The Biscuit Boys

Section 1060

A Brief History of the Army


This section of the website is principally about the Royal Berkshire Regiment between 1914 and 1919 when it was engaged in the First World War. It seems appropriate, however, to provide a very brief outline of the history of the Army and the Regiment and both its preceding and succeeding units of the British Army. More detals can be found by clicking on the sub-titles.

The Army has two quite distict strands for its history. First there were the citizen armies organised by the Lords Lieutenant of each county whose task it was to defend their area from outside agression. In Saxon times this was referred to as the 'Fyrd' and each town or village was required to provide a number of men when required. This later became the Militia and they also took over all the ceremonial duties in the county. However when the Crimean War broke out many militia units were sent to replace regular units stationed around the Empire to release them for the war. As a consequence they were supplemented by Volunteer units who filled in while their militia away. These became the Territorials in 1908 while the militias were absorbed as reserves for the regular army. Today the Territorials too have been classified as the Reserves. The cavalry units became known as Yeomanry and the Territorials branched out to other Corps, such as the Artillery and Service Corps.

The second strand was the private armies of the great nobles of the realm who fought their own battles and waged their own wars although they would often lend their troops to the king in national campaigns such as the Anglo-French wars.Towards the end of the 18th century these units were 'nationalised' and turned into Regiments of Foot under the control of the War Department, often just referred to as 'Horseguards' after their headquarters in London. Their job was almost exclusively to garrison the Empire and each regiment would have a spell of seven years or so away and a similar period at home when they would look after recruiting and supporting one of the units away. Some regiments maintained two battalions so that they always had control of both home and away units but the majority had only one and had to rely on some other regiment while they were away. Gradually many of them adopted a county name although generally this was purely nominal.

The Berkshire Regiment was formed in 1881 by the amalgamation of the 49th and 66th Regiments of Foot with the Berkshire Militia and now forms part of The Rifles having previously been merged with the Wiltshire Regiment as the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment and then with the Gloucestershire Regiment as The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment and finally, very briefly with the Devon and Dorset Regiment.

The Berkshire Militia
The Berkshire Militia had its origins in the Saxon 'fyrd' which was a citizens army to defend its local territory. Over the centuries it was called out on numerous occasions, notably when the Spanish Armada threatened in 1588. It was re-embodied in 1758, then dispersed, called out again for the American Revolution and again to meet the threat of Napoleon. It was reformed again for the Crimean War and again for the Indian Mutiny. In 1881 it became the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of the new Berkshire Regiment.

The 49th Regiment
The 49th Regiment was originally formed in 1743 for garrison duties in Jamaica but very soon saw service in a much wider sphere. During its early days it served in the American War of Independence fought as Marines under Nelson and distinguished itself in Canada. In 1812, General Sir Isaac Brock, Commander-in-Chief in Upper Canada and himself an ex-member of the Regiment, was killed at its head whilst leading a charge at the battle of Queenstown. In 1872, it acquired a County connection with Hertfordshire and in 1817, at the particular request of Princess Charlotte of Wales, it also adopted her title. It fought in the so-called Opium Wars in China in 1839-42 and also in the Crimea ·where it won three Victoria Crosses. It is from this campaign that its famous China Dragon badge was born.

The 66th Regiment
The 66th Regiment was originally raised in 1756 as the second Battalion of the 19th Regiment (Green Howards) but became a Regiment in its own right two years later and adopted the additional County title of Berkshire in 1782. It saw much service in the West Indies, India and Nepal. In 1803 a second Battalion was raised which served with distinction in the Peninsula under Wellington It formed part of the Garrison of St. Helena during Napoleon’s exile there and six of its Grenadiers helped carry his coffin to its tomb. In 1880 it was practically annihilated in a desperate battle at Maiwand in Afghanistan, as a result of which the Commander of the Force stated in his despatch that ’... history does not afford any greater or finer instance of gallantry and devotion to duty than that displayed by the 66th Regiment on 27th July 1880.’ The famous Maiwand Lion was erected above a memorial in Reading's Forbury Gardens to commemorate the exploit.

