In Collaboration With Charles Griffin


Formation

Lancers Charging 1865
The 17th Light Dragoons were renamed and rearmed into Lancers in the years 1822 and 1823. The reasoning behind the move was in imitation of the Polish Lancers who had fought so well alongside Napoleon. It was the Duke of York, the then Commander-in-Chief, who first proposed the idea in 1816. The first unit to be converted to Lancers was the 9th Light Dragoons, but this was deemed to have been sufficiently successful that another five regiments were chosen for conversion, the l7th Light Dragoons were one of those five. The Polish connection is not hard to miss, the uniforms, lances and pennants can all be traced in style to the Polish regiments that inspired them. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the regiments were forced to abandon their carbines in order to make room for the Lances. It would be another sixty years before they realised that the Carbines really were intrinsically important to the effectiveness of Light Cavalry. It could be said that the graduation of the unit from Light Dragoons to Lancers was actually a step back in to time rather than a practical military advance in technology. It would take the Crimean war to demonstrate just how much more innovation was needed to make the British forces into an effective fighting force.

The new uniforms represented a huge investment in time, money and effort for the soldiers to look presentable. It is from this era that the 17th took on another of its nicknames 'Bingham's Dandies' after its new Lieutenant Colonel Lord Bingham. He was a stickler for presentation and invested in the finest horses and tailors to produce incredibly ornate uniforms. In the long years of peace of this period, it was appearance that took precedence over military effectiveness. Thirty four years of peace time activities for the regiment were about to be shaken by war in the East.

The Crimean War
In 1854 the 17th Lancers were ordered abroad as part of an Anglo-French expeditionary forces to help Turkey who had been invaded by Russia. Upon arrival the force discovered that the Turkish Army had repulsed the Russian invasion. It was then decided to capture the Czars' intended fleet base at Sebastopol. In order to achieve this, the force passed to the South of the town to the small fishing village of the new famous Balaklava.

Charge of The Light Brigade
The battle of Balaklava consisted of three distinct actions. In the first, the 93rd Regiment of Foot (now the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), withstood and repulsed an attack by a vastly superior force of Russians. The second is remembered as "The Charge of the Heavy Brigade", in which a number of Dragoon Regiments routed a force of Russians ten times their strength. The third and final action in which the 17th Lancers were involved and which is still celebrated every year on 25th October, was "The Charge of the Light Brigade", immortilized in the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This famous charge only took place as a result of misinterpreted orders issued by the Command in Chief, General Lord Raglan, to General Lord Lucan the Commander of the Cavalry Division. Lord Lucan ordered Major General Lord Cardigan, who commanded the Light Brigade, to lead a force consisting of five Cavalry Regiments, of which the 17th were one, against a line of Russian guns which were sighted at the far end of a long valley. With the 17th as left forward Regiment the advance began. Those watching expected the Brigade to wheel and attack the intended target, but to their amazement the advance continued at the trot and in perfect formation towards the Russian guns.

The first salvo was fired at about 500 yards and took a heavy toll. Such was the discipline standard of training and courage of the Light Brigade, however, that the advance continued unabated with the gaps created by the enemy fire quickly being filled by other Cavalry men. At last with only a few hundred yards remaining, Lord Cardigan have the order to charge, and the 17th Lancers led by their Commanding Officer, Captain William Morris, swept down on the enemy. The final Russian salvo caused untold injury to the attacking force but despite this, the gun lines were over-run.

The battle continued until finally the order to withdraw was given. The 17th Lancers had paid a high price for this victory. Of the 145 who set out only about 38 all ranks could be accounted for at the final roll call. By their actions however, the Regiment earned 3 Victoria Crosses that day.

The 17th played a minor role in the battle of Inkerman but continued to suffer daily from the privations of maladministration and the weather in the area. It was with some relief that the unit was reposted to Ireland in 1855. Although, it barely had time to make itself comfortable there when a new crisis rose to threaten the stability of the Empire.

The Indian Mutiny

The Indian Mutiny broke out in May 1857, but with the slowness and difficulty of communications at that time it took quite a while before the politicians and generals back in Britain could react to it. The 17th Lancers were to form part of the relieving force and set out in October of that year. It arrived at the tail end of the campaign but was immediately dispatched to deal with the rebel leader, Tantia Topi, still at large in Mahratta. The regiment would be involved in a pursuit of over a thousand miles of difficult terrain in the full blare of an Indian summer. They eventually caught up with Tantia Topi and 5,000 rebels at Mangrauli. The small British force dealt with the rebels easily enough but only for Tantia himself to escape again. The force continued to pursue him with the young Evelyn Wood earning a Victoria Cross after rescuing a rich landowner from a large band of robbers in the Sironj jungle.

