343: 1st Kings Dragoon Guards (1685) & 2nd DG Queens Bays (1685)

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1st King’s Dragoon Guards

The 1st King’s Dragoon Guards was a cavalry regiment in the British Army. The regiment was formed in 1685 as The Queen’s Regiment of Horse, named in honour of Queen Mary, consort of King James II. It was renamed The King’s Own Regiment of Horse in 1714 in honour of George I. The regiment attained the title 1st King’s Dragoon Guards in 1751. The regiment served as horse cavalry until 1937 when it was mechanised with light tanks. The regiment became part of the Royal Armoured Corps in 1939. The regiment merged with The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) in 1959 to form 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards.

The Habsburg connection

In March 1896 Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria became Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment, which he remained until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. At the same time the double-headed Austrian eagle became the cap-badge of the regiment (see illustration above) until it, too, was replaced, in 1915. On Dec 2, 1908 the Emperor instituted the Inhaber-Jubiläums-Medaille für Ausländer (Commander’s Jubilee Medal for Foreigners) to celebrate his 60 years on the throne. Some of the 40 Golden, 635 Silver and 2000 Bronze medals were awarded to officers, NCOs and private soldiers in the regiment.[1] In 1938, the Austrian eagle returned as the regiment’s cap badge, but without the scroll.

First World War (1914-18)

For more details on this topic, see First World War.

At the commencement of war in 1914 the KDGs were stationed in Lucknow, India as part of the 8th (Lucknow) Cavalry Brigade. The regiment was ordered to France and arrived at Marseilles on 7 November. The KDGs formed part of 1st Indian Cavalry Division serving on the Western Front. The regiment returned to India in 1917 and joined 1st (Peshawar) Division and during 1919 took part in the Third Afghan War.

Third Afghan War (1919)

For more details on this topic, see Third Afghan War.

The KDGs remained in garrison at Meerut until October 1918 when they exchanged stations with 21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers and moved to Risalpur. On 2 May 1919 Afghan troops seized control of wells on the Indian side of the border. The Afghan Amir Amanullah was warned to withdraw, but his answer was to send more troops to reinforce those at the wells and to move other Afghan units to various points on the frontier. The KDGs were mobilised on 6 May and formed part of the British Indian Army‘s 1st Cavalry Brigade. The regiment served throughout the Third Afghan War and saw action at the Khyber Pass and Dakka. On 8 August a peace treaty with Afghanistan was officially signed and the KDGs returned to Risalpur on 28 August.

Second World War (1939-1945)

The Regiment fought with distinction in North Africa and Sicily and Italy, landing at Salerno against concentrated enemy opposition. They were the first Allied unit into Naples. The Welsh writer Norman Lewis, in his celebrated account of life in Naples claimed that the King’s Dragoon Guards was the first British unit to reach Naples in 1943, and that many of its officers immediately went on a looting spree, cutting paintings from their frames in the prince’s palace.


The Regiment was posted to Home Duties at Omagh, Northern Ireland before moving to Germany in 1952 as part of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), initially stationed in Hamburg and later Celle and Wolfenbüttel. In 1956 the KDG were sent on active service in Malaya during the Emergency and were stationed at Ipoh. During this time they took part in counter-insurgency operations in both mounted operations (armoured car) and on foot in the dense jungles. The regiment returned to BAOR in 1959. A Squadron spent 1956-59 in Jahore Bahru at Majedee Barracks. They were joined in 1958 by B Squadron in preparation for the pending amalgamation in 1959.

