|23rd Regiment of Foot|
Welch Regiment of Fusiliers
Royal Welch Regiment of Fusiliers
Royal Welch Fusiliers
|Active||16 March 1689 - 28 February 2006|
|Allegiance|| Kingdom of England (1689-1707)|
Kingdom of Great Britain (1707-1800)
United Kingdom (1801-2006)
|Size||1-2 Regular battalions|
|Garrison/HQ||Hightown Barracks, Wrexham|
|Anniversaries||St. David's Day (1 March)|
|Engagements||Williamite War in Ireland|
Nine Years' War
War of the Spanish Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
American War of Independence
French Revolutionary Wars
Second China War
Third Anglo-Burmese War
Second Boer War
First World War
Second World War
|Ceremonial chief||HM The Queen|
|Major-General Brian Plummer|
The Royal Welch Fusiliers (Welsh: Ffiwsilwyr Brenhinol Cymreig) was a line infantry regiment of the British Army and part of the Prince of Wales' Division, founded in 1689 shortly after the Glorious Revolution. In 1702, it was designated a fusilier regiment and became The Welch Regiment of Fusiliers; the prefix "Royal" was added in 1713, then confirmed in 1714 when George I named it The Prince of Wales's Own Royal Regiment of Welsh Fusiliers. After the 1751 reforms that standardised the naming and numbering of regiments, it became the 23rd Foot (Royal Welsh Fuzileers).
It retained the archaic spelling of Welch, instead of Welsh, and Fuzileers for Fusiliers; these were engraved on swords carried by regimental officers during the Napoleonic Wars. After the 1881 Childers Reforms, its official title was The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, but "Welch" continued to be used informally until restored in 1920 by Army Order No.56.
It should not be confused with the Welch Regiment, a different unit (formed in 1881 from the 41st and 69th) which recruited in South and West, rather than North Wales, and became part of the Royal Regiment of Wales or RRW in 1969.
One of the few regiments to retain its original title, in March 2006 the Royal Welch Fusiliers was amalgamated with the RRW and became 1st Battalion, Royal Welsh, with RRW as the 2nd Battalion.
The regiment was raised by Henry Herbert at Ludlow on 16 March 1689, following the 1688 Glorious Revolution and exile of James II. It served throughout the 1689 to 1691 Williamite War in Ireland, including the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, and Aughrim in 1691 which brought the campaign to an end. It joined Allied forces fighting in the Nine Years War and at Namur in August 1695, took part in the attack on the Terra Nova earthwork that inspired the song 'The British Grenadiers.'
On the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1702, it became The Welch Regiment of Fuzilieers; this denoted units equipped with light-weight muskets or 'fusils' used to protect the artillery, although the distinction later became obsolete. It served throughout Marlborough's campaigns in the Low Countries, including the battles of Schellenberg, Blenheim and Ramillies.
In 1714, George I gave it the title of The Prince of Wales's Own Royal Regiment of Welsh Fusiliers. The next 28 years were spent on garrison duty in England and Scotland, until it returned to Flanders in 1742 for the War of the Austrian Succession. At Dettingen in June 1743, it rallied after being driven back by the elite French Maison du Roi cavalry; its steadiness was a major contribution to what is considered a fortunate victory. It incurred 323 casualties at Fontenoy in May 1745, before a brief period in Scotland during the 1745 Rising. Over 240 members of the regiment were lost at Lauffeld in July 1747, a defeat that led to the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
Following the 1751 reforms that standardised naming and numbering of regiments, it became the 23rd Foot (Royal Welsh Fuzileers). In the opening battle of the Seven Years' War, it was part of the Minorca garrison that surrendered to the French in June 1756; given free passage to Gibraltar, from 1758 it campaigned in Germany. At Minden in August 1759, it was one of the infantry units that routed the French cavalry, an achievement still celebrated as Minden Day by their successor unit, the Royal Welsh. Between 1760 and 1762, it fought in the battles of Warburg, Kloster Kampen 1760 and Wilhelmsthal in June 1762, before the war ended with the 1763 Treaty of Paris.
