Light Dragoons welcome home parade: A regiment’s long and distinguished history

James Olley, second from right, was Norfolk's last survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade James Olley, second from right, was Norfolk's last survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade

Tuesday, December 4, 2012
5:20 PM

Light dragoons have always been rather special troops.

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They were first raised in the middle of the 18th century for reconnaissance and patrolling (scouting) but soon acquired a reputation for courage and dash in the charge. Originally, each regiment of cavalry formed a light troop, but so successful was the idea that whole regiments were formed. The 15th Light Dragoons were the first ever (1759), and others quickly followed including the 18th and 19th. The 13th, raised as heavy dragoons (mounted infantrymen) as early as 1715, were also converted to the light role. These light dragoon regiments fought all over the world in the half-century that followed, notably in India and North America. They distinguished themselves under the Duke of Wellington in Spain and Portugal in the Napoleonic wars, and three of them were present at the battle of Waterloo (1815).

In the Crimean War (1854-56), the 13th Light Dragoons were in the forefront of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized in Tennyson’s poem (“Into the valley of death rode the six hundred”).

The regiments adopted the title Hussars at this time, and the uniform became very stylish, aping the hussars of the Austro-Hungarian army. But soon the blues, yellows and golds gave way to khaki as the British Army found itself in skirmishes throughout the far-flung Empire, in India and South Africa especially.

In the Great War (1914-18) the four regiments fought in France, both mounted and in the trenches on the Western Front,

and some of them on horseback in the Middle East. The 19th Hussars produced two field marshals – Sir John French, who was commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which sailed for France in 1914, and Sir Philip Chetwode, who became Commander-in-Chief India.

After the war the Army was reduced in size, and the first of the major amalgamations took place in 1922, the 13th and the 18th Hussars combining, and the 15th with the 19th.

As war clouds gathered again in 1939, the regiments were hastily mechanized.

Both the 13th /18th Hussars and the 15th/19th Hussars went to France that year in light tanks, in the same scouting role for which they had been raised two centuries earlier.

After Dunkirk and the evacuation of this second BEF, the regiments re-equipped and re-trained in England until, in 1944, at the Normandy landings, the 13th/18th Hussars became the first Allied tanks to lay a track on French soil. Both regiments subsequently fought all the way through France, Belgium and Germany until the final Nazi surrender in May 1945.

In the 1950s and 60s, the regiments saw plenty of active service in what was to be the twilight of the British Empire – notably in Malaya and Aden. But the main effort was in the divided Germany as part of the British Army of the Rhine, whose role was to deter Soviet aggression during the Cold War. From time to time the regiments were also called on to assist in Northern Ireland, sometimes in armoured cars, sometimes on foot.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s – the end of the Cold War – the Army faced reductions again, just as it had in 1922, and many cavalry regiments were amalgamated.

The 13th/18th Royal Hussars and the 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars, as they were then known, chose to amalgamate with one another since they shared much history and recruited from the north of England. And so, in December 1992, The Light Dragoons were formed. Or perhaps we should say reformed, since the new name harked back to the original light dragoons. The Princess of Wales became their first colonel-in-chief.

The new regiment began a series of operational deployments in the Balkans, prompting a former army chief to describe them as the best regiment in the army.

The Regiment has completed two successful tours of Iraq in 2003 and 2005 and more recently tours of Afghanistan in 2007, 2009 and 2012.

Source: Light Dragoons regimental website www.lightdragoons.org.uk

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