409: West Surrey & East Surrey to Queens Royal Surrey Regiment

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Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey)

The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) was a regiment of the English and later British Army from 1661 to 1959. It was the senior English line infantry regiment of the British Army, behind only the Royal Scots in the British Army line infantry order of precedence. In 1959, it was amalgamated with The East Surrey Regiment, to form The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment.


The Regiment was raised in 1661 by Henry Mordaunt, 2nd Earl of Peterborough as The Earl of Peterborough’s Regiment of Foot on Putney Heath (then in Surrey) specifically to garrison the new English acquisition of Tangier, part of Catherine of Braganza‘s dowry when she married King Charles II. From this service, it was also known as the Tangier Regiment. As was usual at the time, it was also named after its current colonel, from one of whom, Percy Kirke, it acquired its nickname Kirke’s Lambs. In 1685, it was given the Royal title the Queen Dowager’s Regiment of Foot (after Queen Catherine, widow of Charles II) and in 1703 became The Queen’s Royal Regiment of Foot. In 1715, it was renamed The Princess of Wales’s Own Regiment of Foot after Caroline of Ansbach, then Princess of Wales, and was re-designated The Queen’s Own Regiment of Foot in 1727 when the Princess became Queen. It was ranked as 2nd Foot in the clothings regulation of 1747, and was renamed 2nd (The Queen’s Royal) Regiment of Foot by Royal warrant in 1751. In the Childers reforms of 1881 it became the county regiment of West Surrey, named The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). In 1921, its title was slightly altered to The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey). In 1959, it was amalgamated with The East Surrey Regiment, to form The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment.

Early years

The Regiment shipped to Tangier where it remained until the port was evacuated in 1684, when it returned to England. It took part in the suppression of the Monmouth Rebellion, fighting at the Battle of Sedgemoor, where it earned a widespread (but probably exaggerated reputation for brutality. After the Glorious Revolution, it fought in Ireland for the new King, William III, defending the besieged Londonderry in 1689 and at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. From 1692 to 1696 it fought in Flanders in the Nine Years’ War, at the Battle of Landen and the recapture of Namur in 1695.

During the War of Spanish Succession it served in the Iberian campaign, at CadizVigo, the sieges of Valencia de AlcantaraAlburquerqueBadajozAlcantara and Ciudad Rodrigo, and was virtually destroyed in the disastrous Battle of Almansa. In the campaign in the Low Countries in 1703, it defended Tongres against overwhelming odds, giving Lord Overkirk time to re-group his forces, until it was eventually captured. It was for this action that it was awarded its Royal title and its mottoes. It spent most of the remainder of the 18th Century on garrison duty, being one of the regiments involved in putting down the Gordon Riots.

French and Napoleonic Wars

On the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, detachments were in the West Indies and acting as marines in the Channel Fleet, notably at the battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, where they served on Howe’s flagship, Queen Charlotte and also on board RussellDefenceRoyal George and Majestic. In recognition of the Regiment’s service, it was granted the distinction of wearing a Naval Crown superscribed 1 June 1794 on its colours. Another Regimental tradition dating from this victory was that of drinking the Loyal Toast seated (as is Royal Navy custom, owing to the difficulty of officers standing in the low, crowded and often unsteady wardroom of a man-of-war). This tradition is maintained by the successor Regiment, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. The Regiment was then reunited and sent to the West Indies where it took part in the capture of Guadeloupe in 1794, although the occupation was short-lived owing to outbreaks of disease, particularly yellow fever, among the troops, and the capture of Trinidad in 1797. A second battalion was formed in 1795 and stationed in Guernsey before being shipped to Martinique, where it was disbanded in 1797, its personnel being absorbed by 1st Battalion.

The Regiment was transferred to Ireland in 1798 where it helped put down the Irish rebellion and then took part in the unsuccessful 1799 Helder campaign. In 1800, it was part of the abortive expedition to Belle-Isle, from which it sailed to Egypt where it fought at the Battle of Alexandria and the Siege of Alexandria.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the regiment first fought in the Peninsular War at the battles of Vimeiro and Corunna. It then took part in the disastrous Walcheren Campaign before returning to the Peninsula to fight at the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, the second Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, the Battle of Salamanca and the unsuccessful Siege of Burgos. By the winter of 1812, the Regiment was so depleted by casualties and disease that four companies were amalgamated with the equally weakened 2nd Battalion, 53rd Foot, to form the 2nd Provisional Battalion. Six cadre companies returned home to re-form. As part of the 4th Division, the Provisional Battalion took part in the Wellington’s triumph at the Battle of Vittoria on 21 June, 1813, followed by the Siege of San Sebastian and, 1814, the battles of Orthes and Toulouse. In 1814, the Provisional Battalion was broken up and the Regiment re-formed.

