In Collaboration With Charles Griffin


North Africa
Preparations for Egypt
In 1875, the name of this regiment was amended from the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards to just the Royal Horse Guards. Essentially, the regiment remained exactly the same as it had been before. However, the heavy ceremonial requirements of a Guards regiment had been a heavy burden throughout the nineteenth century. It was felt that the regiment was in need of overseas active service in order to remain an effective front line regiment. This chance was to come in 1882 when The Blues joined a composite Household Cavalry regiment that was being sent to Egypt in order to put down a rising that was occuring there.

The British had recently greatly increased their involvement in Egyptian affairs. The spur had been the constructio of the Suez canal. It was further deepened by Disraeli in 1876 when he had bought out the financially troubled Khedive's shares to make Britain the majority shareholder in the canal. The strategic importance of the canal in connecting Britain to India was clear. Egypt had become an essential strategic position for the British in a very short period of time. The position of the Khedive, and therefore the British, was threatened in the early 1880's by a series of uprisings and riots by the enigmatic Arabi Pasha. His call to arms was rabidly anti-British with his slogan being "Egypt for the Egyptians". In order to maintain the position of the Khedive, the British dispatched General Sir Garnet Wolseley and an expeditionary force. The force reached Cairo in August 1882 and was in action at Sweetwater Canal within a week of landing. Then, when the rebels started advancing on Kassassin, the Household Cavalry played a vital role in denying them access to their objectives by their famous 'Moonlight Charge'. However, the final nail in the rebellion's coffin was nailed at Tel-el-Kebir. The cavalry was little involved in the battle itself, but played the traditional cavalry role of pursuit of the defeated forces with aplomb.

Charging, c1885
However, The Blues involvement in the North African desert was not over yet. In 1885, the famous Charles Gordon was being beseiged in Khartoum. The government of the day dillied and dallied before sending out a relief expedition in 1884/5. The cavalry had to give up their beloved horses and take the more suitable, if irrascible, camels. Time being of the essence, the expeditionary force was forced marched through some of the most inhospitable country to try and reach Khartoum before 'The Mahdi' could take it. However, the force nearly came to its own demise at a series of wells called Abu Klea. Some 16,000 of the Mahdi's followers descended upon the tiny British force which had formed in to a square. In the ensuing battle, wave after wave of Dervishes attempted to break the British square but were beaten off. Colonel Burnaby of the Blues was killed in the fighting, as was Corporal Mackintosh who was killed whilst attempting to extricate the Colonel from his precarious position. Fortunately, the square held and the Dervishes were beaten off by superior discipline and firepower. The expedition could continue its advance, but only to find out that Khartoum had fallen to the Mahdi just days before they had arrived there and that Gordon was dead.

Modern Warfare
The Boer war from 1899 to 1902 transformed the way the British Army conducted itself on the battlefield. The wily Boer farmers forced the British to use new tactics and techniques to bring the intransigent farmers to heel. The war quickly changed to a mobile guerilla war, where speed and initiative were more important than sheer force of numbers and quality of equipment. The Household Cavalry regiment had to conform to this new type of warfare and learn quickly. They covered thousands of miles on their horses for whom they constantly had to find fresh forage in harsh conditions. The regiment took part in the relief of Kimberley and the battle of Paardeburg. The Boer war prepared the British army for the horrors of the First World War more than they could possibly have known at the time.

The Blues spent almost the entire period of The Great War on active service on the Western Front. The first of The Blues were despatched to France on August 16th and took part in most of the major campaigns by the British in that war. However, it was quickly evident that the use of horses on the battlefield was virtually impossible. So, the regiment was quickly converted to the new king of the battlefield: They became the Guards Machine Gun Regiment. Life as an infantry support regiment was radically different from all of their previous training and experience.
London, 1933
Yet, their versatility almost certainly helped them to survive the post war Geddes Axe when most Cavalry regiments were forced to amalgamate with one another. Subsequently, the regiment spent the inter-war period back on their horses on ceremonial duties in and around London.