The Royal Berkshire Regiment
Following the amalgamation in 1881 of the 49th and 66th the new Regiment was known simply as The Berkshire Regiment. The 'old' regiments becoming its 1st and 2nd Battalions and the former Berkshire Militia the 3rd Battalion. The amalgamation was followed by service by the 1st Battalion in the Sudan where it greatly distinguished itself at Tofrek in 1885, as a result of which Queen Victoria ordered, that, in future, the Regiment should be known as Princess Charlotte of Wales’s Royal Berkshire Regiment. A few years later, it was serving with equal distinction in the South African War of 1899-1902. A total of eight Battalions, two Regular, two Territorial and four Service, fought in France, Flanders, Italy and Salonika during the First World War and six fought in the Second World War in North-West Europe, Italy, Sicily and Burma. During World War Two, two members of the Regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross for Valour. Also one of its officers, General Miles Dempsey, commanded the British and Canadian Forces on D-Day. After D-Day the 5th Battalion were in charge of Juno Beach at Berniere sur Mer and to commemorate their efforts a street in Berniere was named Rue du Royal Berkshire Regiment. The Regimental Depot was at Brock Barracks, Reading and the Regiment has always maintained close links with its Territorial Army connections which, during the latter part of its history, was the 4th/6th Battalion The Royal Berkshire Regiment (TA)

The Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment
In 1959 the Royal Berkshire Regiment (Princess Charlotte of Wales') and the Wiltshire Regiment (Duke of Edinburgh's) were merged to form the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Under this name the regiment soldiered all over the globe keeping the peace in places such as British Guiana, Cyprus and Northern Ireland. They also served a number of times as part of the BAOR and in Berlin.

In 1994 the Regiment was again merged, this time with the Gloucestershire Regiment to form The 1st Battalion, Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment. This merger spawned a new Regimental Magazine The Sphinx and the Dragon which superseded the former China Dragon and DERR Journal. The new Regiment's first posting was to Bosnia on UN duties. It then moved to Cyprus on garrison duties and later formed part of the Rapid Reaction Force. In 1995 the 2nd Wessex (Territorial) Battalion which had succeeded the 4th/6th Royal Berkshires became the 2nd Battalion of the RGBW. Under Options for change this battalion was disbanded in 2000 and split between The Royal Rifle Volunteers and the Rifle Volunteers. The former was the Territorial unit for South Eastern England and the latter for South Western England. The Royal Rifle Volunteers was based at Brock Barracks in Reading and formed part of 145 Brigade. The Rifle Volunteers was based in Bristol. A further review of forces in 2006 resulted in a decision to disband the RGBW entirely but as a result of fevered campaigning it was decided to merge them with the Devon and Dorsets in March 2007 to become the 1st Battalion The Rifles. As a result the regiment was renamed the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry and the men were issued with new green berets in July 2006.

The Rifles
The Rifles came into existence in February 2007

The 1st Battalion was formed from the merged Devon & Dorsets and RGBWLI and based in Gloucestershire near Chepstow, it is part of 3 Commando Brigade.

The 2nd Battalion derived from the 1st Battalion Light Infantry and is based at Ballykinier in Northern Ireland and part of 19th Light Brigade.

The 3rd Battalion derived from the 2nd Battalion Light /infantry and is based in Edinburgh. It is part of 52nd Infantry Brigade.

The 4th Battalion derives from the 1st Battalion Green Jackets and is based at Bulford in Wiltshire. It is part of 1st Mechanised Brigade.

The 5th Battalion derives from the 2nd Battalion Green Jackets and is based at Paderborn in Germany. It is part of 20th Armoured Brigade.

The 6th Battalion derives from the Rifle Volunteers and is a Territorial Battalion with its headquarters in Exeter and companies in Truro, Exeter, Taunton, Dorchester and Gloucester

The 7th Rifles derives from the Royal Rifle Volunteers and is a Territorial Battalion with headquarters in Reading and companies in London, Oxford, Milton Keynes and Reading.

There are three more Rifles companies:- E part of 4 Mercian at Shrewsbury, C part of 5 RRF at Bishop Auckland and Y part of 5RRF at Doncaster. One of the purposes of the new 'super' regiments is that within the one Regiment there is a sufficient range of specialised operations to ensure that officers and NCOs can have a complete career path without being typecast in one particular role.

Regimental Histories
There are a number of histories written about the several regiments covered by this website. Click on the sub-title to see the Bibliography.

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