154 (Leicestershire Yeomanry) Field Regt, RA

Leicestershire Yeomanry

The Leicestershire Yeomanry (Prince Albert's Own) was a yeomanry regiment of the British Army, first raised in 1794 and again in 1803, which provided cavalry and mounted infantry in the South African War and First World War and provided two field artillery regiments of the Royal Artillery in the Second World War, before being amalgamated into The Leicestershire and Derbyshire (Prince Albert's Own) Yeomanry in 1957. The regiment's lineage is currently perpetuated by B (LDY) Squadron of the Royal Yeomanry.

Original formation

During the crisis of 1794, when there were grave fears of a French invasion, the government pressed for the formation of volunteer corps across the country, and in April 1794, letters were circulated to the Lords Lieutenant of each county instructing them to raise regiments of yeomanry. In Leicestershire, a meeting was held at the Three Crowns Inn in Leicester on April 10, where the details were organised and a list of subscribers who were willing to provide funds made out. The colonelcy was given to Sir William Skeffington, a retired Major in the Grenadier Guards, dated May 9, and he and Captain Curzon kissed the King's hand on June 11 to report that they had raised their full complement of men. The regiment paraded in six troops on July 4 to receive their standards.

With the Peace of Amiens, the regiment was disbanded in 1802.

Nineteenth century

The regiment was re-raised in September 1803, as the Leicestershire Yeomanry Cavalry. Sir William was still considered the colonel, indicating that this was considered a reformation and not simply a newly raised regiment, and on November 1st he resigned the colonelcy, and was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Keck (LYC 1803.11.01-1860) .

From 1825, when the Rutland Legion was disbanded, the Leicestershire Yeomanry recruited from Rutland as well as Leicestershire.

The regiment was mobilised to keep the peace on a number of occasions, such as its service at Derby in October 1831; workers in the city had rioted after the Reform Bill was rejected by the House of Lords, and the yeomanry was called in to help the regular army and the Derbyshire Yeomanry maintain order.

The regiment was renamed for Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, in 1844. The regiment sponsored two companies of the Imperial Yeomanry in 1900 (the 7th and 65th), for service in the South African War, and in 1901 was itself reorganized as mounted infantry as the Leicestershire (Prince Albert's Own) Imperial Yeomanry. In 1908 it was transferred into the Territorial Force, returning to a cavalry role and equipping as hussars, under the new title of The Leicestershire (Prince Albert's Own) Yeomanry.

First World War

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the regiment mobilised and moved to France in November with 3rd Cavalry Division. It saw service at the First Battle of Ypres in 1914 and the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. At Second Ypres, the regiment gained battle honours for the Battle of St Julien and - perhaps most notably - the Battle of Frezenberg, where a squadron of the regiment held the line for its entire brigade.

Battle of Frezenberg

At Frezenberg, they went into action in the trenches on May 12th as dismounted infantry, numbering 291 all ranks, alongside the 1st Life Guards (Left in line) and 2nd Life Guards (Middle in line). LY (Right in line), B and C Squadrons took up forward positions in the advanced trenches, with A Squadron to the rear in support trenches (approx 350 yards behind and positioned to the left side of the forward Squadrons trenches).

The regiment suffered heavy shellfire through the morning, though with light casualties, until around 6am, the German infantry opposite launched an attack, which was quickly repulsed; shelling resumed until about 7:30, covering a German infiltration of advanced trenches which had been vacated by the 2nd Life Guards. The Germans began to press on B Squadron, forcing them south and west along their trenches, and driving them back into the C Squadron trenches. The squadrons were rallied by the commander of C Squadron, Major Martin, who, the regimental diary records, "by his undaunted courage and example got his men to make a great stand against large odds". Martin was killed holding the trench line, and at this point, the survivors remaining in the forward trenches fell back - numbering a lieutenant, the squadron sergeant-major, and fourteen men. They fell back towards a railway line in the rear, and reached trenches held by the 3rd Dragoon Guards; they remained in the line here until 8pm, when the 3rd Dragoon Guards withdrew.