The time of the horse was coming to an end, everyone was aware of it. Unfortunately, budget pressures were such that the British Army could not yet afford to fully mechanize. Therefore, as late as 1940, The Blues were sent to a war zone mounted on horses. They were sent to Palestine to help the British achieve some of their more unusual strategic requirements. A foray to the (Vichy French) Syrian border on horses was to be the last time that the regiment was to be sent on active duty on horseback. Yet, the army could not yet spare the regiment any tanks or armoured equipment. Therefore, they were temporarily converted to truck-borne infantry (in rather dilapidated lorries) and were sent to Iraq with the intention of preventing the rebels there from overrunning an RAF base at Habbaniya. However, long before they arrived the rebels and the Iraqi Air Force had been routed by the RAF. KINGCOL, which included the Royal Horse guards, were then sent to Baghdad to overthrow the elected Iraqi government which had declared its support for the Nazis. After they had achieved their objectives, they were then sent to the heavily fortified Palmyra in Syria to fight the Vichy French there. There eclectic travels were further expanded when Russia entered the war and The Blues were sent to Teheran to supervise the division of Persia into a British and Russian zone in order to deny the Germans any kind of access to the oil supplies there. The strategic position in the Middle East secured, the regiment returned to Palestine to be fitted out with armoured cars for the first time.

One interesting force to have been formed at this time was a unit of some 120 men that comprised 'Smith Force'. Smith Force was formed as a decoy unit complete with dummy tanks in order to tie down and confuse their axis opponents in North Africa. It seems to have been unusually successful in this role. In fact, once it was given an incorrect map reference by divisional HQ. However, they followed the coordinates even though it was clear that they were advancing ahead of all of their own troops and in to enemy territory. British reconnaisance units were astonished to see the dummy tanks drive by towards the enemy. Eventually, the Germans sent Stukas to try and kill off this enemy offensive. Except that they too made a mistake and accidentally dive-bombed an Italian armour unit that was also advancing to intercept the bogus unit. Smith Force retreated from their 'successful' armour probe.

The Blues contributed to two Armoured Car units: 1HCR and 2HCR (Household Cavalry Regiment). 1HCR saw action as a reconnaisance unit at El Alamein before being withdrawn back to Syria to guard its border with Turkey. It was felt that there was a reasonable chance that Turkey migth throw in its lot with the Germans as they had done in World War I. 1HCR was to remain on this border until 1944 when it was sent to the rocky and treacherous terrain of Italy. They spent most of the rest of the war in this theatre, although they were briefly sent to North West Europe towards the end of the war.

2HCR, meanwhile, formed part of the D-Day invasion force as the reconnaisance force for the Guards Armoured Division. The unit had been reequipped with Daimlers and Humbers. They were forced to play a deadly game of cat and mouse with the German units hiding in the high hedged 'Bocage' country of Northern France. Being a reconnaisance unit, they were credited with being the first allied unit to enter Belgium on September 3rd. They took part in the heavy fighting and occupation of the vital Escaut canal which enabled Montgomery to advance in to Holland. Soon after, they were involved in the even deadlier operation 'Market Garden' with the armoured forces desperate attempt at relieving the British Airborne Brigade in Arnhem. Both units fought to the very end of the war and both found themselves hunting die-hard SS units to the bitter end.

The war had completely transformed the unit from a cavalry regiment to an armoured car regiment in only five years. In that time, they had had no use for their horses at all who were all returned to Britain and maintained by Polish troops stationed there. After the war, there were serious questions to be addressed about the role of the Household Cavalry in the Post-War era.

Post-War Realities

Uniquely amongst the old cavalry regiments, it was felt that the Household cavalry should indeed have a dual personality: Part ceremonial horse guard and part modern armoured car. The horses were to be used to maintain the pomp and circumstance of guarding the Royal Family, wheras the armoured cars would be used to maintain a modern effective fighting force.

The post war politics of Europe compelled the Blues to remain in Germany and would remain there for the next seven years. Russian and American posturing led to a serious breakdown in the relations of the World War allies. It was clear that the four zones that Germany had been divided up into were going to last for a lot longer than was originally planned. The Blues found that there reconnaissance units were now required to patrol the borders between East and West Germany. New strains were also put on the regiment with the introduction of National Service in Britain in 1947. For the next 15 years, the Blues was to receive a large intake of reluctant conscripts who would rather have been anywhere except in the armed forces. Apart from anything else, conscription required that the regiment spend an inordinate amount of time training the endless supply of new recruits. Life was made a little more bearable when the regiment was posted home in 1952.