Battle honours

  • Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, Dettingen, Warburg, Beaumont, Waterloo, Sevastopol, Taku Forts, Pekin 1860, South Africa 1879, South Africa 1901-02
  • The Great War: Somme 1916, Morval, France and Flanders 1914-17
  • Between the Wars: Afghanistan 1919
  • The Second World War: Beda Fomm, Defence of Tobruk, Tobruk 1941, Tobruk Sortie, Relief of Tobruk, Gazala, Bir Hacheim, Defence of Alamein Line, Alam el Halfa, El Agheila, Advance on Tripoli, Tebaga Gap, Point 201 (Roman Wall), El Hamma, Akarit, Tunis, North Africa 1941-43, Capture of Naples, Scafati Bridge, Monte Camino, Garigliano Crossing, Capture of Perugia, Arezzo, Gothic Line, Italy 1943-44, Athens, Greece 1944-45

Notable members of the regiment



2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays)

The 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays) was a cavalry regiment in the British Army, first raised in 1685 by King James II. It saw service for three centuries, before being amalgamated into the 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards in 1959.

The Earl of Peterborough’s Regiment of Horse (1685–1715)

The regiment was first raised from the neighbourhood of London as the Earl of Peterborough‘s Regiment of Horse in 1682, by the regimenting of various independent troops, and ranked as the 3rd Regiment of Horse.

When James II’s throne was tottering, and William of Orange daily expected, the regiment was ordered to Torbay, when their helmets and cuirasses were deposited in the Tower, the officers having leave to wear the latter if they chose.

On the accession of William and Mary, the Bays, then designated Villiers’ Horse, embarked for Ireland under Marshal Schomberg. The regiment fought at the battles of the Boyne (1690) and Aughrim (1691).

At Aughrim, in company with the Royal Horse Guards and another regiment, they crossed a seemingly impassable bog under a heavy fire, formed on the other side, and by a brilliant charge won the battle for King William. “It is madness,” exclaimed the French general, St. Ruth, as he watched the apparently reckless manoeuvre; “but no matter, the more that cross the more we shall kill.” It was but a few minutes after that his head was carried off by a cannonball, and the decapitated corpse was buried secretly and hastily, that the heavy loss to King James might be known neither by friend nor foe.

After the fall of Limerick they returned, and for the next three years or so were employed as an unofficial mounted police against the numerous highwaymen who made the commons of Hounslow and Blackheath unsafe for travellers.

In 1694 they embarked for Holland, where they served with credit until 1698, when they returned to England.

Six years after they embarked for Lisbon, and distinguished themselves, as Harvey’s Horse, in the various stirring though comparatively unimportant actions that followed. On arriving it was found that the Portuguese idea of what constituted a proper horse for British cavalry differed very considerably from that entertained by the latter themselves, and as a consequence many weary weeks were wasted. At last General Harvey was instructed or determined to requisition chargers, and the 3rd Horse were once more included in the effective cavalry.

At Almanza, under Colonel Eoper, they charged and routed two French infantry regiments, though in the struggle against the overwhelming reinforcements that came up the 3rd lost Colonel Eoper and two other officers killed, and three officers wounded, and prisoners. Contemporary histories report, ” The regiment of horse of General Harvey is certainly one of the finest regiments that ever was seen, and the worst horse they have is worth fifty pistoles.”

The 3rd Horse had a share in the brilliant cavalry action at Almaneza, in July 1710, when sixteen squadrons of British and Portuguese horse charged the French and Spaniards, whose force consisted of a first line of twenty-two squadrons flanked by infantry, and a second line of twenty squadrons and nine battalions. ” Such was the astonishing resolution of the British horsemen that …. the whole of the enemy’s cavalry was soon overthrown, and with their infantry fled in disorder.”

At the close of the campaign the 3rd Horse, with some other regiments, under Stanhope, were surprised at Brihuega, by a force more than ten times their number. They had no artillery, little ammunition; the village was defenceless and prohibitive of the employment of cavalry, yet the British defended themselves with stones and hand missiles against the cannon of the besiegers, and repulsed with loss a general assault that was ordered. But the strife was too unequal, and at last they had to yield themselves prisoners of war. There were plenty, however, to exchange for them, and in October 1711, the 3rd Horse arrived in England and were quartered in Surrey.

The Queen’s Own Regiment of Horse (1715–1746)

The ensuing years were occupied chiefly with the Great Jacobite Rebellion, and in 1715 the regiment received, in recognition of its gallantry at Preston, the title of ” The Princess of Wales’s Own Regiment of Horse for Princess Caroline of Wales.