Post Napoleonic 19th Century

The Regiment was on garrison duty in Baluchistan when the First Afghan War broke out in 1839. It formed part of the force that attacked the previously-impregnable city of Ghazni, taking the city by storm because the army lacked siege equipment, and opening the way to Kabul. It returned to India in November, 1839, storming the city of Khelat en route, and avoiding destruction along with the rest of Elphinstone’s army.

It was shipped to the Cape Colony during the Eighth Kaffir War in 1851. On February 25th 1852 a draft of 51 men under the command of Ensign Boyland were aboard HMS Birkenhead travelling from Simon’s Bay to Port Elizabeth when the ship struck rocks. The troops were assembled on deck and remained at attention to afford the embarked women and children time to take their place in the lifeboats. Shortly after this the ship broke up and the vast majority of the troops on board were either drowned or fell victim to sharks. The bravery of the troops, made up of cadres from ten different regiments, lead to the naming of Birkenhead Drill. It once again became the 1st Battalion when the 2nd Battalion was reformed in 1857, and went to China in 1860 at the time of the Second Opium War, fighting at the Third Battle of Taku Forts and the capture of Beijing. In 1897–98, it took part in the Tirah Expedition on the North-West Frontier. The 2nd Battalion fought in the Third Anglo-Burmese War from 1886 to 1888 and in South Africa from 1899 to 1904 in the Second Boer War.

In 1909, many years after the event, the Regiment was granted the Battle Honour of “Tangier 1662-80”, the oldest in the British Army. The Honour is still held by its successor, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.

The Great War

The 1st Battalion landed at Le Havre in August, 1914, and spent the entire war on the Western Front. The 2nd Battalion was in South Africa when war broke out and was shipped to France in November, 1914. It fought in France and Flanders until November, 1917, when it was sent to the Italian Front, taking part in the battles of the Piave and Vittorio Veneto. The Territorial and New Army battalions undertook a number of duties, including training, garrison duty around the Empire and combat service on several fronts.

Between the wars

The 1st Battalion spent the inter-war years on garrison duty, both in Britain and overseas. The 2nd Battalion took part in the Waziristan campaign of 1919-1920, attempting to pacify the tribal areas during the unrest following the Third Afghan War. It was in Palestine during the Insurgency of 1936-1939.

The Second World War

The 1st Battalion was in India on the outbreak of the Second World War and fought in the Burma Campaign throughout the war. The 2nd Battalion spent the early years of the war in the Middle East and Syria before also going out to the far East.

Post-war service and amalgamation

The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1948 and its personnel transferred to 1st Battalion (which had previously been reduced to nil strength in 1947). The reconstituted 1st Battalion fought the Communist guerrillas during the Malayan Emergency from 1954-1957. In 1957, it returned to Germany where, in 1958, it was amalgamated with 1st Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment, to form 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment.


East Surrey Regiment

The East Surrey Regiment was a regiment in the British Army formed in 1881 from the amalgamation of the 31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment of Foot and the 70th (Surrey) Regiment of Foot. In 1959, it was amalgamated with the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) to form the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment.


In 1702 a regiment of marines was raised in the West Country by George Villier (not related to the Villiers that became the Duke of Buckingham. It was named Villier’s Marines and its direct descendant became the East Surrey Regiment. Villier was drowned in 1703, and the regiment was taken over by Alexander Luttrell. After Luttrell’s death in 1705, the command went to Joshua Churchill until 1711 when it became Goring’s Regiment (At this time regiments took the name of their colonel).

In 1715 the regiment was removed from the marines and became the 31st Regiment of Infantry, and in 1751 the designation was changed to the 31st Regiment of Foot. Five years later a second battalion was raised in Scotland, the 2/31st Foot, which was predesignated in 1758, the 70th Regiment of Foot (Glasgow Lowland Regiment).

Further changes were made in 1782. The 31st became known as the Huntingdonshire Regiment, while the 70th became the Surrey Regiment. They stayed with this title until 1881 when they became the 1st & 2nd battalions of the East Surrey Regiment. They had been paired in 1873 as linked regiments for alternate service at home and abroad.

Early history

In the form of the 31st Foot, the regiment saw service at the Battle of Dettingen, where it received the nickname “The Young Buffs”. In the Napoleonic Wars it served in the West Indies and Spain, where it won 8 Battle Honours. It was fighting in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Crimean War, in China at the Taku Forts.