When the American Revolutionary War began in 1773, the regiment was posted to North America The light infantry and grenadier companies took heavy losses at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775; it participated in nearly every campaign up to the Siege of Yorktown in September 1781. At Yorktown, it was the only British regiment not to surrender its colours, which were smuggled out by a junior officer.
In the early stages of the French Revolutionary Wars, it was posted to the West Indies in 1794 and participated in the 1795 capture of Port-au-Prince before returning home in 1796. As part of the expeditionary force assigned to the 1799 Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland, it fought at Alkmaar in October 1799.
Apart from Egypt and the Battle of Alexandria in 1801 and the Invasion of Martinique in 1809 the regiment saw little action in the Napoleonic Wars until being sent to the Peninsula in 1810. Between 1811 and 1814, it fought in many of Wellington's actions, including the battles of Albuera, Badajoz, Salamanca, Nivelle and Toulouse. At the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815, it was part of Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Mitchell's 4th Brigade in the 4th Infantry Division.
The Cardwell Reforms of 1872 linked most infantry regiments in pairs, but because the 23rd already had two battalions it was unaffected. Cardwell also introduced 'Localisation of the Forces', which established permanent regimental depots in county towns and brigaded the regular regiments with their local Militia and Volunteer battalions. For the 23rd, this included:
The Childers Reforms of 1881 took Cardwell's reforms further. The regiments were given names rather than numbers the regiment officially became The Royal Welsh Fusiliers on 1 July 1881, although "Welch" was used informally until restored in 1920 by Army Order No.56. The depot became the 23rd Regimental District depot, and the militia and volunteers became numbered battalions of their linked regiment (though the Royal Flint Rifles joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps):
The Haldane Reforms of 1908 converted the remaining Militia into the Special Reserve (SR) and the Volunteers into the Territorial Force (TF). The battalions were now numbered sequentially within their regiment. The TF battalions of the RWF were given subtitles in 1909:
The 1st and 2nd battalions served on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918 and took part in some of the hardest fighting of the war, including Mametz Wood in 1916 and Passchendaele or Third Ypres in 1917. Claims in 2008 they participated in the semi-mythical Christmas 1914 Football Game with the Germans have since been disproved.
A number of writers fought with the regiment in France and recorded their experiences; David Thomas (killed 1916), Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon all served with the 1st Battalion. J C Dunn, a medical officer with the 2nd Battalion who had also served in the 1899-1902 Boer War, published The War the Infantry Knew in 1931. A collection of letters and diary entries from over 50 individuals, it is considered a classic by military historians for its treatment of daily life and death in the trenches.
Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves was first published in 1929 and has never been out of print; in one anecdote, he records the Regimental Goat Major being charged with 'prostituting the Royal Goat' in return for a stud fee. Graves also edited Old Soldiers Never Die, published in 1933; a rare example of the war seen by an ordinary soldier, it was written by Frank Richards, a pre-war regular recalled in 1914, who served on the Western Front until the end of the war. The poets David Jones and Hedd Wyn, killed at Passchendaele in 1917, were members of Kitchener battalions.
The 4th (Denbighshire) Battalion was one of the first TF units to see active service, landing in France in November 1914, where it remained until January 1919. Between 1915 and 1918, another 10 Royal Welch Kitchener battalions also fought on the Western Front, including the battles of Loos, the Somme and Passchendaele; a number of these were disbanded in early 1918 due to manpower shortages. The poets David Jones and Hedd Wyn served with The 11th (Service) Battalion landed in Salonika in November 1915, where it remained for the duration of the war.
The 5th, 6th, 7th Territorial battalions fought at Gallipoli as part of the 53rd (Welsh) Division; by January 1916, it contained 162 officers and 2,428 men, approximately 15% of full strength. The 8th Kitchener Battalion was also at Gallipoli as part of 13th (Western) Division. They remained in the Middle East until the end of the war, the 53rd (Welsh) taking part in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the 13th (Western) in the Mesopotamian campaign.
