THE HEREFORDSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY (TA)
Welcome to the website of The Herefordshire Light Infantry and its predecessors, The Herefordshire Rifle Volunteers and The Herefordshire Regiment.
It is the 107 year story of a Volunteer Regiment from a small English County. It is a success story. A story of bravery, determination, and devotion to duty, of sadness of comrades lost, but also that of a job well done. It is a tale that ought to be known more widely.
The material is taken mostly from Colonel Tom Hill’s book on the Regiment ‘Manu Forti’. Additionally, use has been made of: ‘The History of 53rd (Welsh) Division’ by Major Dudley Ward, Patrick Delaforce’s book on 11th Armoured Division, ‘The Black Bull’, the 11th Armoured Division History ‘Taurus Pursuant’, and ‘The Tanks’ by Sir Basil Liddle Hart.
The history of the Herefordshire Light Infantry starts in 1860 with the formation of eight Rifle Volunteer Corps in Herefordshire. In addition there were three Rifle Volunteer Corps in Radnorshire. These with the Herefordshire Corps, were brought together as the 1st Administrative Battalion, the Herefordshire Rifle Volunteers. Over the next twenty years there were various changes to the location and strengths of the various corps within the Herefordshire Rifle Volunteers.
The reforms to both the regular and volunteer elements of the Army, known as the Cardwell Reforms, during the 1870’s brought about the first of four name changes in 1880, when the title was altered to The Herefordshire Rifle Volunteer Corps (Hereford & Radnor). At this time the regiment consisted of Battalion Headquarters in Hereford and Companies at:
In 1881 the Cardwell Reforms were completed with the formation of Regimental Districts consisting of Regular Battalions, Militia Battalions and Volunteer Battalions. The Regiment joined the 53rd District and was linked to the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI), which was formed at the same time. The Regiment became a Volunteer Battalion of the KSLI but retained its identity. This association with the KSLI, the Light Infantry, and Shropshire was to be an enduring one, which survives to this day.
The first opportunity for active service came during the Boer War. Two Volunteer Service Companies were formed from the three Volunteer Battalions of the KSLI, to reinforce 2nd Battalion KSLI in South Africa. Each Company, serving for one year each, were only allowed a strength of 116 all ranks, which made for stiff competition to join them. The first Company went to South Africa in April 1900, and was involved with 2nd Battalion KSLI on several operations. By the time the second Company went out in 1901, the war had changed with most of the time spent on guard duty in blockhouses and escorting trains. Both Companies performed extremely well. In recognition of this, the Volunteer Battalions were granted permission for the Battle Honour ‘South Africa 1900-1902’ to be borne on their Colours. In addition each man received the Queen’s South Africa Medal. In the campaign, Herefordshire lost four men killed or died of disease.
The Territorial Force 1908 – 1914
The next major change came with the re-organisation of the reserve army, following the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907, into the Territorial Force in 1908. The title of the Regiment was changed to ‘The Herefordshire Regiment TF’. Although Radnorshire was dropped from the Title, the link remained with two Radnorshire Companies remaining in the Battalion. The Battalion still remained part of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) family.
At this time the Regiment obtained permission to adopt the grass-green facings of the old 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot (since 1881 2nd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment) and to adopt the motto “Manu Forti” (with a strong hand). It also chose as it Regimental March “The Lincolnshire Poacher” which had also been used by the 36th of Foot.
The 1st Battalion The Herefordshire Regiment consisted of a Headquarters at Hereford and eight Companies as follows:
|D||Kington & Presteign|
|F||Leominster & Bromyard|
|G||Radnorshire (Rhayader & Knighton)|
The Regiment formed part of the Welsh Border Brigade of 53 (Welsh) Division.
King Edward VII had agreed to present colours to all units of the new Territorial Force that were fully recruited by the end of 1908. On the 19 June 1909 at Windsor Castle the King presented colours to those units of theTerritorial Force who qualified, including 1st Battalion The Herefordshire Regiment TF. The King’s and Regimental Colours were provided by the Ladies of the Counties of Herefordshire and Radnorshire. This set of Colours was carried by the 1st Battalion until disbandment in 1967. The Colours are now preserved in the Museum.
The Act of 1907 stipulated that the Territorial Force was intended for home service but provided that members could offer to serve outside the United Kingdom. Those members who elected to serve overseas or in the United Kingdom without the Territorial Force being embodied, were distinguished by the Imperial Service Badge. The badge was worn above the right breast pocket of the service dress tunic.
First Wold War 1914 – 18
In August 1914, the 1st Battalion was mobilised as part of 158 Brigade in 53rd (Welsh) Division. It was later re-numbered as 1st/1st Battalion, as two other line battalions were raised during the war, 2nd/1st, and 3rd/1st. Neither saw active service and were eventually absorbed into 4th (Reserve) Battalion KSLI.
