The infantry Regiment has its’ origins in 1674 when Prince William of Orange asked for British troops to serve in Holland against the threat of the French. The regiment then came over to England with him in 1688 taking part in what became known as the Glorious Revolution to replace James II.
Between 1702 and 1712 the regiment fought in the War of Spanish Succession. It is possible that the
regimental badge, the Antelope, originates from this period. Tradition has it that a Moorish standard bearing an antelope was captured at the battle of Saragossa. However, it is perhaps more likely that the antelope was chosen because it is a royal symbol; it had been used by the Lancastrian Kings.
Sir Walter Vane, a soldier and a statesman, was the first commanding officer of the regiment. Until 1743 regiments were named after their commanding officer. Hence in the past the regiment was nicknamed ‘Guise’s Geese’ after General John Guise. In 1743 regiments were given numerical titles, the regiment was designated the 6th Foot, as it was the sixth oldest infantry regiment in the English army.
The Regiment took part in the Peninsula Wars in Spain and France from 1808 to 1814. Although it missed out on the Battle of Waterloo as it had been redeployed to Canada against the Americans.
Officer and Private 1792
In 1782 Regiments became linked to counties. The Sixth was given the title ‘First Warwickshire’. In 1832 William IV conferred the title ‘Royal’ and in 1881 with the demise of regimental numbers it was called the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
In 1852 the Birkenhead sailed to South Africa with reinforcements for various regiments, including the Sixth, and the wives and children of troops. Unfortunately it struck rocks off the coast of Cape Town. The captain ordered that the women and children be put in the few life-boats whilst the men stood on the deck whilst the ship sank. This example of army discipline and bravery became famous and gave rise to the saying ‘women and children first’.
The Regiment fought in some of the so-called small wars and the drive to expand the empire that took place in the Victorian period; including the Kaffir Wars in South Africa 1846-56, the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the Hazara campaign around the Afghan frontier in 1868, the Sudan campaign in 1898 and the Boer War 1899 to 1902.
The number of men and battalions increased dramatically as a result of the First World War. Normally the regiment had eight battalions, but this rose to 31 battalions consisting of 47,500 men. The active battalions mainly served in France and Italy, with one fighting in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia. The regiment lost about 11,000 men during the War.
Probably the regiments’ most famous son, Field Marshal Montgomery, initially served with the 1st Battalion. He joined in 1908 and was lucky not to have died during the attack on Meteren in 1914, where he was seriously wounded and for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Field Marshal Sir William Slim was also commissioned into the Regiment during the Great War. During the Second World War the Regiment had eleven battalions serving in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and home defence in the UK. In 1939 the 2nd, 1/7th and 8th battalions were fighting in Belgium and France. They took part in the action at Dunkirk by holding the enemy back on the Comines Canal, the Escaut Canal and at Wormhoudt where some were massacred by the SS Leibstandarte. Later in the conflict the 2nd Battalion were part of the D-Day landings and were joined shortly afterwards by the 1/7th battalion.
Over the years the British army has been restructured. In 1963 the Regiment became the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers and then on the 23rd April 1968 (St George’s Day) it amalgamated with the three other English Fusilier Regiments to become the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. These were the 7th of Foot, the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (5th of Foot), and the Lancashire Fusiliers (XXth of Foot). The word Fusilier is derived from the type of weapon that they used to carry, the ‘fusil’.
Since 1968 the Regiment has been posted all over the world, including several times to the Balkans as peacekeepers. The Regiment also served 37 tours of duty in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 2007 when peace was declared.
A Coy Sect in the Green Zone
More recently the Regiment has served in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the 21st March 2003 the 1st Battalion led the Desert Rats into Iraq. It fought on the bridges leading to Al Basrah and played a key role in the capture of the city. As a result it was awarded the battle honour ‘Iraq 2003’.
In November 2006 ‘A’ Company, 2nd Battalion, was in the newspapers when the 100 men spent 107 days in Now Zad, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, during which time they were attacked 149 times by the Taliban. This was the longest defence in British military history since the Korean War.
Sadly in 2009 the 2nd Battalion lost a number of soldiers when it was deployed as part of Op HERRICK 10 in Afghanistan. The ultimate sacrifice was made by Fusilier Petero ‘Pat’ Suesue, Corporal Joseph Etchells, Sergeant Simon Valentine, Fusilier Louis Carter, Fusilier Simon Annis, Lance Corporal James Fullarton and Fusilier Shaun Bush. The Battalion were based at Musa Qal’eh and at Nolay south of Sangin. Despite the fatalities and casualties the Battalion helped to improve the situation in Afghanistan, in particular by establishing a secure environment in Musa Qal’eh which can be further developed in the future.
Fus Connolly and Hopwood in the Green Zone
Sadly the 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 2014 following the last round of military cuts to the British Army. The Colours of the 2nd Battalion were laid up in a poignant ceremony on the Sunday 9th October 2016.
The 1st Battalion is based in Tidworth in Wiltshire. It uses the WARRIOR Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicle and are part of the Reaction Forces A2020. This makes them adaptable to any scenario and deploys the infantry soldiers quickly, the WARRIOR can move up to 50 kph, has a 30mm cannon and chain machine gun.