A Squadron, meanwhile, had held the support trench under strong shellfire until 5:30am, when they began to fall back towards the road behind the trenches. They were met part-way by the regimental commander, Lt. Colonel The Hon. P C Evans-Freke, the second-in-command and the adjutant. The Colonel shouted "Hold hard Leicester Yeomanry!" and A squadron halted and returned to the support trench. The Colonel was killed directing the defence of the trench, and arranging a post to guard the flank of the 1st Life Guards, shortly before the attack at 7:30am. This attack was held off by A Squadron, and the line stabilised with the Germans digging in close to the trenches.

At 8pm, a messenger from 7th Cavalry Brigade HQ informed the acting commander that A Squadron was "the only squadron holding the section of trench originally occupied by 7th Brigade", and that they were to hold the line until a counterattack could be mounted. By the morning of the 13th, 7 officers - including the regimental commander and two of three squadron commanders - and 87 other ranks had been killed; the unwounded numbered only 92 other ranks. The counterattack, launched the next afternoon at 2:30pm by 8th Cavalry Brigade, was a success. The Yeomanry managed to muster around forty men, led by the Brigade Major, for the bayonet charge, and retook some of the trenches formerly held by B squadron and the Life Guards - those held by C squadron had collapsed under heavy fire.

The manuscript record of the state of the Regiment produced immediately after the battle has been framed and is kept on the wall of the Officers' Mess of B(LDY) Squadron in Glen Parva, Leicester.

1917 & 1918

After being heavily depleted in Second Ypres, the regiment did not see significant action throughout 1916; in 1917, it saw action at the Battle of Arras and the Battle of the Scarpe. In March 1918 it was withdrawn from the division and ordered to reform as a cyclist battalion, later countermanded in favour of amalgamation with the North Somerset Yeomanry as a machine-gun battalion. However, the offensives of 1918 provided a need for cavalry units, and before the regiment could amalgamate it was remounted and sent to the 3rd Cavalry Brigade of 2nd Cavalry Division, where it was split up to provide reinforcements. One squadron of the regiment was sent to each of the Brigade's constituent regiments - C Sqn, LY to the 4th (Queen's Own) Hussars, A Sqn, LY to the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers and B Sqn, LY to the 16th (The Queen's) Lancers. These saw action in the Battle of Amiens, the Battle of the Hindenburg Line, and the Pursuit to Mons, for each of which the regiment received a battle honour. The regiment raised a second-line battalion, the 2/1st Leicestershire Yeomanry, in September 1914; this remained in the United Kingdom, did not see service, and was converted into a cyclist unit in 1916. A third-line battalion was formed in 1915, and remained in the United Kingdom until absorbed into the 3rd Reserve Cavalry Regiment in 1917.

After the war, the regiment reformed in the Territorial Army in 1920 as The Leicestershire Yeomanry (Prince Albert's Own).

Second World War

The regiment did not mechanise before the outbreak of the Second World War, and continued to train for service as horsed cavalry. In early 1939 it was authorised by the War Office to recruit up to its full wartime establishment, and with a heavy drive this was reached in May, with a headquarters squadron and three sabre squadrons. As part of the Cavalry Corps, which by now consisted almost entirely of Yeomanry units, it was assigned a wartime role as part of 6th Cavalry Brigade in the 1st Cavalry Division. However, in the summer of 1939, the divisional organisation was slightly reorganised, and the regiment switched roles with the Cheshire Yeomanry to become the divisional cavalry regiment. In late 1939, it was decided to send the division overseas to Palestine, and convert the seven remaining yeomanry regiments not assigned to the division into artillery regiments. However, a dedicated cavalry regiment was apparently considered surplus to requirements in the Cavalry Division, and the Leicestershire Yeomanry was removed from its role and assigned for conversion along with the other regiments. It chose the field artillery role, and in early 1940 was split into two halves in order to form two separate regiments. In February 1940, the first unit was formed in the Royal Artillery as 153rd (Leicestershire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, RA, with the second, 154th (Leicestershire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, RA, forming on 15th April 1940.

