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History, 8th Kings's Royal Irish Hussars


21
Ireland had always been a great producer of horsemen and the Irish provided a disproportionate amount of cavalry regiments as compared to Scotland and Wales. The 8th Hussars were such a regiment; the Celtic legacy lives on, through the Angel harp and the crest of Armagh which surmounts the cap badge, in the Pipe band which flourishes, and most importantly in our retaining Northern Ireland, our oldest recruiting ground, for The Queen's Royal Hussars. The distinction of being a Royal Regiment comes originally from the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars.

20They were formed in 1693 after James II had been pushed out of Ireland by the men of Ulster who had supported William of Orange against the Jacobite cause. The Commission for raising them was given to Colonel Henry Conyngham, thus their first title was Conyghams Dragoons. They soldiered at home for their first decade until the War of Spanish succession took them to Spain in 1704. The War became a series of skirmishes, one of the most unfortunate being Tanarite where, despite inflicting three times their own casualties, Conyngham himself was killed. Colonel Robert Killigrew took over and it was he who led the regiment at the battle of Almanza in 1707 alongside the 3rd and 4th Dragoons. It was a heavy defeat and Killigrews Dragoons lost more than half their numbers killed or captured as well as their Colonel again. Therefore it was Pepper's Dragoons who reconstituted for the next two years and faced the enemy at Almenara in 1710, routing the Spanish cavalry and taking their crossbelts which they then used as a distinguishing mark; they became known as the "Crossbelt Dragoons". The campaign lingered on until 1713 but the 8th had already been captured en masse when Brihuega was captured in 1710.

19The 8th moved back to England and along with the 7th were disbanded by the Jacobite advisors to the King because both regiments were blatantly Protestant. Within 18 months they had to be re raised to help deal with the old pretender in 1715. Four years later the regiment moved back to Ireland for a quarter of a century and once again were recalled to Scotland, this time to deal with the young pretender in 1745. They moved all over Scotland harassing the enemy until the rebellion was crushed, then they moved back to the emerald isle where in 1751 they were numbered for the first time as the 8th Dragoons, and in 1776 they received their first title, "The 8th King's Royal Irish Light Dragoons". For the latter part of the eighteenth century the regiment was exclusively stationed around Ireland, helping the civil authorities during the disastrous potato famines and containing the rebellious activities of the Whiteboys, lawless gangs who terrorised their fellow peasants.

18Finally in 1794 the 8th moved to the low countries for eighteen months of conflict. The first battle they fought on the continent in may surpassed even "The Charge of the Light Brigade" for bravery and devotion to duty. Two squadrons of the 8th charged a body of French infantry supported by four guns well positioned in a churchyard in the village of Bousbecque. The 8th Light Dragoons routed the infantry, jumped the churchyard walls and captured the guns. The casualties were staggering, of the 200 men who engaged the French, 186 were killed, wounded or captured. Lesser skirmishes followed for a year as the allies were pushed back into Germany and then left for England in November 1795. Just before their departure the regiment was heartened by a directive from George III that they should resume wearing buff accoutrements as a special mark of Royal favour.

17A year of recuperation was all that the 8th were given before being sent to South Africa in 1796, keeping law and order amongst the pro-French Boers for five years, after which the regiment was sent on secret expedition to fight the French in North Africa, only to find the enemy had gone. The 8th were sent to Suez where they sailed for their first tour of India in 1802, which was to last for twenty years. There was already fighting between the English and the French backed native leaders, Sindia and Holkar. The former of whom with his Maratha Army the 8th Light Dragoons met, and pushed out of their fortress at Aligarh, then Agra before pursuing them southwards. The cavalry caught the enemy at Leswaree and held them there with continual charges until the infantry arrived.

16Sindia submitted but Holkar stood out for another two years, causing the 8th at one stage to pursue him to farakhabad for fourteen days over a distance of four hundred miles where they destroyed three thousand Maratha Musketeers. After more sieges and skirmishes, a peace treaty was at last signed in January 1806. The following year possibly the most audacious Royal Irish soldier ever joined the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rollo Gillespie. His fearless exploits before he joined the regiment were legion and this helped him endear himself to all ranks while the regiment found a new enemy in the Pindaris, border tribesman intent on pillage in British India. The 8th first helped to storm two tactically vital border fortresses then in September 1812 crossed into Pindari territory to prevent them amassing an army.

15Two years later the regiment marched North to deal with their third enemy, the Gurkhas, who were encroaching on the borders of India from their mountainous home of Nepal. This was the toughest enemy of the British whose denouncement came at the fortress of Kalunga which the now Major General Gillespie was attacking with four divisions. Gillespie died at the head of the storming party, courageous to the end, but ironically this campaign had a beneficial ending as subsequently the Gurkhas were recruited by the British army. From 1815 to 1818 the Royal Irish were kept busy by the Talukdars, Pindaris, Peshwa and the Marthas in minor insurrections before they returned to Meerut where the Colonelcy of the regiment passed to Lieutenant General Sir Banastre Tarleton BT. A colourful cavalry commander who had risen by sheer ability from Cornet to Lieutenant General. In 1822 Tarleton received orders that his regiment was to become a Hussar Regiment, retitled the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars and reclothed with the glorious panoply of the Hungarian horsemen. They travelled back to England the following year with high praise from the governor-general of India and with the Battle honour of Hindoostan, not perhaps a just reflection of the battles and engagements which had filled their years on the subcontinent.

