|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.
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.
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.
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.
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)