In 1727, on the accession of the Prince of Wales to the throne as King George II, this was changed to The Queen’s Own Regiment of Horse.

2nd Queens Regiment of Dragoon Guards (1746–1767)

In 1747 the Government, determined to save money, decided to reduce the regiment from the status of Horse (who were better paid) to that of Dragoons (who would cost less). There was such an outcry that eventually the 3rd Regiment of Horse became the 2nd Queens Regiment of Dragoon Guards.

The Bays formed part of the force under General Wade, which was ordered to disarm the disaffected Highland tribes and to improve the communications between Scotland and the seat of Government.

This was the ” General Wade” of the famous couplet

” Had you seen these roads before they were made, You’d raise your hands and bless the General Wade.”

It may be remarked that on Christmas Day of that year there joined the Bays, by exchange, Captain Garrick, the father of the celebrated actor. Through all that terrible time the Bays fought well and fiercely for the House of Brunswick, embarking in 1760 for the Seven Years’ War in Germany, where they fought at the Battle of Corbach, Warbourg, Eimbeck, and in the snow and bitter cold at Foorwohle.

The Regiment distinguished itself at Battle of Warburg fighting the French under the command of the famous Marquis of Granby. In a celebrated charge, the Marquess lost his wig, giving rise to the expression ‘going at it bald-headed’. At the battle of Willems (1762) the Bays captured several French regiments by ‘charging the flying foe sword in hand’.

On the return of the regiment to England in 1763 it did sterling, if unobtrusive, service in quelling the riots which were then disturbing the peace of the country.

2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays) (1767–1921)

Shortly thereafter, in 1767, the Regiment was ordered to be mounted on bay horses accompanied by the new title 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays). This is emphasised in the Regimental badge which is simply the word ‘BAYS’ within a laurel wreath surmounted by a crown.

The Regimental motto is “Pro Rege et Patria”, which is Latin for “For King and Country”.

The regiment served with Wellington’s army during the Peninsular War. On one notable occasion a single squadron of the Bays, under Major Craufurd, attacked and utterly defeated a picket of French, consisting of six officers and about a hundred and fifty men, and took no less than a hundred and four prisoners, the remainder being killed in the attack.

The Bays were not at the Battle of Waterloo, being engaged in preserving order during the troublous times at home, but shortly after it was fought they embarked for the Continent, there to form part of the Army of Occupation.

When the Indian Mutiny broke out in 1857 the Bays were ordered to India. On arrival at Calcutta late in November, The Bays were informed that they were to go to Allahabad with the utmost speed to join Hope Grant’s Cavalry Division in Sir Colin Campbell‘s force. This meant a 500 mile journey, 400 miles of entailed marching across India with their newly issued horses. Captain Seymour wrote:

“Very hard marching we shall have had, as the last ten days are forced marches. We are marching with our heavy baggage, yet we have no less than 2,000 paid camp followers! We march at 4am, always in the dark for two hours, and this adds much to the ordinary confusion of a march. We sleep in our tents, but our tents are never up with the regiment for some time after we reach our new camping ground. It is all very rough I assure you… our Officers have been greatly plagued with their native servants, as owing to the times one is obliged to pay them in advance. Nearly all those engaged in Calcutta have bolted…I fortunately did not engage one there, none of mine have left me… my Establishment is complete”.

From the end of January onwards the Bays were regularly employed in minor mopping up operations which characterised the later stages of the Mutiny. In March they took part in the siege of Lucknow Captain Seymour wrote:

“We came on bodies of Cavalry and Infantry of the enemy. Bays where ordered to the front to charge and pursue! Away we went as hard as possible, Major Smith and I leading. We did not stop for three miles, cutting down and pursuing the mutineers right up to Lucknow, and across the river. We are told the most gallant. smartest, though somewhat rash thing that was done before Lucknow”.

The Bays were on duty in Ireland between 1875 and 1885 and were deployed several times to assist the local civil force during the First Irish Home Rule Bill.