The 153rd was assigned to the Guards Armoured Division in 1942, and moved with them to North-West Europe in 1944, where it fought until the German surrender. The 154th was moved to North Africa in 1942, then to Persia in January 1943 with 6th Indian Division. It moved back to North Africa in April, and was assigned to 10th Indian Division, with which it would serve through the North African campaign and the Italian campaign. In July 1945 it was with 78th Infantry Division, part of the occupying forces in Austria.

After the War, the regiment reconstituted in the Territorial Army as a yeomanry regiment, under its old title of The Leicestershire Yeomanry (The Prince Albert's Own), and transferred into the Royal Armoured Corps whereupon the Regiment became an Hussar Tank Regiment on Comet Tanks. In 1952 the LY were re-designated as an Anti-Tank regiment, still in AFVs until amalgamation in late 1956. The Leicestershire (PAO) Yeomanry enjoyed a long and close affiliation with the 7th Queen's Own Hussars from 1915 to 1956. In 1957 The Leicestershire (PAO) Yeomanry amalgamated with The Derbyshire Yeomanry, forming The Leicestershire and Derbyshire (Prince Albert's Own) Yeomanry and have been affiliated with the 9th/12th Royal Lancers since amalgamation.

Timeline

April-May 1794
Raised as "The Loyal Leicestershire Volunteer Cavalry"

1802
Disbanded

Sept 1803
Re-raised as "The Leicesertshire Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry"

17th Feb 1844
Given the title "The Prince Albert's Own"
London Gazette 17/2/1844 : Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to approve of the Leicestershire Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry being designated by the title of "The Prince Albert's Own." (referred to as "Prince Albert's Yeomanry Cavalry", Publication: Modern Leicester by R Read, 1881.)

April 1901-8
"Imperial" added to title, becoming "Prince Albert's Own" Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry

April 1908
Transferred to Territorial Force, title "Imperial" dropped.

Feb 1920
Reconstituted in Territorial Army as Leicestershire (Prince Albert's Own) Yeomanry

Nov 1939
Divided into 153rd (Leicestershire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, RA, and 154th (Leicestershire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, RA.

Jan 1947
Reconstituted as the Leicestershire (PAO) Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps, TA.

Feb 1957
Amalgamated with the Derbyshire Yeomanry, RAC (TA), to form The Leicestershire & Derbyshire (Prince Albert's Own) Yeomanry.

1967
Reduced to cadre strength.

April 1971
Re-established as Leicestershire & Derbyshire (P.A.O) Yeomanry Squadron, 7th Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment.

Successors (1985)
The Leicestershire & Derbyshire (Prince Albert's Own) Company, 7th (Volunteer) Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, and B (Leicestershire & Derbyshire Yeomanry) Company, 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion, The Worcestershire and Sherwood Forestors Regiment.

March 1992 B (Leicestershire & Derbyshire (Prince Albert's Own) Yeomanry) Squadron, The Royal Yeomanry, RAC (TA).

References

Further resources

A general history of the Regiment was published after the First World War, and regimental histories of both field artillery regiments were published after the Second. A more recent general study of the volunteer movement has focused on Leicestershire and Rutland as its examples, and as such deals with the Leicestershire Yeomanry in some detail. The Loughborough War Memorial Museum contains a display of material relating to the Leicestershire Yeomanry.

  • Codrington, Col. G.R. - An outline of the history of the Leicestershire (Prince Albert's Own) Yeomanry. Arden Press, London, 1928.
  • Brassey, Bernard & Winslow, P.D. - 153rd Leicestershire Yeomanry Field Regiment R.A., T.A. 1939-1945. W.Pickering & Sons, Hinckley, 1947
  • Bouskell-Wade, Lt. Col. G.E. - "There is an Honour Likewise..." The Story of 154 (Leicestershire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, RA. E. Backus, Leicester, 1948.
  • Steppler, Glenn A. - Britons, to arms! - The Story of the British Volunteer Soldier and the Volunteer Tradition in Leicestershire and Rutland. Budding Books, Stroud, 1997
  • www.paoyeomanry.co.uk - un-official website for The Leicestershire (PAO) Yeomanry and The Leicestershire & Derbyshire (PAO) Yeomanry.

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