Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars

The Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars was the designated name of a Yeomanry regiment of the British Army between 1888 and 1922. It can date its foundation back to the formation of a troop of Yeomanry at Watlington, Oxfordshire in 1798. Renamed several times before becoming the QOOH, it saw service in the Boer War with 40 and 59 Companies of the Imperial Yeomanry and also served in Belgium and France during the Great War. In 1922, the regiment became part of the Royal Artillery. In 1998 it celebrated its bi-centenary by being granted the Freedom of Banbury.

The Churchill connection

Francis Spencer, 1st Baron Churchill, brother of the 5th Duke of Marlborough, consolidated some of the original independent troops of yeomanry into a regiment in 1818. George Spencer-Churchill, 6th Duke of Marlborough took over the command himself in 1845, and the Churchill family continued this close personal connection with the QOOH well into the 20th century.

Blenheim Palace provided a fitting background for annual camps and spectacular full-dress parades, while the dukes gained personal prestige from their patronage of a yeomanry regiment, and the regiment benefited from their wealth and influence. It was not unusual for several Churchills to be in the regiment at the same time.

Charles Richard Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough was commissioned in 1892 as a humble Cornet, and was an officer for many years, including service with the Imperial Yeomanry during the Second Boer War. He finally became Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the regiment from 1910 to 1914.

Sir Winston Churchill joined the QOOH in 1902 and remained an enthusiastic supporter for the rest of his life, having a significant influence on the fortunes of the regiment during both World Wars, and even giving it a special place of honour at his funeral.

Boer War

The Imperial Yeomanry was raised to match the Boers' skill as fast moving, mounted infantry. The Boer War brought unexpected defeats for the British army at the hands of the Boers in "Black Week", December 1899. This was attributed to the skill and determination of the Boer farmers-fast moving, highly skilled horsemen operating in open country. Britain's answer to the Boers was the Imperial Yeomanry, hurriedly dispatched in January 1900. Among the officers chosen to organise this force was Viscount Valentia, CO of the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars, who became Assistant Adjutant General. The 9th Duke of Marlborough was also appointed to the Headquarters Staff. Volunteers were called for from present and past members of Yeomanry regiments and from new recruits. Over 20,000 men came forward in two years, among them about 240 from Oxfordshire.

World War I

In 1914, after only a month's training, the regiment received an unexpected telegram. It came from the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, instructing them to prepare for immediate embarkation. They were to join the Naval Brigade which he was sending to Flanders to prevent a German advance towards the Channel ports. The QOOH became the first Territorial unit to see action. It was typical of Churchill's boyish enthusiasm for amateur soldiering that he should have thought up this plan for his old yeomanry regiment, in which his younger brother, Jack Churchill, was then serving.

The regiment soon hardened to the realities of war. Although disparagingly nicknamed by men of the regular army 'Queer Objects On Horseback' or 'agricultural cavalry', the QOOH took part in many actions from Ypres in 1914 to Amiens and the final advance in 1918, winning battle honours and the lasting respect of their fellow members of the 2nd Cavalry Division.

As cavalry they spent frustrating periods waiting in readiness to push on through the gap in the enemy's line, which never came. They toiled in working parties bringing up supplies, digging defensive positions, suffering the discomforts of appaling conditions, and frequently dismounting to fight fierce engagements on foot and in the trenches themselves.

Between the Wars

The QOOH was converted from cavalry to artillery after 1922. Some saw this as the end of the Yeomanry, which had originally been a mounted force based on hunting and horsemanship.

World War II

When World war II loomed, the size of the Territorial Army was doubled, and the role of the QOOH changed again, becoming the 63rd (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment. This time there was no sudden order to join the front line action, and the regiment was detailed to perform home defence duties, at first in England, but then for three years in Northern Ireland. One Battery (251), however, was detached in 1941 and found itself part of the hastily assembled force sent to defend Singapore from the Japanese.

Churchill then influenced the QOOH's history again. When the regiment saw others leave for the D-Day landings, they were anxious to join the action. The main part of the regiment had remained on second-line duties in Ireland and then back in England. However, Winston Churchill, though now Prime Minister, was still Honorary Colonel of the QOOH, and in 1944 it was decided to make a personal appeal to him in the spirit of his famous intervention of 1914. Colonel John Thomson arranged to send this request via Frederick Smith, 2nd Earl of Birkenhead, Churchill's godson and a former QOOH officer. The effect was dramatic. By October 1944 the QOOH found themselves dispatched to France on the personal orders of the Prime Minister.

Prisoners on the Burma Railway

On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell and the men of 251 Battery who had been involved in the attempt to defend it became some of the 60,000 prisoners taken by the Japanese. For three and a half years they were prisoners and used as slave labour to build the notorious Burma Railway.

Post War

The reorganisation after World War II caused many changes. In 1947 the QOOH was reformed as the 387 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, TA. Then in 1950 it was amalgamated with Royal Bucks Yeomanry and redesignated 299 Field Regiment, with the QOOH forming Q Battery based in Oxford and Banbury. Further changes occurred in 1956 when they were joined by the Berkshire Yeomanry.

In 1967 the Regiment disbanded. This was part of a major cutback in Britain's armed forces and the switch to a defence policy based on the nuclear deterrent. This lasted until 1971 when they were re-formed as 5 Signal Squadron, Royal Signals, based in Banbury, reviving the QOOH title and tradition.

Churchill's funeral

Sir Winston Churchill remained Honorary Colonel until the time of his death in 1965. When he left detailed instructions for his funeral, he included a special honour for the QOOH. Just as he had sent them to Flanders in 1914 and to France in 1944, so now he singled them out to have a prominent position immediately ahead of his coffin at the state funeral, in preference to many senior and more prestigious regiments. As the huge procession was forming up, a Brigade Major of the Guards stormed up to the officer commanding the QOOH detachment and told him his men were incorrectly arranged according to accepted protocol.

He replied:

Having planned his own funeral, Churchill left instructions to be held in the safe at the TA Centre, Oxford. These included orders giving the QOOH the great honour of marching ahead of the coffin at the state funeral procession through the streets of London.


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