The 70th Foot was in the Indian Mutiny, the Maori Wars in New Zealand, and the Second Afghan War

The 1st Battalion, after formation, was based in various garrisons around the British Empire but did not see major action until the First World War in 1914.

The 2nd Battalion on the other hand was in action soon after formation, being part of the British expedition to the Sudan in 1884. This battalion also took part in the Anglo-Boer War that started in 1899. They took part in the Relief of Ladysmith , the Battle of the Tugela Heights and Laing’s Nek. After South Africa the battalion was shipped to India in 1903 where they remained until the outbreak of World War I.

First World War

During the First World War, the regiment raised 18 battalions. The Regiment served on the Western Front from the Battle on Mons in August 1914 to the Armistice in November 1918. Battalions also served in Italy, MacedoniaMesopotamia, and Egypt. Also in North Russia in 1919. It was given 62 Battle Honours and seven of its soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, all of whom survived the awarding action. During the war over 6000 men of the Regiment lost their lives

The 1st Battalion

On 4 August 1914, the 1st Bn The East Surrey Regiment was in Dublin. Eleven days later, mobilization completed and at full war establishment, the Battalion was in France, and before the end of the month was in action against the Germans. During the Retreat from Mons and afterwards, the Battalion took part in the great battles of 1914, Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne. In 1915, after the Battle of La Bassée, the 1st Surreys withstood a most determined attack on Hill 60, near Ypres. In the desperate fighting which ensued, the Battalion won three Victoria Crosses and seven Distinguished Conduct Medals. Among the VCs was Lieutenant George Roupell,[1] who later became the last Colonel of The East Surrey Regiment. The casualties in this short action alone amounted to 113 killed and 165 wounded.

In 1916, the 1st Battalion took part in the great battles of the River Somme, and distinguished itself notably at Morval in September. The Battalion took part in many of the great battles of 1917, such as Arras, the Third Battle of Ypres. After a four month tour on the Italian Front, the Battalion was back in France in March 1918, and was engaged in the Battles of Albert and Bapaume, and the subsequent advance to victory.

The 2nd Battalion

The Battalion returned from India at the outbreak of war, but it was not until January 1915 that it arrived in France. It was soon in action to the south of Ypres where it lost many men, some by poison gas. In the Battle of St Julien, the Battalion had 141 killed and 256 wounded. A week later it lost a further 100 killed and 133 wounded. The 2nd Battalion took part in the Battle of Loos in September 1915, and fought valiantly in the defence of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. At a vital stage in this battle, Lieutenant Arthur Fleming-Sandes, though wounded, displayed exceptional courage and leadership, for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross.[2] The following month the Battalion was transferred to the Salonika Expeditionary Force, and spent the remainder of the War on the Struma Valley Front and east of Lake Doiran. The summer heat in Macedonia was intense, but the principal scourge was malaria, which at one period reduced the strength of the Battalion to 186 Other Ranks.[citation needed]

The Territorial Battalions

The 5th and 6th Battalions of The East Surrey Regiment were not to see service on the Western Front. They embarked for India in October 1914 and were employed on garrison duties in the United Provinces and the Punjab for two years. The 5th Battalion then joined the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force and took part in the operations on the Tigris, while the 6th Battalion left India for a twelve month tour of duty with the Aden Field Force. This Battalion returned from India for demobilization in 1919, but the 5th Surreys, who were engaged on active operations in Southern Kurdistan until late December, did not reach home until February 1920. Both were resuscitated in 1921 with the rest of the TA. In the late 1930s the 5th Bn converted to Royal Artillery and in 1939 the 6th Bn, which by then was over 1200 strong, was divided into the 1/6th and 2/6th Surreys.

The Service Battalions – Kitchener’s Army

The East Surrey Regiment raised seven Service battalions, of which the 7th, 8th, 9th (the Gallants), 12th and 13th served in France. All these non-Regular battalions had fine fighting records, and in every way maintained the traditions of the Regiment, enhancing its prestige by their gallantry and endurance. All took part in the Battles of the Somme in 1916. Most were present at the principal battles of 1917, such as Arras, the Scarpe and the Third Battle of Ypres, and in 1918 at St Quentin, Albert and Cambrai. They saw as much fighting as the Regular battalions and showed themselves as worthy members of the Regiment whose name they bore. One particular incident will always be remembered. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, B Company of the 8th Battalion went into the attack dribbling two footballs which the Company Commander, Captain Wilfred Nevill, had bought for his platoons to kick across No Man’s Land. Captain Nevill and many of his men were killed during the advance, but the 8th Surreys were one of the few battalions to reach and hold their objective on this day. The ‘Football Attack’ caught the imagination of the country, and illustrations of it are shown in the Regimental Museum, which also contains one of the footballs used. on that day, the 8th Battalion won two DSOs, two MCs, two DCMs and nine MMs, but 147 officers and men were killed and 279 wounded.