The TF was reformed in 1920 and reorganised as the Territorial Army (TA) the following year. In 1938 the 5th (Flintshire) Battalion was converted into 60th (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. Just before the outbreak of World War II the Territorial Army was doubled in size and the battalions created duplicates:
During the Second World War, the 1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers was a Regular Army unit and part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division. It served in France in 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force. The battalion fought in the short but fierce battles of France and Belgium and was forced to retreat and be evacuated during the Dunkirk evacuation. After two years spent in the United Kingdom, waiting and preparing for the invasion that never came (Operation Sea Lion), the 1st RWF and the rest of 2nd Division were sent to British India to fight the Imperial Japanese Army after a string of defeats inflicted upon the British and Indian troops. The battalion was involved in the Burma Campaign, particularly the Battle of Kohima, nicknamed Stalingrad of the East due to the ferocity of fighting on both sides, that helped to turn the tide of the campaign in the South East Asian theatre.
The 2nd Battalion was part of 29th Independent Infantry Brigade throughout the war. In 1942, it fought in the Battle of Madagascar, then part of Vichy French, before being transferred to the South-East Asian Theatre. In 1944, the battalion and brigade became part of 36th British Infantry Division, previously an Indian Army formation.
Both battalions came under the command of Lieutenant-General Bill Slim, commander of the British Fourteenth Army. This was known as the 'Forgotten Fourteenth,' allegedly because it fought in a theatre that seemed largely unnoticed and had little importance to the war.
The 4th, 6th and 7th Battalions, all Territorial units, served in 158th (Royal Welch) Brigade assigned to the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division. They took part in the Battle of Normandy at Hill 112, where the 53rd Division suffered heavy casualties. Due to heavy fighting and casualties in Normandy, some of the battalions were posted to different brigades within the division. The 53rd again suffered heavily during Operation Veritable (the Battle of the Reichswald) under command of the First Canadian Army, in which action the British and Canadians, and the 53rd Division in particular, endured some of the fiercest fighting of the entire European Campaign against German paratroops.
The 8th, 9th and 10th Battalions were 2nd Line Territorial battalions raised in 1939 as duplicates of the 4th, 6th and 7th Battalions respectively. The battalions initially served in the 115th (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Brigade, 38th (Welsh) Division, itself a 2nd Line duplicate of the 53rd (Welsh) Division.
The 8th and 9th battalions never saw action abroad, remaining in the UK throughout the war in a training role, supplying trained replacements to units overseas. In this capacity, the 9th battalion served with the 80th Infantry (Reserve) Division and the 38th Infantry (Reserve) Division.
In the summer of 1942, the 10th battalion was converted into the 6th (Royal Welch) Battalion, Parachute Regiment. The 6th Parachute Battalion was assigned to the 2nd Parachute Brigade, alongside the 4th and 5th Parachute battalions, originally part of the 1st Airborne Division. The battalion played a small part in the Allied invasion of Italy during Operation Slapstick, an amphibious landing aimed at capturing the port of Taranto. After that, the 2nd Para Brigade became an independent brigade group. The brigade took part in Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France, being the only British troops to do so (see 2nd Parachute Brigade in Southern France). In late 1944, the brigade was sent to Greece to support pro-Western forces in the Greek Civil War, a forgotten but brutal episode now seen as the first act of the post-1945 Cold War.
In 1938, the 5th Battalion transferred to the Royal Artillery as 60th Anti-Tank Regiment and in 1939, added a 2nd-Line duplicate, 70th Anti-Tank Regiment. Unlike 1914-1918, there were relatively few service battalions, one being 11th (Home Defence) Battalion, raised in 1939 as part of the Home Guard. Formed in 1940, the 12th battalion became 116th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery in January 1942 and served with 53rd (Welsh) Division until disbanded in December 1944.