In 1915, 53rd Division was dispatched to join the Gallipoli campaign, and on 9th August, the Battalion landed at Suvla Bay and was immediately involved in the fighting. In spite of the appalling conditions and poor leadership from the higher command, the Battalion greatly distinguished itself. In his dispatches, the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton reported the following:
“Some of the units which took part in this engagement acquitted themselves very bravely. The Divisional Commander speaks with appreciation of one freshly landed battalion of 53rd Division, a Hereford battalion, presumably 1st/1st Herefordshire which attacked with impetuosity and courage between Hetman Chair and Kaslar Chair, above Azmak Dere on the extreme right of the line.”
With the withdrawal from Gallipoli in December 1915, the Battalion, by then less than a hundred strong, was sent with 53rd Division to Egypt. After rest, reinforcement, and retraining, it was involved in the defence of the Suez Canal and Egypt, taking a prominent part in the battle of Rumani in July 1916.
In 1917, when Government policy changed, 53rd Division became involved in the Palestine Campaign, led by General Allenby, to drive out the Turks. The 1st Battalion fought in all three battles of Gaza and distinguished itself at Beersheba and Khuweilfeh, arriving in Jerusalem in December 1917. In the subsequent advance in March 1918, the Battalion took part in the battle of Tel Asur. By this time, the priority was for troops for the Western front. In June 1918, the Battalion was among five from 53rd Division dispatched to France, to be replaced by Indian Army units.
The Battalion joined 102 Brigade in 34th Division with which it was involved in some of the last battles of the war including the Marne and Ypres. In October, after some particularly heavy fighting near Menin, the Commanding Officer received a special letter from the Brigade Commander, Brigadier-General Hilliam in which he wrote:
“Congratulations to you and all ranks of your splendid Battalion for the excellent work done during the three days fighting.”
After the Armistice on 11th November, the Battalion was involved in garrison duties in Germany until it returned to Hereford where it was demobilised on 24th May 1919. The Regiment had acquitted itself well in the war.
|Members of the Battalion and attached personnel received the following awards for bravery:|
|1||1 posthumous VC (won by the Medical Officer, Captain J Fox-Russell MC at Khuweilfeh in November 1917),|
|1||Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)|
|7||Distinguished Service Order (DSO)|
|22||Military Cross (MC)|
|9||Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)|
|41||Military Medal (MM)|
|42||Mentioned in Despatches|
|4||Meritorious Service Medal (MSM)|
|1||Russian Order of St. George Silver Medal (3rd Class)|
|1||Serbian Order of the White Eagles 5th Class with Swords|
|1||Serbian Gold Medal for Bravery|
|1||Serbian Order of Karageorge 4th Class with Swords|
|1||Egypian Order of the Nile|
|1||French Medaille Militaire|
|11||French Croix de Guerre|
|2||Belgian Croix de Guerre.|
The Regiment was awarded 16 Battle Honours of which 10 were carried on the King’s Colour. The casualty list was 27 Officers and 495 Other Ranks killed. 46 Officers and 974 Other Ranks were wounded.
Territorial Army 1920 – 1939
In 1920, the Reserve Army was reformed as the Territorial Army. There was a moment of panic when it was proposed that the Herefordshire Regiment should become a heavy artillery regiment. However, after a great outcry in the County, the proposal was withdrawn and the Regiment was reformed as infantry as ‘The Herefordshire Regiment (TA)’, this time without the Radnorshire element. The links with Radnorshire were thus finally extinguished.
The Battalion became part of 159 (Welsh Border) Brigade rejoining 53rd (Welsh) Division with which it had fought throughout the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns. The other Battalions in the Brigade were 4th Battalion KSLI and 3rd Battalion the Monmouthshire Regiment. Although peacetime soldiering continued normally, by the late thirties it was realised that another war was coming, which no doubt gave an added zest to training.
On 31 March 1939, the strength of the TA was doubled, with every unit and formation being duplicated. The 2nd Battalion Herefordshire Regiment was formed by splitting the 1st Battalion and the county into 2 battalion areas.
Second World War 1939 – 45
The 1st Battalion was mobilised on 2nd Sept 1939 just days after returning from Annual Camp at Weston-Super-Mare. 159 Brigade was established in Tenby, Pembrokeshire. After the German invasion of Norway, it was felt that N Ireland might be at some risk, so in April 1940 the Division moved to the Province. The Battalion remained in N Ireland until May 1942, when as part of a restructuring of both infantry and armoured divisions, 159 Brigade was selected to be a Lorried Infantry Brigade joining 29 Armoured Brigade in 11th Armoured Division. The change of role gave a new sense of purpose to the Battalion, greatly improving morale. The Division was commanded by Major General Percy Hobart, a legendary figure in the armoured world. He had been brought out of retirement in the Home Guard by Winston Churchill to form and train the Division.
The Division was set for service in North Africa in January 1943 but at the very last moment, the Allied Conference in Casablanca decided to send an infantry division instead. This was naturally a severe disappointment. However, the Battalion soon got over it, and buckled down to training once more.
The Battalion finally went to war in Normandy, landing there on D + 7, 13th June 1944. The Divisional Commander by this time was Major General ‘Pip’ Roberts who at 37, was one of the youngest Divisional Commanders of the war. He had gained his spurs in the desert, commanding two separate armoured brigades in Eighth Army.