14There were to be thirty years of peace for the 8th Hussars, who alternated between postings in England and Ireland, escorting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their first visit to Dublin in 1849 and attracting very favourable comments from almost all their annual inspecting general officers. In 1854 the 8th Hussars embarked for the Crimea. The involved machinations of European politics which brought England and France together after two centuries of mortal conflict to fight against Russia, the quarrel over guardianship of the Holy places in Palestine and the Russian threat to the Mediterranean would have meant nothing to the 8th Hussars. They had already lost ninety five men dead or seriously ill in the siege at Silestria before they arrived in the Crimea.

13The first battle was near the river Alma in September 1854 and the 8th Hussars were awarded the battle honour for a convincing defeat of the enemy. In October Balaklava and the immortal "Charge of the Light Brigade" took place. It was started when 25,000 Russians tried to capture Balaklava, the British Army's only port, defended by the 93rd Highlanders, some Turks and the Cavalry Division. Each detachment played an admirable part, the 93rd holding of six squadrons of enemy cavalry, the heavy Brigades success over far superior numbers of enemy Cavalry and finally the Charge of the Light Brigade. Lieutenant Colonel Sherwell led the King's Royal Irish Hussars in the second line of the Brigade, next to the 4th Hussars, forbidding two soldiers to carry their swords in the charge because they had "Disgraced the regiment by smoking in the presence of the enemy". The charge through the crossfire into the mouths of the Russian guns is vividly described by Lieutenant the Hon S Calthorpe, an 8th Hussar ADC.

"The pace of our Cavalry increased every moment, until they went thundering along the valley, making the ground tremble beneath them. On they went headlong to death, disregarding aught but the object of their attack. At length they arrived at the guns, their numbers sadly thinned, but the few that remained made fearful havoc amongst the enemy's artillery".

12The journey back through the same crossfire was far worse. One of the gallant remnants was Jemmy, a rough coated terrier, who survived and served with the regiment for another four years. The 8th Hussars lost sixty six killed or missing of the 104 who charged.

11"The Soldiers Battle" of Inkerman was won by the infantry in November as the abominable winter of 1854-55 set in claiming 9,000 lives, which nevertheless did not stop the 8th Hussars overcoming the Russians at Kertch. In September 1855 Sevastopol fell after nearly a year, and peace was signed in March 1856. The King's Royal Irish Hussars had spent two years away from home, had defeated a far larger army and had endured dreadful suffering to emerge victorious.

10They spent a year in England but were called to India to help suppress the mutiny and were ready for war in February 1858. The most celebrated action of the war came three months later at Gwalior when a squadron of the 8th, under Captain Heneage trounced but found themselves embroiled with much larger enemy force trying to escape from Gwalior who they also charged and put into confusion, winning the battle in "One of the finest exploits of the war". General Sir Hugh Rose awarded the squadron four Victoria Crosses, one for the officers, one for the NCO's and two for the Corporals and troopers, all to be elected by their comrades. Captain Heneage, Sergeant Ward, Farrier Hollis and Private Pearson were chosen. The remaining year of the mutiny consisted of the pursuit of the rebel forces, and another Victoria Cross was awarded to Troop Sergeant Major Champion at Beejapore for taking over when all officers in his troop had been wounded, although he was seriously wounded himself, leading the charge and continuing to fight the enemy. The remainder of their time in India was peaceful and the regiment arrived back in York in 1864.

9An uneventful decade and a half proceeded the 8th Hussars third tour of India in 1879, when they moved almost immediately after landing to Afghanistan to bolster Roberts force which they did for the final year of the second Afghan war. They stayed on the subcontinent until 1889 when they moved back to England, spending three years at Norwich where they became immensely popular. In 1899 they were mobilised for South Africa where they had broken out against the Boers. The 8th joined the 4th Cavalry Brigade on the advance to Pretoria which was taken in June 1900. The minor skirmishes were punctuated by some more major conflicts like Diamond Hill and Belfast which pushed the enemy back until by October, only mopping up or driving had to be done which however lasted for two years. At Geluk the 8th were surrounded but fought themselves out of trouble, and in the summer of 1901 the regiment was split up into two detachments operating in a semi-independent capacity, until peace was signed in may 1902 by which time the Royal Irish had lost fifty four lives in the war. Six years in England was followed by another tour in India until they were mobilised for the great war, arriving in Marseilles in November 1914.

8The 8th entered the trenches on the western front for the first time on the 9th December 1914, not having arrived home in time to take any part in the retreat from mons. They spent the whole War in the Ambala Brigade or first cavalry brigade next to native Indian mounted regiments, seeing their first action in December 1914 at Givenchy. The majority of their time was spent sending large parties forward to dig trenches and this continued for the whole span of the war. In the second battle for Ypres in may 1915 gas was first used by the Germans who expected a breakthrough which the 8th were sent forward to contain and this they did.

