THE ROYAL HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT (The Tigers)

If one had to name an English county whose every valley, village, hill and river carried an echo of England’s history, it would be hard to improve on the claims of Hampshire. The Roman legions who came swinging up from the coast to found their garrison town they called Venta Belgarum — which they later developed into the fifth biggest city in the country — were, in fact, relative newcomers, occupying much earlier British settlements of the Iron Age. And when Alfred the Great chose the former Roman stronghold as his own capital city of Winchester, he himself had been preceded some centuries earlier by that mysterious Celtic warrior and champion of Christendom, King Arthur. His deeds and those of his knights have been immortalized in classical literature and verse, and by their famous Round Table (now believed to be 14th-century) hanging in the great hall of Winchester Castle.

But the County of Hampshire has a much wider claim to recognition in the story of Eng land than through her association with events that have occurred within her boundaries. Among her other contributions, she gave her name to two fine regiments — the erstwhile 37th and 67th Regiments of Foot, that in time became the North and South Hampshires, and were finally merged in 1881 into a single entity, The Hampshire Regiment.


Private Grenadier1750

The story really begins in the opening weeks of 1702. William III was ruling the land as a far- from-popular widower, having lost his Queen (Mary II) in 1694. But “Dutch Billie”, disliked generally as he was, nevertheless appealed to his unenthusiastic subjects on one all-important matter. He was a committed Protestant, and was indeed at war with the Catholic King of France, Louis XIV, who had made it unmistakably clear that he regarded himself to have been chosen by God as his Emissary on Earth. Moreover, in this self-appointed role, he had also made plain his intention of exercising such divine authority over other countries besides France, and was backing the return to power of James II’s son, the “Old Pretender”, who was as staunch a Catholic as his deposed father had been.

The idea of a “Papist king” was anathema to most Englishmen at that time, and therefore King William with all his shortcomings was given Parliamentary support in his unremitting battle against the French. As a practical means to this support, Parliament had used its authority embodied in the Bill of Rights to sanction the raising of no fewer than 18 new regiments, and among those entrusted with this task was none other than the Adjutant General, Thomas Meredith.Meredith was a Protestant Irishman, who had already seen active service against the French in Flanders, where he had shown himself to be an able and determined leader. He was helped in his recruiting task by the fact that Ireland was teeming with discharged soldiers who had fought for William in his Irish campaign against James and who were only too willing to re-enlist in his service. On February 13th, 1702, Meredith’s (as the new regiment was named) became officially incorporated into the list of units under arms. But within a month of their establishment, they had to swear allegiance to a new Sovereign. William died at Kensington Palace after a heavy fall from his horse, and he was succeeded by his cousin, James II’s younger daughter, Anne.

As well as inheriting her cousin’s throne, Anne also inherited his earlier involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession. Indeed, there were already some 10,000 British troops and about the same number of European levies serving on the Continent under the then Earl of Marlborough. They were joined in the Low Countries by Meredith’s in May, 1703, but the ensuing campaign was an inconclusive affair and neither side had achieved any decisive suc cess when winter ended activities for that year.

 

The following year, however, brought far better results for Marlborough and his allies. It began with the Earl’s brilliant 400-mile advance from Flanders into Bavaria, which included a most difficult pontoon crossing of the Rhine. Meredith’s “blooding” came in their exemplary performance in the storming of a strongly defended French Bavarian position on the Schellenberg, a hill whose capture was crucial if the march into Bavaria was to continue. This action was the prelude to the famous Battle of Blenheim, but Marlborough’s magnificent victory could not have been achieved had not the road to Blenheim been cleared by the earlier success at Schellenberg. This action had cost Meredith’s 14 officers and 80 men killed or wounded. They were also pre sent at Blenheim, although they were not asked on that occasion to do more than drive off groups of already demoralized French in the closing stages of the battle.

However, their initial behaviour under fire must certainly have caught the eye of Marlborough, for in reply to some communication from his C-in-C, Meredith himself wrote of his men: “In a score of months, Sir, they have made something of themselves... If it please Yr Grace, I find them willing and brave”. That was a most apposite first compliment to be paid them by their first Colonel. Destined to survive for nearly three centuries after Blenheim, “willing and brave” exactly sums up the reputation given the regiment by all who had the privilege of commanding them in action thereafter.