The spur to get fully trained and back on their horses after some 12 years off of them was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Being a Household Regiment, The Blues also had the further compliment of having the Queen become their new Colonel-in-Chief. Preparations, practice and production were the orders of the day. On the Coronation day, The Blues supplied the Sovereign Escort and carried the Royal Standard for the New Queen.

Donkey Patrol
The complexities of the withdrawal from Empire were about to be made aware to the regiment for the first time when they were posted to Cyprus in 1956. Here, they were to feel nationalist anger for the first time. The Greek Cypriots wanting to join with Greece at any cost and with little regard to the feelings of the Turkish minority on the island. The regiment was re-equipped with the more modern Ferret armoured cars and began to start anti-insurgency patrols and guard duties to protect British personnel from terrorist attacks. One of the first disasters to strike the regiment was when the regimental doctor was assassinated whilst visiting families in the neighbourhood. Not one Cypriot came to his aid as he lay dying in the street. Other Blues soldiers were to be similarly murdered over the next few years as all sides in the conflict became more and more intransigent. Worse was to come when the Greek Cypriots began a policy of ethnic cleansing. Many more people were to die before the London-Zurich agreement was signed in 1959. This agreement, for a while at least, brought some semblance of peace back to the island and it also allowed The Blues to be sent back to Windsor.

They were to remain in Windsor for three years before being sent back to Germany once again. This of course was in the depths of the Cold War. The wall in Berlin had only recently gone up and President Kennedy was in the process of facing Kruschev over his deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba. On top of recoinnoitering the borders, they were also frequently given the task of escorting tactical nuclear weapons launchers around the German countryside.

In 1966, the regiment left Germany for the last time. The majority of The Blues returned to Windsor, but one troop was sent to Singapore and Malaysia to help with the Emergency situation there. The remainder of the regiment, meanwhile, prepared for the forthcoming amalgamation that was to forced upon them. Their new marriage partner was to be the heavily armoured Royal Dragoons. Together they would form "The Blues and Royals" and be equipped with Chieftan tanks.

Badge
Badge
Nicknames
The Blues
The Oxford Blues
The Blue Guards
The Tasty Blues
Motto
Honi soit qui mal y pense
Evil be to him who evil thinks
Regimental Marches
The Royal Horse Guards March (Quick)
March of the Priests (Quick)
Regimental Anniversary
Waterloo Day 18th June
Colonels
1875 - 1969
Soldiers
1875 - 1969
Uniforms
1875 - 1969
Shabraques
1875 - 1969
Drumhorses
1875 - 1969
Principal Campaigns and Battles
1882 - 1885 Egypt
1882 Tel El Kebir
1884 - 1885 The Nile
1901 - 1902 South Africa
1914 - 1918 The Great War
Mons
Le Cateau
1914 Marne
1914 Retreat from Mons
1914 Armentieres
1914 Langemarck
1914 Aisne
1914, 15, 17 Ypres
1916 Gheluvelt
1916 Nonne Boschen
1916 St Julien
1916 Frezenberg
1916 Albert
1917, 1918 Scarpe
1916, 1918 Somme
1917, 1918 Arras
1918 Broodenseinde
1918 Poelcapelle
1918 Passchendale
1918 Bapaume
1918 Epehy
1918 St Quentin Canal
1918 Beaurevoir
1918 Cambrai
1918 Selle
Hindenburg Line
Predecessor Units
The Royal Regiment of Horse Guards
(1685 - 1875)
Successor Units
The Blues and Royals
(1969 - )
Suggested Reading
The Story of the Blues and Royals
by J N P Watson (Leo Cooper: 1993)

The Royal Horse Guards
by Sir George Arthur (Leo Cooper: 1969)

His Majesty's Royal Regiment of Horse Guards
(Gale & Polden: 1929)

An Historical Record of Horse Guards, or Oxford Blues
by Edmund Packe (London: Clowes: 1834)

History of the Household Cavalry
by Sir George Arthur (Constable: 1909, 1926: 3 vols)

Regimental Museum
Household Cavalry Museum
Combermere Barracks
Windsor




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by Stephen Luscombe