The Division was involved in all the major operations in Normandy: Odon (Op Epsom), Caen (Op Goodwood) and Caumont (Op Bluecoat) and the battles around the Falaise pocket. They lead the great ‘Swan’ as it was known, to Antwerp, arriving there on 3rd September having driven 260 miles in 6 days. They fought the battles there, followed by the winter fighting on the River Maas.
Finally, there was the Rhine crossing, and the fight through Germany to Lubeck on the Baltic coast, for the war’s end. The Battalion took part in the very last operation in NW Europe, ‘Operation Blackout’ on 23rd May, when 159 Brigade, with the Herefords, the Cheshires, and 15th/19th Hussars, toppled the puppet government of the 2nd and last Fuehrer of the 3rd and last Reich, Grand Admiral Doenitz in Flensburg. The Battalion gathered up his car pennants for safekeeping. They are still in Hereford. It is said that members of the Battalion surprised some German ‘WRNS’ taking a shower. It was further reported that the soldiers retired hurriedly, also that the ladies did not object to the intrusion!
The next 14 months involved Occupation duties, as well as preparing men for demob. In January 1946, 11th Armoured Division was disbanded. 159 Brigade returned to 53rd Division then stationed in Krefeld. In July, the Battalion was placed in suspended animation.
It should be said that 11th Armoured Division was overwhelmingly a Territorial Army and ‘Wartime Only’ division. It is even more to their credit therefore, that the division is generally recognised as the outstanding division in the Campaign. Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, the Commander of Second British Army wrote of the Division on 5th August 1945:
“The 11th Armoured Division proved itself throughout the campaign in North West Europe an outstandingly fine division. I have never met a better.”
Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart, a Light Infantryman himself in the first war and one of the foremost military historians of his generation, wrote of 11th Armoured Division in his book ‘The Tanks’:
“within a few months 11th Armoured achieved a reputation in Europe matching that which the long-famous 7th Armoured Division gained in Africa.”
The casualty list was 8 Officers and 210 Other Ranks killed.
|The following awards were made to members of the Battalion:|
|5||Distinguished Service Order including 1 bar (DSO)|
|2||Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)|
|12||Military Cross (MC)|
|3||Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)|
|25||Military Medal (MM)|
|22||Mentioned in Despatches|
|1||Belgian Order of Leopold with Croix de Guerre|
|2||French Croix de Guerre|
16 Battle honours were awarded to the Regiment, 10 of which were carried on the Queen’s Colour. As majority of these awards were won in eleven months, as opposed to three years in the first war, there can be no doubt that the Battalion fought with great distinction in the campaign from Normandy to the Baltic.
The Battalion was at Camp at Weston-Super-Mare when it was mobilised as part of 114 Infantry Brigade of 38 (Welsh) Division. The Battalion was allocated to home defence duties. Shortly after D Day, 38 (Welsh) Division ceased to exist as a field force unit, with all available Officers and Men were drafted to units in France. The 2nd Battalion lapsed into abeyance on 15 July 1944.
Freedom of the City of Hereford
On the 29 September 1945 the Herefordshire Regiment received the Freedom of the City of Hereford in recognition over many years of loyal and devoted service to the Sovereigns of this Realm. The Regiment received the right of marching through the streets on all ceremonial occasions, with drums beating, bands playing, Colours flying and bayonets fixed.
Territorial Army 1947 – 67
The Battalion was reformed in April 1947 and one month later, in recognition of its war service, and its long association with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI), changed its name for the fourth and last time. The Regiment became 1st Battalion The Herefordshire Light Infantry (TA), adopting the uniform and customs of the Light Infantry with which it had been associated for so long.
The Battalion prospered in the following 20 years. For a short time in the early years one of the Company Commanders was Major R.A.St.T. Farran DSO MC (late of The Special Air Service [SAS]). Not only was the Battalion well recruited, but excelled at work and play, winning many shooting and sporting competitions.
In 1967, the final curtain came down with the re-organisation of the Territorial Army, or the destruction as some might call it. As a result of this re-organisation, the Regiment was dis-banded.
That is not quite the end of the story. Their military descendants, the Light Infantry are continuing to play their part. Light Infantry TA soldiers from Hereford have provided support for their regular comrades serving in Bosnia, Kosovo, and more recently in Afghanistan, and Iraq.
The record of the Herefordshire Light Infantry lives on in its battle honours, which have been incorporated into those of the Light Infantry, four of which are borne on the Colours.
In summary, the Regiment played a significant role in the three major wars of the first half of the 20th Century. It acquitted itself at the highest level, and its reputation, as the only TA Regiment to be given the honour of becoming ‘Light Infantry’, is unrivalled.
On the 1 February 2007 The Light Infantry amalgamated with The Royal Green Jackets, The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry and The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry to form The Rifles.
Note. The Light Infantry badged Recce Platoon, based in Hereford, of E Company the West Midlands Regiment was disbanded in September 2006. From 2014 there has been a Rifles TA Unit in Herefordshire. Based at Suvla Barracks, Hereford is 10 Platoon, E Company, 6 Rifles. Further information about The Rifles can be found at www.theriflesnetwork.co.uk and details of Museums connected to The Rifles and it predecessor Regiments can be found at www.riflesmuseum.co.uk