rhine, Ibbenbüren, Aller, NW Europe 1940, 44-45, Madagascar, Middle East 1942, Donbaik, North Arakan, Kohima, Mandalay, Ava, Burma 1943-45.