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The 7th Queen's Own Hussars

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History , 7th Queen's Own Hussars

Undeniably the 7th Hussars were the embodiment of dash and panache for which every cavalry regiment strives. Nicknamed "The Saucy Seventh" they were rivaled as a fashionable regiment only by the 10th Hussars, and the 7th attracted most of their Officers from the notability, including two Princes. The 7th were an exclusively Scottish regiment for some years after their inception, and a few of the Celtic links remaining today, especially in the music. The Queen's Royal Hussars still uses the famous cipher of the 7th Queen's Own Hussars as part of the cap badge and rank badges, they also proudly wear the "Maid of Warsaw" earned by the 7th during World War II.

2Owing to the 7th Hussars losing their earliest documents twice within their first fifty years, their beginning is something of a mystery. It is certain that a commission was delivered to Colonel Richard Cunningham in 1690 ordering him to relinquish his foot command and and take over a regiment of Dragoons. Formed from Eglintoun's Horse and Cardross's Dragoons to be six troops strong. By February 1691 Cunningham's Dragoons were an established unit of King William's Army in Scotland. The 7th could always boast of being one of the only two surviving regiments of cavalry raised in Scotland.

3The first years of Cunningham's Dragoons service north of the border were without noteworthy event, all the troops being dispersed among the highlands. In March 1692 the regiment was brought to Edinburgh to assist in law and order duties but it was not until 1694 that it was sent to Flanders to join the King's Army marching and counter-marching for the next three years and subject to the odd review. They were present at the capture of Namur in 1695 and fought alongside the 3rd and the 4th periodically. Two years later the regiment came home to Scotland for a dozen years policing the lowlands, during which in 1709 the Hon William Ker took over the Colonelcy and led the regiment onto the continent for the final year before the treaty of Utrecht in which there were only minor skirmishes, from where they were ordered to Ireland. In August 1713 Parliament shortsightedly reduced the Army, The King's Jacobite-Minded political adviser Bolingbroke, Weeding out the Protestant regiments. Ker's Dragoons, despite their seniority, were one of the first to go alongside Pepper's Dragoons, later the 8th Hussars. Within 18 Months George I, the new King, had re-raised the regiment to help him to deal with the old pretender and the Jacobite Army, adding, a few months later the first title of the regiment, which was the excessively cumbersome "Our Dear Daughter Her Royal Highness the Princess Of Wales' Own Regiment of Dragoons".

4At the end of October Ker's marched up to Scotland billeted alongside the future 3rd and 4th Hussars. They fought the rebels in November at Sheriffmuir. The Battle was indecisive and apart from Ker himself having three horses shot from under him, the regiment did nothing exemplary. The "Fifteen" died out and for 27 years Ker's did no fighting. When George II took the throne in 1727 there was no Princess of Wales so the regiment was re titled "The Queen's Own Royal Regiment of Dragoons". A merciful improvement, while the six troops were split up around England engaged in nothing more serious than smuggling control at sundry seaside towns.

5In 1742, The Queen's Own mobilized for "The war of the Austrian Succession" and by June 1743 they were formed up in a disadvantageous position near the village of Dettingen near the valley of Maine. They spent the morning of the 27th June, standing next to the 3rd Hussars exposed to the devastating fire from the French guns, but in the afternoon, stationed with the 4th and 3rd Hussars they charged, pushing the French Cavalry back and eventually with the support of the foot, broke the enemy's ranks. Both side withdrew to lick their wounds until the battle of Fonteroy in 1745. The infantry performed well but were beaten back by superior numbers at which stage the British Generals threw in their mounted arm to cover the retreat. The Queen's Own charged again and again, sustaining fifty casualties but achieving their task. In 1746 the regiment was caught in the action at Roucoux, which which developed as Fonteroy had done and Lauffedlt in which the Cavalry saved the British from a major defeat. By 1748 the impetus for war had petered out and the Queen's Own Dragoons landed back in England in 1749.

6Two years later George II signed a warrant numbering Regiments, thus the 7th Queen's Own Regiment of Dragoons, who were also given the right to bear the Queen's Cipher, still used today. In 1756 the 7th moved back up to Scotland and had a light troop added to the establishment, who distinguished themselves in 1758 with raids on St Malo, where they destroyed over one hundred French ships, and at Cherbourg. During the Seven Years War the Queen's own were sent in 1760 to the continent, fighting at Warburg and then tediously marching and skirmishing for three years before coming home.

7For the next thirty years the regiment soldiered quietly at home, north and south of the border. Another titular change took place in 1783 when the 7th were converted to the (Queen's Own) Light Dragoons. A decade later, after the French Revolution, Britain was at war once again with her old enemy in the Netherlands. April 1794 brought the battle of Beaumont which was a cavalry victory glowingly reported by the Fortescue as "the greatest day in the history of the British horse" because the British mounted mounted regiments routed 25.000 French troops with their flanking attacks. A fortnight later the British repeated their success in much the same manner at Willems, charging the French squares nine times until they broke and then massacring the fleeing enemy. It was the same story at Mouvaux some days later when the 7th rescued their Colonel who had been captured during the fray by the enemy. The campaign ended a year later and the regiment went home for four peaceful years, during which their most celebrated patrons joined, Lord Henry Paget, Later the Marquis of Anglesey and John Gaspard Le Marchant, the founder of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. There was a minor campaign on the continent in 1795 to rescue Holland which failed and thus closed the eighteenth century.