What lay immediately ahead of them were, of course, the three remaining major battles of that particular campaign — Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet. During these six years of warfare, Meredith’s had to endure all the physical miseries and bodily ailments that were to plague their linear descendants in a later century, when they in their turn had to cope with Flanders mud. Marlborough’s army floundered and struggled through quagmires in which guns and wagons sometimes sank up to their axles, torrential rain for weeks on end played havoc with health and with transport of supplies and rations; dysentery and all kinds of other sicknesses, not infrequently fatal, swept through the ranks that had constantly to be replenished by drafts sent out from England.

But nothing that the enemy or the elements could do, not even the appalling winter of 1708, the worst that any Frenchman could remember and which brought perpetual frost and snow from the Siberian plains, could break the spirit of Meredith’s stalwarts. Marlborough later paid them the great tribute of putting on record that “they were equal to all”. After the Treaty of Utrecht restored a shaky peace to Europe in 1713, no further feat of arms was asked of them for the next 30 years. A procession of Colonels came and went, each giving his name to the regiment for the period of his ser vice with them, but nothing of consequence befell them until the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740. Two years later, the regiment paraded under their Colonel, Henry Ponsonby, for inspection by George II at Kew Gardens, and Colonel Ponsonby was warmly congratulated by the King on the first- class turn-out of his men.

Immediately after that parade, the regiment left for Flanders and thence to Bavaria, where they formed part of the mixed Anglo/Hanoverian army, some 40,000 strong and commanded by George II himself, who found themselves facing nearly 70,000 French under the redoubtable Duke of Noailles. The confrontation took place on June 27th, near the small market town of Dettingen. As a strategist, George II fell sadly short of the great generals of history, but as a warrior king of great personal courage he measured up to the best. Good fortune, and bad tactics on the part of his opponent, combined with the splendid discipline and fighting qualities of the British troops under his command to give him a victory which by rights he should never have won, but to which his own brave bearing at vital moments contributed not a little. This battle was the last in which an English king took command in the field.

After a brief return to England, and a role in Cumberland’s brutal crushing of the Jacobite army of Prince Charles at Culloden, the regiment that had begun life as Meredith’s became the 37th Foot in 1754. During the Seven Years War, which began in 1756, the newly styled 37th Foot featured in an action which became famous in the annals of British arms. The episode has already been described in earlier articles in this series concerning The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (This England Autumn 1982) and The Lancashire Fusiliers (This England Summer 1984). It may be recalled that on August 1st, 1759, six British regiments including the 37th, were among an army of British, Prussian and Hanoverian troops, under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, who were facing some 50,000 French defending the Westphalian town of Minden, on the River Weser. Owing to a misinterpretation of orders, the six British regiments, entirely without sup port, advanced to attack the French Cavalry. This apparently suicidal mistake ended, incredibly, with the French falling back in disarray. They had seen charge after charge by their increasingly desperate cavalry shattered by point-blank volleys from the rock-steady British ranks. If some Hollywood film producer had included such an incident in his scenario, it would have been ridiculed as impossible. But, in war, the impossible can happen — and it happened at Minden on that fateful August day.

 


Officer 1792

Nothing of note befell the 37th during the American War of Independence and they were in New York in 1782 when they heard that they were to take the County name of the 37th or North Hampshire Regiment and be looked upon as attached to that division of the county. And except for a short participation in the profitless Netherlands campaign, in which they gained the unusual Battle Honour “Tournai” that marked the opening of the war against Revolutionary France, the 37th were not involved in any of the major battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Indeed, for the remainder of the 19th century, their heaviest casualties came from the innumerable tropical diseases that were always waiting to attack European troops sent out to the Caribbean or the Far East. The 37th had their full fair share of garrison duty in both regions and their sojourns were usually depressing occurrences of wholesale decimation of their ranks through sickness. They did play their part in the suppression of the Indian Mutiny and suffered the inevitable losses sustained in action against the rebel Sepoys, but always the climate and its attendant threat to health proved the bigger danger.