The pursuit of Tantia Topi took nine months before a force that included the 17th Lancers eventually caught up with him at Baroda. It was here that the Lancers charged and smashed through a force of some 5,000 native cavalry. This battle broke Tantia's forces for good, but it still took a further pursuit to track him down in the jungle with the aid of informers. He was hanged for his involvement in the mutiny.

The 17th stayed in Central India for a year before being marched south to Secunderabad. They spent five peaceful years there before returning to England in 1865. They were to remain there for fourteen years before being sent out to yet another new and exotic destination. Before doing so however, they were to be officially retitled as the 17th Duke of Cambridge's Own Lancers in recognition of the long standing association of the Duke of Cambridge and the regiment.

The Dark Continent

Lancers Charging at Ulundi
Once again, the 17th were sent to help British forces to extricate themselves from potential disaster. This time the continent was Africa and the foes who were causing so many problems to the British were the Zulus. They had defeated a large British force at Isandlwhana and threatened more than just Britain's credibility. A force was therefore hastily dispatched to restore British fortunes in the area. The 17th reached the area around Rorkes Drift in May 1880. From there, they joined a column that was to march on the Royal Kraal at Ulundi. On July 4th the force crossed the White Umvolosi river close to the Kraal itself. The column soon found itself surrounded by a large Zulu force. This time, unlike at Isandlwhana, the force prepared itself for the attack; the infantry formed squares and the cavalry were held in the centre of the force. The Zulus made a frontal attack but made little impact on the British squares. After three quarters of an hour of fruitless assault it was clear that the Zulu force was wavering on the brink of collapse. The 17th were duly dispatched to finish them off. They charged the Zulus, many of whom were concealed in long grass, with their lances. The Zulus scattered and ran before the cavalry. This comprehensive victory ensured that the Zulus would never rise up to be a credible power again.

After this action, the 17th were sent back to India. The intention was that they were to take part in the Afghanistan campaign that was currently underway. Unfortunately, the saddles that they were issued with were found to be defective and so the regiment, through no fault of their own, were declared unfit for active service. The regiment spent nine quiet years in India before being sent back for an equally relaxed time in England. The next time that the regiment would see active service was back in Africa at the dawn of the new century and of an equally new style of warfare.

The 17th were to miss the big battles of the Boer War. They arrived just in time to see the Boers be technically defeated on the battlefield and yet failing to surrender to the British. The Boers dispersed their mounted commandoes throughout the imposing African landscape in what was to become a precursor of twentieth century guerilla warfare. In this campaign, mounted troops were to become essential in combing the vast distances and empty spaces. The 17th were quickly employed to track down one of the most notorious of the Boer commandoes; De Wet. One lancer, Trooper Hayman, was to win the Victoria Cross when he and another trooper were surprised by a dozen Boers. The other trooper's horse was killed sending the rider to the ground with a dislocated shoulder. Hayman, scooped up his comrade on to his own horse and used both men's carbines to shoot his way to freedom. In many ways, this action is indicative of the entirely new kind of warfare that was facing all of the British regiments in South Africa. The Boers would hide until they decided to strike and fight on their own terms. The British were continually reacting to the initiative of the Boers. Another less auspicious example of the new style of warfare facing the 17th is provided at the battle of Modderfontein. Here, a small group of Boers were forced to find new mounts, food and ammunition or face certain capture. They came across a small outpost of the 17th Lancers who were resting in the grounds of a farm house. The British mistook the Khaki clad Boers for British until they started a withering fire on the unprepared Lancers. The Boers were then joined by another troop of Commandoes who had heard the commotion from afar. These joined in from the rear of the Lancers and helped to inflict serious casualties on the troop of Lancers. In total, 36 Lancers were killed and many more were wounded. The worst aspect of this loss is that they themselves provided the Boers with further mounts and ammunition to continue fighting against the British for an even longer period of time. There was no room for complacency in fighting such a dedicated foe as the Boer. For the rest of the war, the 17th was involved in continuous small scale actions and sweeping operations against the ever elusive commandoes. As thankless a task as it was the Boer War did help to prepare the regiment, and indeed the whole British action, for a much more auspicious performance during the First World War.