Second World War

The 1st Battalion

The 1st Battalion was based in England at the out break of the Second World War as part of the 4th Infantry Division. It was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. After returning to the United Kingdom after the evacuation from Dunkirk the 1st Battalion was reformed and was assigned to 11th Infantry Brigade, part of 78th Infantry Division, with which it remained for the rest of the war. It took part in Operation Torch in November 1942, landing in North Africa at Algiers. Following this the battalion fought with the division in Tunisia until the end of the Tunisia Campaign in May 1943 during which time it took part in notable actions at Longstop Hill and Tebourba.

The battalion then fought in Sicily during the Allied invasion of Sicily before moving to Italy for the Italian Campaign where it had notable involvement in the Battle of Termoli and the fighting on the Barbara Line and River Sangro during the autumn of 1943. In February 1944 78th Division was switched to the Cassino sector. The battalion initially held positions on the River Rapido south of Cassino but by March had been moved into bleak and exposed positions in the mountains north of the town. In late April they were relieved and after a brief rest took part in the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944. They were then involved in the pursuit after the Allied breakthrough. They fought a hard engagement at Lake Trasimeno on the Trasimene Line in June 1944 before being withdrawn with the rest of the division in July to Egypt for rest and training.

1st East Surreys returned with 78th Division to Italy in September 1944 in time to take part in Operation Olive and the fighting in the Apennine Mountains during the winter of 1944 and occupying positions on Monte Spaduro when the front became static.

In February 1945 the battalion came out of the front line to prepare and train for the offensive planned for the spring. By late March the whole division was in place on the banks of the Senio river ready for the start of the spring 1945 offensive which started on 6 April. The battalion fought in the intense action at the Argenta Gap before advancing with the rest of the division to the north of the Gulf of Venice and crossing the Italian border to finish the war in Austria.

The 2nd Battalion

In 1940 the 2nd Battalion was shipped from China to Malaya where it was attached to 11th Indian Division based in North West Malaya. In December 1941 the Japanese Army invaded Malaya after landing in southern Thailand. The 2nd East Surreys suffered tremendous casualties during the defence and retreat from this part of Malaya. The battalion was amalgamated with the 1st Battalion, The Leicestershire Regiment to form the British Battalion (Malaya 1941) on the 19 December 1941. This unit fought gallantly through out the rest of the short campaign until the surrender of the British Army at Singapore in February 1942.

In May 1942 the 2nd Battalion was reformed from the redesignation of the 11th Battalion. It did not see further action in the Second World War.

Corporal Charles “Nobby” Hibbert, of the 2nd battalion, the East Surrey regiment, wrote an informal unpublished memoir shortly before his death at the age of 49 in 1969 in Stevenage, Herts, England, his health undermined fatally by his experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war in the far East. The book, which he called The Wheel of Fortune, described vividly in colloquial London English, the lost battle for Malaysia and the grimness of life under the loathsome prison camp regime in Borneo. His memoir also touches on the Chinese leg of the battalion’s far eastern spell that ended in heoroic disaster.

Further unpublished notes were made by George Britton, also of the 2nd Battalion, who was one of the very few survivors of the Alexandra Hospital massacre and who also survived internment at Changi Prisoner of War Camp and later forced labour on the notorious Death Railway. He lived in Hampton, Middlesex until his death in 2009.

Territorial Battalions

1/6th Battalion

The 1/6th were deployed to France at the beginning of the war and fought along side the 1st Battalion in Belgium and were evacuated at Dunkirk. The 1/6th continued to see active service with the 1st in North Africa in March 1943 and took part in the Tunisian Campaign. From February 1944 to May 1945, the Battalion fought in Italy, and it experienced hard fighting at Cassino and Forlì. It then moved to Greece.

2/6th Battalion

The 2/6th were formed in 1939 and also deployed to France at the beginning of the war. Attached to the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division as part of the BEF. With the rest of the Division they were not evacuated from Dunkirk but forced to surrender in June 1940 at Saint-Valery-en-Caux with about 95% captured or killed, the majority becoming prisoners of war with many subsequently imprisoned at Stalag_XXI-D. After St. Valery, the battalion was reformed in England but did not see further active service.


The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1948 and its personnel joined the 1st Battalion. In 1959 the East Surreys were amalgamated with Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) to form the The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment. In further amalgamations in 1966 and 1992 the Queen’s Royal Surreys first became part of The Queen’s Regiment and then the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.

Victoria Crosses

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