There is not much point in instancing the different stations and dates when the regiment suffered in this manner. There were too many of them and it happened all too frequently. It was part of the price paid uncomplainingly by our many fine County Regiments during the creation of the British Empire, in which they played such an indispensable role. One important event which overtook the 37th in 1881 was their merger with a new partner, the 67th

(South Hampshire) Regiment, to become respectively the 1st and 2nd Battalions of The Hampshire Regiment, and this is an appropriate point in the story to fill in the background to the former 67th.

Their pedigree is somewhat complicated as they began life as the 2nd Battalion of the 20th Foot, later re-titled The Lancashire Fusiliers. However, they had no sooner been raised, in 1756, when another reorganization converted them into a separate entity, the 67th Regiment. This title was then amended in 1782 to “The 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment of Foot”. They soldiered on uneventfully until 1803, when the threat of the impending Napoleonic War prompted the Government to order a number of regiments to raise second battalions, among them the 67th. Their 2nd Battalion was soon formed and found themselves caught up in the Peninsula War, where they won the Battle Honour “Barrosa”, in 1811, of which they were justifiably proud. Although a little-known action, it was most fiercely con tested on both sides and it gave the 2/67th ample opportunity to prove that they too were “willing and brave” in the face of odds of almost two to one against them. Their life proved to be a short one, being disbanded at the end of the Napoleonic campaign, but during their brief existence, they had certainly added to their regiment’s reputation.

The 1/67th, during this time, had been stationed in India ever since 1805. When they returned to England in 1826, George IV recognized their 21 years of faithful if unspectacular overseas service by granting them the right to add the Royal Tiger and the name “India” to their Colours. This distinction gave the 67th Regiment their nickname “The Tigers”. Back again in the Far East in time for the outbreak of what was tantamount to a trade war with China in 1860. the 67th earned the unusual Battle Honour “Taku Forts”, winning their first four VCs in the process. One of these went to Ensign John Chaplin, who despite being severely wounded several times, managed to hoist the 67th’s Queen’s Colour above the enemy ramparts, at which sight the Chinese defenders promptly gave up what had until then been a fierce resistance.

The next summons to arms took the 67th to Afghanistan for the campaign of 1879, where they collected three more Battle Honours, and they were still in India when in July, 1881, they heard the traumatic news that they were to be henceforth the 2nd Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment. While it is doubtful if either the 37th or the 67th welcomed this arbitrary loss of their earlier individuality, the fusion did mark the beginning of a much closer relationship between the regiment and the county to which they belonged, and whose capital of Winchester was to become the home of the Regimental Depot.


Private 1812

Tours of duty some of them very definitely operational — then took the Hampshire’s to India, Burma and South Africa, the last two postings bringing the Battle Honours “Burma 1885-87” and “South Africa 1900-02”. The Boers taught the British Army quite a few les sons, and the Hampshires in their turn showed the Boers just how good fighters they them selves could be when they had the best of a bitterly contested action at Paardeberg.

The bond between regiment and county was never more strongly evidenced than during the Great War. The Hampshires raised no fewer than 36 battalions and nearly all of them contained a large number of local volunteers. In consequence, the appallingly high rate of casualties sustained in all major offensives, such as Ypres, Loos, the Somme, Passchendale, and the Aisne, as well as in the disastrous Dardanelle landings, in which the 2nd Hampshires suffered heavily, brought bereavements to virtually every town arid village throughout the county. Even the smallest hamlets had men folk to mourn and, later, war memorials to tend. The Hampshires earned 56 Battle Honours in France and a further 34 in actions elsewhere. They also won three VCs.

Then came the mainly tranquil years of the Twenties and Thirties, when wars were presumed to have ended for all time, and when the Guards marched past their Sovereign, as they trooped their Colours on Horse Guards Parade, with their Mark III short .303 Lee Enfields riveted on their left shoulders at the “slope”. Pearly Kings and Queens reigned at Tower Hamlets and Lambeth, and their sons helped keep the King’s Peace in places as far distant as Kingston and Karachi. But then a harsh-toned paranoiac whom nobody had taken seriously shattered all illusions about an enduring peace by plunging the world once more into total war.

