Brief history of the Worcestershire Yeomanry

Review Of The Queen's Own Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry Regiment, Kempsey Ham, 1838,  by W. J. Pringle.

Review Of The Queen’s Own Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry Regiment, Kempsey Ham, 1838, by W. J. Pringle.

The Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry was raised in 1794 when the Napoleonic Wars broke out as a part-time cavalry unit, to be used in time of civil unrest or invasion.  As such, it saw action in 1818, when it was called out to Pitchcroft to subdue a riot.  Unfortunately, the rioters turned on them and chased them until the Yeomanry took refuge in the courtyard of the Star Inn (now the Whitehouse), Foregate Street.

The Yeomanry were disbanded in 1827 because of defence cuts, but were re-raised in 1831 due to civil unrest and were called out to subdue riots in Dudley, along the Severn and in Upton.

In 1832 the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria visited Worcestershire and were escorted across the County by Yeomanry. The different Troops took turns to escort them through their particular area, until the Tardebigge Troop escorted them in to Hewell Grange, where they stayed for a few days with Lord Plymouth (Colonel of the Yeomanry).

In December 1837, after Victoria had become Queen, she showed her thanks by making the Yeomanry a ‘Royal’ Regiment, to be called the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry (QOWYC). As a Royal Regiment, the QOWYC was entitled to wear Royal Blue facings (cuffs and colours) on their uniforms as a distinction. These were immediately applied.

Every year the Yeomanry mustered for two weeks for drills and parades, including a ‘Review’ on either Pitchcroft or Kempsey Ham. For these a local high-ranking regular Army officer would inspect the men, and people from all over the County would gather to watch. These inspections were usually in September or October, and so it was until September 1838 that the Regiment could show off its new Royal status. To mark the occasion, they commissioned the Birmingham-based artist W. J. Pringle to paint the review on Kempsey Ham.

Review of the QO Worcs_yeomanry

Detail of the yeomanry at the review in full dress uniform

Now on display as part of the Worcestershire Soldier exhibition, the detail in the painting is superb. The uniforms are near-perfect, and the details of the fashions in the crowd are fantastic. It is a very active picture, with all of the different Troops, the artillery detachment firing (causing one lady in the crowd to cover her ears), the Surgeons (with their black plumes) watching, children climbing the tree to the left, someone’s horse bolting in the background, the sail of a barge going up the Severn, and the band playing in the only record or depiction that we have of them before the 1890’s. As a Regimental and Social History document, it is unsurpassable.

The crowd at the review

All the nice girls… – a detail of the crowd at the review

Traditionally this painting was believed to have been painted in 1842. This date has been queried several times in the last 10 years, and only in the last month have we been able to confirm that it is indeed wrong. Extensive research has produced much new information and enabled us to say with 100% assurance that the review was that of the 29th September, 1838, and that this work was created over the following months and completed in the spring of 1839.

The Yeomanry continued to serve throughout the 19th century, and in 1899, as the Boer War began, were called up for service in the Imperial Yeomanry.  The Worcestershire contingent formed the 6th Squadron of the 5th Regiment of the Imperial Yeomanry Cavalry under the command of Colonel Meyrick.

Deployment as a small unit within a larger whole seems to have set the pattern for the Yeomanry.  Henceforward, they would become increasingly flexible and carry out a wide range of military functions.

World War One was exceptionally challenging to the Worcestershire’s survival.  Not only were they a cavalry unit at a time when the use of horses in warfare was declining in the face of new, more devastating technology, but they were also very nearly wiped out by the ferocity of their theatre of war.

When they were called up in 1914, the Worcestershires formed part of the 1st Midland Mounted Brigade commanded by Brigadier E.A. Wiggin. The Brigade was ordered to Egypt and was based in Chatby Camp, close to Alexandria, by April 1915.

At the launch of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, the men fought as infantry at Suvla Bay alongside the Anzac troops, before being transferred to Egypt, where their casualties were replaced by fresh troops from England.  The regiment was then sent to protect the eastern side of the Suez Canal where they were responsible for patrolling the whole of the Qatia water area, a vital part of the military supply process.

The small isolated garrison at Oghratine had been ordered to protect a party of engineers on a well-digging expedition, when at dawn on 23 April 1916 they were attacked by 3000 Turkish troops, including a machine gun battery of 12 guns.  The defending troops repulsed the first attack but were forced back by the weight of the onslaught. The defenders’ only machine gun was put out of action early in the attack and all the gunners were killed or wounded.

The victorious Turkish troops then advanced to reinforce another attack taking place against the Yeomanry’s small garrison at Qatia. Qatia fell to the Turkish forces with the loss of all of the Yeomanry’s officers except Major WH Wiggin who was wounded and managed to withdraw with about half the squadron. Anzac troops, who occupied both Qatia and Oghradine four days later, testified to the ferocity of the battle and paid tribute to the valour and tenacity of the defenders.

In these actions 9 officers and 102 NCOs and men of the Regiment were killed and many other wounded.

A composite regiment, including the remainder of the Worcestershire Yeomanry, was formed in August 1916 and together with Anzac regiments were tasked to force back some 48,000 Turkish forces from Romani, a strategically important and fortified watering hole which was identified as the Turkish base for a major attack on the Suez Canal. After a fierce battle the Turkish forces were forced to retreat and large numbers of guns were captured.

The Turkish army regrouped at Gaza and made a stand which brought the British advance to a halt until General Edmund Allenby reorganised operations towards the Turkish positions at Beersheba taking the enemy forces by surprise so that they were forced to withdraw.

In the pursuit that followed the Worcestershire Yeomanry with the Warwickshire Yeomanry took part in the last cavalry charge on guns in British military history, the Charge at Huj, in November 1917.

The First World War saw the last of mounted cavalry units in action. In 1922, the Worcestershires became a Royal Artillery regiment and to provide two batteries of horsed field artillery which together with two batteries of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry was to form the 100th Field Brigade Royal Artillery. Later in the same year, as a sign of changing times, the horses were replaced by tractors.

From this date, the Worcestershires were deployed in a wide range of roles and units within the Royal Artillery.  A detailed chronology of their service can be found on Wikipedia.

In November 1956 it was announced that the Warwickshire Yeomanry and The Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars were to be amalgamated. The new Regiment became The Queen’s Own Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry (QOWWY) in 1957.

In 1969 the Regiment was invited to form a Signals Squadron, 67 (QOWWY) Signal Squadron at Stratford-on-Avon and Stourbridge with a Royal Signals role. This Squadron was raised from former members of the QOWWY.

In 1971 each Yeomanry cadre was expanded to Squadron strength (120 men). The three squadrons raised from the cadres of the QOWWY, the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the Shropshire Yeomanry were formed into a new Regiment called The Queen’s Own Mercian Yeomanry with a reconnaissance role.

In 1992 The Queen’s Own Mercian Yeomanry were amalgamated with The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry to form The Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry.  

In October 2006, the RMLY became a single cap badge regiment, when the individual cap badges of each squadron were replaced by the newly designed RMLY cap badge. This incorporates the Mercian Eagle from the Queen’s Own Mercian Yeomanry with the Red Rose from the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry. It serves in the armoured replacement role, providing replacement tank crews for regular armoured regiments.

Therefore QOWWY has two serving successor Squadrons in 1994 as follows:

  • A (QOWWY) Squadron of the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry
  • 67 (QOWWY) Signal Squadron of 37 Signal Regiment

External links

Queen’s Own Warwickshire & Worcestershire Yeomanry Comrades Association – Website dedicated to past and present serving members of the Warwickshire Yeomanry, Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars, and all successor units.

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