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History - EY History

Both Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte made plans to invade ‘PERFIDIOUS ALBION’. As we know, however, they came to naught for very good reasons. Neither could get command of the Channel protected as it was by the Royal Navy. But because of the threat imposed by Napoleon a body of men was raised in 1794 called the Volunteer Cavalry better known as the Yeomanry. Twenty Seven ‘Corps of Yeomanry Cavalry’ were created in various counties to assist in repelling invasion. In peace time they were on hand to aid the Civil Power in suppressing ‘riot and rebellion’ when for example mobs took to the streets during the Repeal of the Corn Laws.

The Yeomanry consisted for the most part of the ‘Yeomen of England’ who had to provide a suitable horse and saddlery either by ownership or hire. This proviso applied to Officers and other ranks as well. Officers in the countryside were usually tenant farmers and their sons; the officer in command, the local squire. In industrial districts the Officers were often factory owners with small manufacturers, innkeepers and tradesmen in the ranks. In 1826 there were sixty two regiments of Yeomanry in the United Kingdom (the Essex Yeomanry ranked 50th in the order of precedence). Many regiments were often disbanded and then raised again when strikes broke out among the civilian population, although the yeomen were not used to a very great extent during such times the authorities preferring to use regular cavalry who charged the mob using the flat of their sabres. The Cheshire Yeomanry, for instance, aided the civil power on - only eighteen separate occasions between January 1817 and April 1848 the ‘year of the revolutions in Europe’. The senior regiment in the ‘Order of Precedence’ was the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry. I recall the time when the Essex Yeomanry was stationed in Nottinghamshire during the forming up of the 1st Cavalry Division, which was eventually sent to the Middle East, and I was on ‘jankers’ one precious Sunday. I helped them ‘move in’ as it were, each soldier leading his horse from the station at Newark. A fine body of men but absolutely useless in modern warfare. Haig and French who were to become senior commanders in the Great War were cavalry officers during the Boer War when the Boers, mounted on shaggy ponies, gave the British Army a right going over.

There were no major wars for Great Britain in Europe from 1815 to 1854 when the Crimean War broke out. There was not much use for Cavalry in this disastrous and deplorable campaign. Horses suffered horribly coming by sea to the Crimea and even worse in a climate wickedly hot in summer and devastatingly cold in winter. More men and horses perished through disease and mal-nourishment than were killed in battle. Apart from the foolish but gallant Charge of the Light Brigade and the less spectacular but more successful of General Scarlett's Heavy Brigade there was no work for the British and French Cavalry. Another grossly mis-managed Campaign was the South African War of 1899-1901. After its defeat at Colenso French cried out for more men. The War Office embodied the Yeomanry and it was, in its way, a formation somewhat grandiloquently called The Imperial Yeomanry composed of such units as the Westmoreland & Cumberland Yeomanry and the Royal East Kent Yeomanry. They suffered considerably for want of efficient regimental staffs and the Boers soon had their measure. A regiment must have a good commander and an efficient RSM. It is safe to say that the British were badly beaten by an excellent guerrilla army and had to sue for terms as Boer families were rounded up and placed in concentration camps and by heavily defended blockhouses placed across the veldt. By the time the Great War burst upon the world, French initially commanded the BEF and Haig eventually became C in C. Both men, however, were still obsessed with the cavalry charge which as events transpired, horses - the Armitalblanche - were useless as the war in Flanders got bogged down in mud filled trenches.

The ramshackle Ottoman Empire, the Turks, allied themselves to Germany. Their soldiers were brave and doughty fighters who earned the respect of another brand of fighter, the Australian Light Horse who were used to the dust and heat of the Middle East having a similar type of climate in much of Australia. However, the Yeomanry, played too, a significant part in the ousting of the Turks. The 74th Yeomanry Division acquitted itself well in a number of engagements in the Sinai Desert and Palestine. Trooper Potts of the Berkshire Yeomanry won a VC, whilst Colonel Milbanke VC commanding the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry was killed in action. This ‘side show', as it was called by the media was, however, successfully ended when General Allenby marched into Jerusalem. The harshness of the terms of surrender imposed on Germany by the vindictive French who had black Senegalese troops occupying Cologne sowed the seeds of another war with the rise of Hitler. The Blitzkrieg was born which put paid, once and for all to cavalry of the line. In the twenty years between the two wars, despite the tank and the aeroplane, the generals now retired were still seeing fluttering pennants and columns of lancers. In February 1940 the 1st Cavalry Division, which included eight mounted Yeomanry Regiments was sent to Palestine. By 1942 it was finally completely mechanised, broken up and its units transferred to other divisions there to play an important part in the defeat of the Third Reich.


later redesignated 10th Armoured Division











On 9th June 1941 in Syria the Cheshire Yeomanry fought the last mounted action by British Cavalry. Although this has been disputed by some historians who claim that this was accomplished by the Central India Horse against the Japanese at Toungoo in Burma during 1942.

Extract EYA Journal 2003

J H Witte

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