8Back in England George, the Prince of Wales, was the arbiter of all fashion and as such he decided to bestow first on his own regiment, the 10th, the distinction of being Hussars in in 1806. Lord Paget, now Colonel of the 7th Hussars was a friend of the Prince and thus the 7th were the second regiment to be granted the magnificent uniforms in the same year. In October 1808 the 7th Hussars embarked for Corunna to reinforce Sir John Moore's Army. A bleaker could not have been foreseen. Moore had started the retreat before the 7th Hussars had reached the Army. Two minor conflicts brought the cavalry some renown during the retreat, the first at Sahagun in which two regiment of French Cavalry were overwhelmed, the second at Benavente when the over-enthusiastic leading elements of the French advance were pushed back into the river they had just crossed.

9The remainder of the retreat over the mountains in the January snow and ice were disastrous, 150 effective soldiers were left of the 749 Queen's Own who had landed two months before. The Coup-de-Grace was delivered to the regiment when one of the troopships was wrecked on the way home, drowning sixty more of the regiment. The remainder reconstituted and served in Ireland for three years before being recalled to London for ceremonial duty owing to the Life Guards being overseas, and proceeding from there to the Peninsula as part of the Hussar Brigade arriving in September. The 7th crossed the Pyrenees and wintered near Bayonne, not fighting until Orthes in February 1814 when they mauled the retreating French infantry and were the only Cavalry regiment mentioned by Wellington in his dispatches. In June the regiment arrived home for service along the south Coast and an interlude keeping order during the Corn Law Riots in London.

10A year later the 7th were hurriedly mobilised on hearing the news that Napoleon had escaped by the Elba. Their Brigade Commander was the late Commanding Officer, Maj General Sir Hussey Vivian and their regimental Colonel, Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge was commander of the whole British Cavalry. On the eve of the Battle of Waterloo the 7th were Honored by Uxbridge by being given the charge on the advancing enemy in Genappe, who were Polish Lancers. After a spirited and fearless succession of charges only nineteen of the 120 men of the 7th Hussar squadron were left in the saddle. For the Battle of Waterloo itself, the 7th were on the extreme right of the allied line, 300 yards north of the Chateau of Hougoumont. Until 5pm they were not used, but then they were charged more than twelve times.

"And having charged every species of troops, infantry, artillery and cavalry we halted about half a mile in the rear of the French position and there found, tho' of the 7th and 15th there remained only 35 men, Colonel Kerrison and four Officers".

11In 24 hours the 7th Hussars had lost two Officers killed, and eleven wounded, sixty two other ranks killed and 109 wounded, not to mention Uxbridge losing his leg to gain a marquessate.

12For three years the regiment was part of the Army of Occupation around Paris with no shortage of entertainment. In October 1818 the Duke of Wellington held a final grand parade before the regiment sailed to England in January and back up to Scotland by July after a forty year absence. They were to have two generations of peace during which the Marquis of Anglesey remained their indulgent Colonel up to 1842. Until 1838 the 7th moved from billet to billet around Britain before being sent with the King's Dragoon Guards to Canada to punish the French republicans who were in minor rebellion. The 7th were not given the chance of action as the revolt petered out but they were kept on until 1842 in Canada. For the next fifteen years the regiment soldiered on quietly in England when once again an uprising in the Empire called them far from home, this time to India.

13In the six months that it took for the 7th Hussars to reach the subcontinent the mutinous sepoys had been pushed back into the province of Oudh. Fierce fighting raged along the approaches to Lucknow and the regiment were continually in action. At Musa Bagh in March 1858 the 7th won their first Victoria Cross when a troop was engulfed by drug crazed natives and despite the overwhelming odds, Cornet William Bankes, the only officer left, rallied the troops and drove off the attackers receiving eleven wounds of which he later died. Lucknow fell to the British who then rounded up the remnants of the mutineers. There were numerous fierce little actions which combined the intolerable heat to cause casualties. In one of these battles by the river Rapti the 7th won their second Victoria Cross when as the regiment were pursuing a band of rebels over the river, they came under heavy fire from the far bank and not withstanding the peril Major Charles Fraser dived into the river to save three non-swimmers stranded in the middle of the sandbank.

