British Empire Books

The 17th/21st Lancers, 1759 - 1993

AuthorR L V Ffrench Blake
PublisherLeo Cooper
First Published1968
Recently Published1993
ISBN No.0850522722

"Of 700 men who had ridden in the charge, 195 returned. The 17th was reduced to a strength of three officers and 35 men."

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As regimental histories go, there can be few finer books than this one. It is an extremely succinct, concise and eloquent account of the histories of what are really two of the most famous regiments in British Military history. It is the 17th that provides most of the material for this book. This is not surprising given its long uninterrupted history stretching from 1759 to the merger with the 21st in 1922. The 21st has been brought together and disbanded on numerous occasions over this same period of time. It therefore has had a lot less of a coherent history than its elder brother has manage to attain. However, between them the units can trace their histories over an extremely varied tapestry of history; from the death of Wolfe to the advent of mechanisation and beyond. These units have popped up in some of the strangest parts of the world, from the Americas (North, Central and South), to Africa, India and beyond. There can be few regiments who are as well travelled as this one.

If a criticism had to be levelled at this book it would have to be its almost hagiographic treatment of its subject matter. The author joined the regiment in 1933 and rose to rank of Colonel in the regiment. It is therefore not in the least bit surprising that he see the history of this regiment in somewhat rose tinted glasses. There are very few failures or embarrassments for the regiment in this book. Even disasters are couched in favourable terms. The surprise defeat of a section of the 17th in South Africa at Modderfontein is perhaps the best example of this. Rather than analyse why the unit did so disastrously against an ill armed, hungry foe the author would prefer to dwell on its (not inconsiderable) bravery. As long as you know that the author is a very sympathetic writer about his subject material, this book would be a valuable addition to an enthusiast of regimental histories.

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by Stephen Luscombe