They were stationed in India between 1885 and 1894 and then in Egypt in 1895–97.

The Bays fought in South Africa (1899–1902), arriving in 1901, and capturing Commandant Pretorius.

In the First World War (1914–18) the Bays formed a part of the original Expeditionary Force (‘The Old Contemptibles’) and were heavily engaged throughout the War in France and Flanders on the Western Front, fighting in all the major battles; the Retreat from Mons, Le Cateau, the battle of the Marne, Messines, Ypres, the Battle of the Somme, Cambrai, the Scarpe, and in the final victorious advance of 1918.

Many honours were gained including the Retreat from Mons, the Action at Nery, Aisnes 1914, Armentières 1914, Frezenburg, Bellewaarde, Flers-Courcelette, Arras 1917, St Quentin, Bapaume 1918, Rosiers, and Albert 1918.

On the last day of the Great War (as it was then known), 11 November 1918, The Bays successfully chased off the German cavalry at Montigny-les-Lens.

The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards)(1921–1959)

After service in the First World War, the Regiment was again retitled The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) in 1921.

In 1935 the Bays lost their horses, after 250 years and became a mechanised regiment. They transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps in 1939.

At the outbreak of World War II the Regiment was in England. In May 1940 the Bays were sent as part of the 1st Armoured Division to France and were heavily engaged on the Somme. In mid June, with the collapse of French resistance, they were evacuated to England through the port of Brest.

The Bays arrived in the Middle East in November 1941, equipped initially with the 2 pounder Crusader tank. They fought with great bravery at the ‘Cauldron’ and ‘Knightsbridge’ during the battle of Gazala and were continuously in action for 19 days, a record for an armoured regiment in the Western Desert. They played a major part at the Battle of Alamein, the Tebaga gap, at El Hamma, the Mareth Line, and so on to Tunis.

The Bays arrived in Italy in May 1944 and were engaged in the Gothic Line, at the battle of Coriano Ridge when they lost all but three of their tanks and suffered 98 casualties in a matter of minutes when they were sent against a screen of German anti-tank guns, including the notorious 88. They fought in the Po Valley at the Crossing of the Lamone and at Rimini, Coriano Ridge and Cesena. The Bays helped force the Argenta Gap and found themselves at Ferrara when the Germans surrendered.

After the war the Bays remained in northern Italy, then moved to Egypt before moving to Dale Barracks in Chester in 1947.[1] In 1950 the regiment was stationed in Germany, at Fallingbostel, equipped with Centurion Mk2 tanks. On 1 November 1958 the Queen’s Bays paraded for the last time and were reviewed by their Colonel-in-Chief, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

On 1 January 1959 the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards and The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) amalgamated to become 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards. On 2 March 1959 the Queen Mother, their Colonel-in-Chief, presented the new Standard.

Battle honours

  • Warburg, Willems, Lucknow, South Africa 1901-02
  • The Great War: Mons, Le Cateau, Retreat from Mons, Marne 1914, Aisne 1914, Messines 1914, Armentières 1914, Ypres 1914 ’15, Frezenberg, Bellewaarde, Somme 1916 ’18, Flers-Courcelette, Arras 1917, Scarpe 1917, Cambrai 1917 ’18, St. Quentin, Bapaume 1918, Rosières, Amiens, Albert 1918, Hindenburg Line, St. Quentin Canal, Beaurevoir, Pursuit to Mons, France and Flanders 1914-18
  • The Second World War: Somme 1940, Withdrawal to Seine, North-West Europe 1940, Msus, Gazala, Bir el Aslagh, Cauldron, Knightsbridge, Via Balbia, Mersa Matruh, El Alamein, Tebaga Gap, El Hamma, El Kourzia, Djebel Kournine, Tunis, Creteville Pass, North Africa 1941-43, Coriano, Carpineta, Lamone Crossing, Defence of Lamone Bridgehead, Rimini Line, Ceriano Ridge, Cesena, Argenta Gap, Italy 1944-45


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