The Great War
At the outbreak of World War I the 17th were to find themselves stationed in India. They had been there since 1905 and initially they thought that they might miss the entire war. However, in November, 1914 they were sent to Marseilles as part of the Indian Cavalry Corps. By this stage of the war, the mobile opening moves of the armies had come to an end. The cavalry had played a vital role in this stage of the war, but would find its role severely limited from this point on by machine guns, barbed wire and mud. In the next three years, the cavalry barely moved 20 miles in any direction from its starting point at Amiens. They sat in the reserves forever hoping that a breakthrough might be made that would require there assistance. They were generally used more to plug gaps and relieve infantry battalions that had taken beatings on the front line. The one opportunity that the regiment had to break through the German lines was actually a sign of things to come for the regiment. The 17th Lancers were present at Cambrai when tanks were employed en masse for the first time. A break through was so nearly achieved but for the weight of a British tank that destroyed a vital bridge at a critical point in the campaign. However, despite this setback, it was obvious to some that the time for horses on the battlefield were becoming numbered.

The fate of cavalry regiments was not completely sewn up at this time and the 17th soon had the opportunity to demonstrate their value. In 1918, the Germans made one last desperate attempt to win the war with their most successful push since 1914. The Allied lines were in disarray and falling back as quickly as they could. The 17th were used as a mobile infantry unit, being sent to plug gaps wherever they appeared. At one instance, the 17th Lancers charged 600 yards under fire to rescue units of the 9th Australian Infantry Brigade. Their mobility could still have uses even on the modern battlefield.

When the 17th got to join the British counter attack they were once again to find themselves accompanying tanks. And they were to find that it was safer for them to be way behind the tanks rather than have their horses exposed to machine gun fire. These were ambiguous lessons that the British army was not completely to learn from for some years to come.

At the end of the war, the 17th were sent to Cologne for occupation purposes, whilst here it lost so many men to demobilisation that it had to have a company of the Rifle Brigade assigned to it to look after the horses. The unit was then sent to Ireland and to help in the war against Sinn Fein and the IRA. Here, it was made up to full strength again. The troubles gave the new recruits the dangerous opportunity of learning the necessities of battle preparedness. It was also to serve the unit well as the army was reorganised once more as the British Army scaled back to a peace time establishment again. In 1921 the Geddes axe was threatening to destroy a number of famous cavalry regiments. As a compromise to avoid losing the names and battle honours of so many famous regiments, a number of cavalry regiments were doubled up in identity. Hence, the 17th and 21st Lancers were joined together to form the 17th/21st Lancers.

Badge
Badge
Official Name
Duke of Cambridge's Own
Nicknames
The Horse Marines
Death or Glory Boys
Bingham's Dandies
The Tots
Motto
Death or Glory
Depot
Woolwich
Regimental Marches
The White Lancer (Quick)
Richardson
Occasional Overture (Slow)
Handel
Regimental Anniversary
Balaklava Day 25th October
Colonels
1822 - 1922
Lieutenant Colonels
1822 - 1922
Uniforms
1822 - 1922
Soldiers
1822 - 1922
Principal Campaigns and Battles
1854 - 1855 Crimean War
1854 Alma
1854 Balaklava
1854 Inkerman
1855 Sebastapol
1879 - 1880 South Africa
1880 Ulundi
1900 - 1902 South Africa
1914 - 1918 The Great War
1914 Festubert
1915 - 16 North West Frontier
1916, 1918 Somme
Morval
1917, 1918 Cambrai
St. Quentin Canal
Avre
Pursuit to Mons
Hazebrouck
Amiens
Lys
Hindenburg Line
Beaurevoir
Predecessor Units
17th Light Dragoons
Successor Units
17th/21st Lancers
(1923 - 1993)
The Queen's Royal Lancers
(1993 - )
Suggested Reading
17th/21st Lancers
by Ffrench Blake (Hamish Hamilton, 1968)

Historical Record of the Seventeenth Regiment of Light Dragoons (Lancers) 1759 - 1841
(London: Parker: 1841)

A History of the Seventeenth Lancers (Duke of Cambridge's Own)
by J. W. Fortescue (London: Macmillan: 1895 & 1931)

The Death of Glory Boys: The Story of the 17th Lancers
by D. H. Parry (London: Cassell: 1900)

A History of the Seventeenth Lancers 1895 - 1924
by G. A. Micholls (London: Macmillan: 1931)

Victorian Colonial Warfare: Africa
by Donald Featherstone

Regimental Museum
Belvoir Castle,
Grantham,
Lincolnshire
(01476 870262)





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by Stephen Luscombe