The Yeomanry

In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

British Yeomanry
East Riding Yeomanry
On 24th March 1794 the government of Mr Pitt, threatened with invasion of the country by the French Revolutionary army, passed a bill which invited the Lords Lieutenant of Counties to raise volunteer troops of cavalry to be composed of gentlemen and yeomanry. In those days the delineation between classes was clear, and yeomen, although respectable, were just below the rank of gentlemen. They were country people who farmed land as freeholders or tenant farmers.

Apart from the regular regiments of Foot and Horse, there was already the militia which had existed since the mid 17th century but they were recruited from the lower strata of the class structure and considered to be unreliable. There was a need for well disciplined and intelligent men to protect every county in Britain, not just from sea invasion but from French spies and those Britons who were sympathetic to the revolutionary cause. There had been mounted units formed in previous emergencies such as the Jacobite invasion from Scotland in 1745 but the scale of response in 1794 was far greater. By the end of 1794 there were 32 yeomanry corps in existence and by 1801 there were 21,000 officers and men.

The yeomen provided their own horse and uniform but the government provided the arms and ammunition. Being mounted they were highly mobile and could respond to any alarm with speed. They were organised in Troops which were based at the main towns of the county and would operate independently from each other. Actually the only time that a unit was faced with French invasion was in February 1797 at Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. For their part in apprehending the enemy, the Castlemartin Yeomanry were granted the only yeomanry battle honour of the Napoleonic Wars.

British Yeomanry
Yorkshire Hussars 1846
During the Napoleonic Wars the Yeomanry had also acted as a gendarmerie and as an aid to the civil power, and this role continued during the period of social, economic and political unrest, at least until the 1840s when the police force came into being. However the government were short-sighted in this regard and withdrew financial support for the Yeomanry cavalry in 1827 causing many of the units to disband. Others survived because of the patronage of rich colonels and other officers, and some had to be re-raised as a result of the 'Swing' disturbances and the rise of the Chartists. They also acted as fire-fighters and protectors of ship-wrecks. The image of the Yeomanry was damaged to a great extent, early in this period, by the bad publicity following the Perterloo Massacre of August 1819. There was also a problem with the coinciding of disturbances with the harvest season in which yeomen would be busy on the farm. Generally speaking they were a useful force at a time when there was no police force and in situations where their mere presence acted as a calming influence.
British Yeomanry
20th Company, Imperial Yeomanry
In the late 19th century the Yeomanry were still relying on the sword as their main weapon. But during 1850s there was a renewed threat from France and Rifle Volunteer Corps were raised from among the town dwellers and middle-classes. There were also Mounted Rifle and Light Horse volunteers raised from the same groups who duties were confined to their respective towns and cities but there was some overlap with the Yeomanry. In this period the Yeomanry spirit could have declined but most of the regiments retained a high standard of drill and smartness. In some of the counties the Yeomanry became an excuse for gentlemen to impress the ladies with their cavalry uniform without having to undergo arduous campaigning and exposure to danger.
Imperial Yeomanry 1899-1908
British Yeomanry
20th Company, Imperial Yeomanry
The terms of service of the Yeomanry were that they were not to go abroad on active service, but after Black Week in December 1899 at the beginning of the Boer War, the government realised that they needed a much larger army out in South Africa, and that they needed mounted troops. They looked to the Yeomanry for a ready made force but had to reorganise them, at least on the face of it, to abide by the 100 year-old terms of service. They called for volunteers so that men who were not already in the Yeomanry joined up together with men from the existing regiments kept together in the new companies. It wasn't so much cavalry that was needed but mounted infantry. For this reason the units of Yeomanry now became platoons, companies and battalions instead of troops, squadrons and regiments. But the numbered IY companies retained their county identities, for instance the 34th and 35th Companies were also known as the Middlesex Yeomanry. In all, 174 companies in 38 battalions served in South Africa.

The men of the Yeomanry proved to be very enthusiastic and useful soldiers. As Mounted Infantry they were not armed with swords and were expected to dismount for action, but this applied to many regular cavalry regiments as well. They fought many successful actions, although doubts were raised back home when a Yeomanry column was forced to surrender to Piet De Wet at Lindley. However, Private Jones of the Pembroke Yeomanry won a DCM during their charge against a Boer commando, and Lieut English of 2nd Scottish Horse won the VC at Vlakfontein. In May 1901 sixty men of 48th Company (North Somerset) IY lost their lives in a Boer attack.

After the Boer War the Imperial Yeomanry continued as such. Fourteen new Yeomanry units had been raised during that war, some, like the East Riding Yeomanry had their roots in the early days while others like the Scottish Horse were raised mostly from ex-pat Scots living in South Africa. In 1908 the Haldane reforms incorporated the Yeomanry into the Territorial Army.

The 20th Century
In the First World War the Yeomanry were initially sent to the East Coast to provide a mobile reserve in case of invasion. Many yeomen fought at Gallipoli as infantry and then became cavalry again in Egypt and Palestine. Those sent to the Western Front were in the role of motor machine gun battalions. Some of the last horse-mounted cavalry charges were made by the Yeomanry in Palestine; the Dorset Yeomanry charged the Senussi tribesmen at Agagia in Feb 1916 and made another attack on the Turks, with the Bucks Hussars, at El Mughar in Nov 1917. The Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry made a famous charge at Huj in Oct 1917.