After 1945, the regiment was mostly based in Germany and various British colonies, with the 2nd Battalion being disbanded in 1957. The regiment did not take part in the Gulf War, but did perform several tours in Northern Ireland (Operation Banner) before being deployed to the Balkans.
During the Yugoslav Wars, the regiment came to attention when 33 of their men and 350 other UN servicemen part of UNPROFOR were taken hostage by Bosnian Serbs at Gora?de on 28 May 1995. The situation caused some political debate as the UN troops had been given orders only to "deter attacks" and did not have a mandate or adequate equipment to fully defend the mainly Muslim town of Gora?de, which was initially declared "safe" by the UN, thus rendering them exposed when armed members of the Army of Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Army) ignored the NATO ultimatum and attacked the town without warning. The regiment managed to hold off the Bosnian Serbs until they were forced to retreat into bunkers - those who did not make it quickly enough were taken hostage - and remained trapped underground while BiH Army reinforcements arrived and fought back. The commanding officer, Lt Col Jonathon Riley (later promoted to Lieutenant General), broke with protocol and directly reported to then Prime Minister John Major about the situation over the phone while in the bunker. All the men were eventually safely rescued. An unprecedented five gallantry awards, seven mentions in despatches and two Queen's Commendations for Valuable Service were awarded to the regiment. Although the incident was largely unreported at that time, the regiment was credited in hindsight by observers for saving the town from a possible genocide--after failing to take Gora?de, the Bosnian Serbs continued south to Srebrenica, where they would massacre over 8,000 Bosniaks.
It was one of only five line infantry regiments never to have been amalgamated in its entire history, the others being The Royal Scots, The Green Howards, The Cheshire Regiment, and The King's Own Scottish Borderers. However, in 2004, it was announced that, as part of the restructuring of the infantry, the Royal Welch Fusiliers would merge with the Royal Regiment of Wales to form a new large regiment, the Royal Welsh.
The following members of the regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross:
As with the Royal Regiment of Wales, the regiment traditionally had a goat, never called a mascot. The tradition dated back to at least 1775, and possibly to the regiment's formation. The goat was always named 'Billy'.
Soldiers of this regiment were distinguishable by the unique feature of the "flash", consisting of five overlapping black silk ribbons (seven inches long for soldiers and nine inches long for officers) on the back of the uniform jacket at neck level. This is a legacy of the days when it was normal for soldiers to wear pigtails. In 1808, this practice was discontinued but when the order was issued the RWF were serving in Nova Scotia and had not received the instruction when the regiment departed to join an expedition to the West Indies. In 1834 the officers of the 23rd Foot were finally granted permission by William IV to wear this non-regulation item as a distinction on the full dress uniform as "a peculiarity whereby to mark the dress of that distinguished regiment". This was extended to all ranks in 1900.
Khaki service dress replaced the scarlet tunic as the principal uniform, and the Army Council attempted to remove the flash during the First World War, citing the grounds that it would help the Germans identify which unit was facing them. As Fusilier officer Robert Graves reported, "the regiment retorted by inquiring on what occasion since the retreat from Corunna, when the regiment was the last to leave Spain, with the keys of the town postern in the pocket of one of its officers, had any of His Majesty's enemies seen the back of a Royal Welch Fusilier?," and the matter remained "in abeyance throughout the war." The efforts of the regiment to retain the distinction was further reinforced at a medal ceremony when King George V saw an officer of the regiment in the line. He ordered an About Turn and seeing the flash still on the tunic said sotto voce, "don't ever let anyone take it from you!" The wearing of the flash on service dress was extended to other ranks in 1924.
As a fusilier regiment, the RWF wore a hackle, which consisted of a plume of white feathers mounted behind the cap-badge of the modern beret. The full dress of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, as worn by the entire regiment until 1914, included a racoon-skin hat (bearskin for officers) with a white hackle and a scarlet tunic with the dark blue facings of a Royal regiment. This uniform continued to be worn by the RWF's Corps of Drums and the Regimental Pioneers until the merger of 2006.