7The majority of the casualties occurred from the unsanitary conditions of the trenches, the cavalry being held almost exclusively in reserve, waiting for "the gap" constantly warned off but never used. In July 1916 the King's Royal Irish Hussars fought at Bazentin then Flers-Courcelette the following month, both battles being in the Somme area, which they returned to in March 1917 to clear the small pockets of machine guns left by the retreating Germans. At Villiers Faucon after a "dashing attack" the regiment captured two of these machine guns, which are still outside the guardroom today. For the battle of Cambrai in November the 8th Hussars were again warned for "The Gap" which did not appear, however they did some fierce defending against the enemy counter attack.

6It was the same story for the German spring offensive of 1918, when "C" Squadron under Captain Adlercron bravely defended the village of Hervilly until untenable, only to recapture it later that day at the loss of sixty six casualties. The tide turned against the Germans when the allies began their final offensive in August, the 8th fighting at St Quentin, Beaurevoir and Cambrai and the pursuit to Mons. On the 11th November at Maffles, the regiment heard that the Armistice had been signed. They had lost 105 killed and many, many more wounded in the previous four years.

5The 8th Hussars returned to England in 1919 and embarked almost immediately for India where again they spent less than a year when they ordered to Mesopotamia in order to deal with various native insurrections at Medali which they put down, moving from there to Egypt. In 1923 the Regiment moved back to York and completed a three year tour as part of the occupation forces in Germany from 1926-1929, after which they returned to Aldershot and received their first motorised transport for the machine gun squadron. The 8th moved back to Abassia in Egypt in 1934 and their last mounted parade was held in November 1935. Their particular brand of soldiering was at an end after 242 years, and it is difficult nowadays to imagine the sense of loss felt by the King's Royal Irish Hussars when the horses disappeared and the tanks came in. In 1936 the regiment helped quell civil unrest in Palestine and then returned to Egypt as part of the 7th Armoured Division, the "Desert Rats".

4It was not until August 1940 that the regiment saw its first action against the Italians near Fort Capuzzo. Later in December they helped at Buq Buq and cut of the Italian retreat at Sidi Barrani in which 14,000 prisoners were captured. The pursuit was now in full swing but owing to all the breakdowns a composite squadron of the 8th joined up with the 3rd Hussars for the sharp action at El Mechili. The regiment then returned to refit in Cairo and when they next saw action it was against the Germans in November 1941 around Sidi Rezegh. Within four days their unstinting tenacity had seen them defy the enemy who had far superior tanks left, and moved the Commanding Officer of 2 RHA to comment that "the 8th Hussars chiefly... stood between the British Empire and defeat. They were simply magnificent".

3In May 1942 Rommel recommended the attack, his main thrust of armour hitting the 8th Hussars first at Bir Hacheim, where once again they were almost annihilated showing amazing bravery, and the remnants fought the retreat back to Alamien as best they could. In June one squadron reorganised with their future partners as the 4th/8th Hussars, and faced the massive enemy onslaught at Alam Haifa, winning a great victory. It was this squadron that helped breach the minefields at Alamein and then joined the pursuit for three weeks. A short break in Cyprus preceded the regiments return to England in November 1943 where they became the Armoured Reconnaissance regiment of the 7th Armoured Division, which trained hard and landed in France on 9th June 1944, just after D,Day. They had to fight in the close "Bocage" country, the antithesis of the open desert, leading their division out of the bridgehead, fighting heavily around Briquessard and taking a full part in Operation Goodwood. They pushed the Germans further and further back, constantly taking casualties of men and tanks. Reinforced by a squadron from the Northamptonshire Yeomanry, they pushed back through France, the low countries and finally to the Rhine, fighting hard on the way at St Pol, the Nederrijn and the Maas. In April 1945 the 8th crossed the Weser having found the German Defence of their fatherland very spirited, but they still liberated the POW camp in Belsen before ending the war close to Hamburg. Then the regiment went to Berlin to take part in the Victory celebrations, justly so for its unceasing efforts in the desert and Northern Europe.

2The regiment stayed in Itzehoe in Germany for a year, then moved to the Dutch border to help with internal security. In 1948 the 8th returned to Leicestershire, transferring to Tidworth in 1950 but when the Korean war broke out they were sent out arriving in the Far East in November. Having reached the front, north of Pyongyang, all squadrons found themselves in full retreat. Early in the new year of 1951 Recce Troop fought a valuable action on the Han River but lost twenty three killed or missing. In February the UN Forces took the offensive, helping the Gloucester's capture Hill 327, and by April patrols were probing north of the Imjin River seemingly uncontested until a massive enemy assault on the 22nd. The Chinese split the dispersed units, all the 8th Hussars tanks were in action, especially in the latter stages when they protected the infantry withdrawal. Although the Gloucester's were the heroes, the 8th won many battle honours and awards and were relieved in December.

1Between 1952 and 1958 the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars soldiered in Luneburg enjoying an extended period of peace. This existence was ended by the news of the amalgamation, a sad end to one of the most battle hardened Cavalry Regiments who had given so much honour on so many continents to the British Crown.


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