British Yeomanry
C Squadron, Royal Yeomanry, 1993
In 1920 it was decided that only 14 Yeomanry regiments should continue in the cavalry role, the rest were converted to artillery, armoured car companies, or Royal Signals. Government spending on the territorials dwindled in the 1930s but the Munich crisis created a much needed sense of urgency and a doubling of the size of the territorials. In the Second World War some of the Yeomanry operated once more in Palestine, as horsed cavalry, while the armoured regiments fought in North Africa with distinction. There were also units taking part in the D-Day landings, and serving successfully as artillery and signals.

The revival of the TA in 1947 saw the first of a succession of reorganisations which resulted in 26 Yeomanry regiments serving in the Royal Armoured Corps (including many which had served as gunners in the 1920-45 period) and 24 in the Royal Artillery. In the major reorganisation of 1967, the surviving twenty RAC regiments were reduced to one, named the Royal Yeomanry. Each of its 5 squadrons was found by a former Yeomanry regiment which retained its former regimental identity at squadron level. This concept was repeated in subsequent reorganisations with the formation of a second armoured car regiment, the Queen's Own Yeomanry, and 3 home reconnaissance regiments. It was also extended successfully to other arms, particularly the RA and Signals so that by 1994, the bicentenary, 39 Yeomanry regiments and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) survived in squadron or battery form.

List of Precedence in 1914
The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry
(Prince of Wales's Own)
The Warwickshire Yeomanry
The Yorkshire Hussars
(Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own)
The Nottinghamshire Yeomanry
(Sherwood Rangers)
The Staffordshire Yeomanry
(Queen's Own Royal Regiment)
The Shropshire Yeomanry
The Ayrshire Yeomanry
(Earl of Carrick's Own)
The Cheshire Yeomanry
(Earl of Chester's)
The Yorkshire Dragoons
(The Queen's Own)
The Leicestershire Yeomanry
(Prince Albert's Own)
The North Somerset Yeomanry
The Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry
The Lanarkshire Yeomanry
The Northumberland Hussars
The South Nottinghamshire Hussars
The Denbighshire Hussars
The Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry
The Pembroke Yeomanry
The Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles
(Duke of Connaught's Own)
The Hampshire Carabiniers
The Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars
The Derbyshire Yeomanry
The Dorset Yeomanry
(Queen's Own)
The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars
The Hertfordshire Yeomanry
The Berkshire Yeomanry
County of London Yeomanry
(Middlesex, Duke of Cambridge's Hussars)
The Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry
The Suffolk Hussars
(Duke of York's Own Loyal)
The Royal North Devon Hussars
The Worcestershire Hussars
(Queen's Own)
The West Kent Yeomanry
(Queen's Own)
The West Somerset Yeomanry
The Oxfordshire Hussars
(Queen's Own)
The Montgomeryshire Yeomanry
The Lothians and Border Horse
The Royal Glasgow Yeomanry
(Queen's Own)
The Lancashire Hussars
The Surrey Yeomanry
(Queen Mary's Regiment)
The Fife and Forfar Yeomanry
The Norfolk Yeomanry
(The King's Own Royal Regiment)
The Sussex Yeomanry
The Glamorgan Yeomanry
The Welsh Horse
The Lincolnshire Yeomanry
The City of London Yeomanry
(Rough Riders)
The 2nd County of london Yeomanry
(Westminster Dragoons)
The 3rd County of London Yeomanry
The Bedfordshire Yeomanry
The Essex Yeomanry
The Northamptonshire Yeomanry
The East Riding Yeomanry
The 1st Lovat Scouts
The 2nd Lovat Scouts
The Scottish Horse
First Aid Nursing Yeomanry
Cavalry Special Reserve
King Edward's Horse
(The King's Overseas Dominions Regiment)
The North Irish Horse
The South Irish Horse
Further Reading
Scots in Uniform
by Douglas N Anderson
(Holmes McDougall 1972)

Year of the Yeomanry
(Army Museums Ogilby Trust 1994)

Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Forces 1794-1914
by L Barlow and R J Smith
(Ogilby Trust, from 1979)

Some English Yeomanry Sabretaches
by W Y Carman
(Military Historical Society 1987)

Yeomanry and Other Sabretaches
by W Y Carman
(Military Historical Society 1988)

Headdresses of the British Army Yeomanry
by W Y Carman
FSA FR Hist.S (1970) 50 Years of Yeomanry Uniforms
by R G Harris
(Frederick Muller 1972)

The Mess Dress of the Yeomanry Cavalry 1880-1914
by David J Knight and Robert J Smith
(Military Historical Society 2006)

The Uniforms of the Imperial Yeomanry 1901-1908
by D J Knight and R J Smith
(Military Historical Society 2009)

Directory of Yeomanry Cavalry 1794-1828
by David J Knight
(Military Historical Society 2013)

The Yeomanry Regiments: A Pictorial History
by P J R Mileham
(Spellmount 1985)

Liberty Loyalty Property: An Exhibition of Treasures of the Yeomanry 1794-1994 by Boris Mollo
(Army Museums Ogilby Trust 1994)

Yeomanry Buttons 1830-2000 by Howard Ripley and Denis Darmanin
(Military Historical Society 2005)

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by Stephen Luscombe