14In April 1859 the regiment arrived at Amballa. The mutiny was over and they spent eleven years in India containing only one notable skirmish at Shabkadr on the North West frontier when the 7th charged the tribesmen three times before the enemy took flight. In 1871 The Queen's Own moved back to Aldershot, and three years later had an infusion of royal blood when Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, was given a Captain's Commission. Son of Queen Victoria, he was a great character, well-liked by the regiment. The regiment did a short stint in South Africa in 1881 and provided two Officers and forty four soldiers for the socially elite camel corps three years later. 1886 found the complete regiment back in India for a decade during which they excelled at polo then a spell in England preceded the 7th Hussars being sent to "Drives" to herd up the boers with a new type of operation which exhausted the horses, even after they were finished the 7th were kept on in South Africa until 1905. Then they had six quiet years in England before another tour in India drew them to the subcontinent.

15They were stationed at Bangalore and were left there at the start of world war I, moving to Secunderabad with detachments keeping order in Delhi. It was not until 1917 that the frustrated regiment sailed to the river Tigris near Basra to fight against the Turks. They moved to Baghdad from where the first attack was launched in March 1918 against a division of the enemy in Khan Baghdadi; the 7th in their Brigade had the role of cutting off the enemy retreat which they managed very efficiently, first destroying the baggage column, then routing the enemy division in fifteen minutes. Six months of stagnation around baghdad took place as the Turks had withdrawn until another offensive was mounted by the British and they again encircled the enemy at Sharquat. The 7th executed a brilliant piece of fire and withdrew. On the 30th October, as they were preparing to attack again, news came through that Turkey had surrendered but the 7th were to remain as an occupying force not arriving home until May 1919.

16The inter war years the regiment had a short and uneventful tour of India Up to 1923, then a period at Aldershot before sailing to Egypt in 1935. The present generation of armoured cavalrymen can have little conception of the impact of mechanization as it was announced to the regiment in May 1936. training with their mark II tanks filled their next years and proved valuable practice as the Second World War started and the 7th were called into battle against the Italians in North West Africa in June 1940. The first action was taking the fort of Capuzzo which they had to capture twice in a month. In January 1941 the 7th were involved in the fighting around Bardia and Sidi Barrani then came the attack on Tobruk, which earned the regiment high praise from the Australian infantry. At Bedda Fomm came the final destruction of the Italians and the 7th fought alongside the 3rd Hussars for 36 hours helping to capture 20,000 prisoners and 112 tanks.

17A far sterner enemy took over from the Italians when Rommels Africa Korps with it's superior tanks started to push the allies back into Egypt. On 21st November 1941 the 7th Hussars were ordered to a blocking position north of Sidi Rezegh, where they encountered the might of the German advance in the shape of fifty panzers, whose armament completely outclassed the mark VI. For four days the regiment carried out its mission, holding off a German armoured division until by the 28th November, the 7th had only two surviving tanks, had lost their Commanding Officer Killed among many other casualties, missing and prisoners. They went back to Abassia to refit until embarking in January 1942 for Rangoon in Burma, where again they were part of 7th Armoured Brigade.

18The situation was desperate and the 7th moved straight up to Pegu to fight the marauding Japanese. Pegu was untenable so the British began their historic retreat northwards using the 7th Hussar Stuart Tanks to smash road blocks, cover the withdrawal and carry the wounded. There were countless acts of heroism by the 7th in the face of the inhumanity of the Japanese, and epitomised in Field Marshall Alexander's words about the 7th Hussars:

"Without them we should never have got the Army out of Burma; no praise can be too high for them"

19Soon the British had been pushed back beyond Prome and the start of May 1942 when they crossed the river Chindwin, the regiment had to destroy their tanks, and became pedestrians for the final 150 miles of the retreat. On 17th May the remnants of the division staggered into Imphal. The 7th had covered nearly one thousand miles in three and half months losing forty six killed and fifty wounded, and earning the highest regard from all who had met them.

20The regiment moved back to Egypt, were equipped with Sherman tanks but spent two years idle until May 1944 when they joined the advance up Italy seconded to the 2nd Polish corps. They fought first for Ancona, a hard forty eight hour battle; and then in August for the gothic line earning the praise of the Polish who granted the 7th Hussars the privilege of wearing the Maid of Warsaw for their "Magnificent work - fine examples of heroism and successful action". By October the allies were nearing Bologna, prepared to sit out the winter which provided the Queen's Own time to practice in new swimming tanks and conduct foot reconnaissance into enemy territory. Both these factors proved vital in the battle for the Po plains and ensured that by 2nd May 1945 the German Army in Italy had had to surrender.

21The 7th stayed on in Italy for a while then marched north ending up in June 1946 at Soltau, in Northern Germany, as part of the occupying Army. They spent a year becoming friendly with the 4th Hussars, their neighbors before sailing back to Yorkshire, after twelve years abroad in December 1947. Two years of sorting out in England, with a large change in personnel, renewed the 7th for a five year tour in Fallingbostel near Soltau, before they were sent as the first armoured regiment in Hong Kong in 1954.

23It was a quiet tour and on the boat home in August 1957 the 7th Queen's Own Hussars found that they were to be amalgamated the following year. It was heartbreaking news to the regiment, many of whom had fought all three of Britain's enemies in World War II and felt fiercely proud of the exploits of their regiment which had for so long epitomised the elan and flair of a cavalry regiment.

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