As had happened in 1914 in response to Lord Kitcheners call, the men of Hampshire again responded readily to the demand for their ser vices. Soon, three Territorial battalions were guarding Southampton docks and the 2nd Hampshires were the first British battalion to disembark in France in September, 1939. The same battalion were among the last British troops to embark at Dunkirk on June 2nd, 1940. They made their way home as best they could, in small groups if necessary, on what ever vessel, no matter how small, that could take them. But it remained a source of pride with the regiment thereafter that not one man left his weapon behind. The 2nd Hampshires’ next encounter with the enemy was in North Africa, where in a vitally important action at Tebourba, Tunisia, on December 3rd 1942, Major H. W. Le Patourel won the regiment’s first VC of the war. Although badly wounded and finally taken prisoner, this extremely gallant officer happily survived hostilities.


Private 1840

37th Foot at the Battle of Minden, August1st 1759

During the five years of war, the Hampshires were to have six battalions including the 1st and 2nd in action on fronts in North Africa, Italy and north-west Europe. Their 1st Battaion was one of three (the other two being the 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment and the 1st Battalion The Dorset Regiment) who spearheaded the D-Day landings on the Arromanches beach in the early morning of June 6th, 1944. And there were Hampshires

involved in all the subsequent major battle that had to be won before finally this “Thousand Year Reich” surrendered unconditionally in May, 1945. By that time, the Hamp shires had won another two VCs, but had als sustained losses of 2,094 all ranks.

Compliments in plenty came their way during those war years, and King George VI him self called their performance in Tunisia triumph of individual leadership and corporate discipline”. Perhaps the gesture that was mm appreciated came in November, 1946, when special Army Order, headed “Regiment Honours”, was published. It gave the names ( a select number of regiments that had bee honoured by King George VI to enjoy the distinction “Royal” — and in this manner, th Royal Hampshires received their accolade.

M.I Scouts 37Th (Hampshire Regt) Burma Campaign

That brings to an end the story of the Roy Hampshires in war. In their post-war fortune they have been luckier than many other famous regiments, whose life-spans have ended i mergers and amalgamations, often having 1 accept new titles which make no reference 1 the individual member regiments, who ha’ thus been consigned so abruptly to anonymity Indeed, the Royal Hampshires are the first this series to have preserved their identity up the time of writing, and the regiment enjoys the valued “privilege, honour and distinction marching with Colours flying, drums beating and bayonets fixed” in no less than eight city boroughs, towns and districts of the count And they still enjoy Royal recognition, for Princess of Wales is their Colonel-in-Chief. could be that the great Duke of Marlborough himself best summed up their whole philosophy concerning soldiering when he said of the those several centuries ago, that they w “equal to all”. Those who know the Han shires today will say that they still are.

(From  "This England" a quarterly magazine article by W. J. HARRIS)

The 37/67th foot

THE ROAR OF THE TIGER

They were called to arms
From the towns and from the farms
From the market towns like Fareham
And the villages such as Wickham
From Portsmouth, Southampton and Basingstoke

Like the roar of the Tiger they spoke
Raised by Meredith in summer 1702
And lost by government in 1992
The men of Hampshire served with pride
Lads of the county fighting side by side

Despite battles near and far they did not choke
Like the roar of the Tiger they spoke
The first battalion to arrive on the Normandy beaches
On Gold beach through the Atlantic wall breaches
From the hot sand of Benghazi
To the beach landings in Sicily

On cold nights in Italy fires they stoked
Like the roar of the Tiger they spoke
To modern times and campaigns new
Every soldier knew what he had to do
Fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan
Doing their duty in a far away land
With bayonets fixed and with hearts of oak
Like the roar of the Tiger they spoke

So look around and breathe in the Hampshire air
And survey our county green and so fair
Because over the decades their sacrifice
Has been at the call of the rolling dice
For all the living in every land still have hope
Because like roar of the Tiger they spoke.
 
~ Dave "Trapper Dave" Hayden, ex Royal Hampshire Regt~