413: Bedfords & Hertfords & Essex Regiments

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The Bedfordshire Regiment RAISED 1688

Childers reforms

On 1 July 1881 the Childers Reforms came into effect. These were the logical continuation of the 1873 reforms: the regimental numbers of infantry regiments were replaced with territorial titles, “brigade districts” were renamed as “regimental districts”, and the local miltia and rifle volunteer corps were affiliated to the new regiments.

Accordingly the 16th Foot became The Bedfordshire Regiment. The regimental district comprised the counties of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.


When the Bedfordshire Regiment was formed on July 1, 1881 it consisted of two regular, two militia and three volunteer battalions:

  • 1st Battalion (formerly 1st Battalion, 16th (Bedfordshire) Regiment of Foot raised in 1688)
  • 2nd Battalion (formerly 2nd Battalion, 16th (Bedfordshire) Regiment of Foot raised 1858)
  • 3rd (Militia) Battalion (formerly Bedfordshire Light Infantry Militia)
  • 4th (Militia) battalion (formerly Hertfordshire Militia)
  • 1st Hertfordshire Rifle Volunteer Corps: redesignated 1st (Hertfordshire) Volunteer Battalion in 1887
  • 2nd Hertfordshire Rifle Volunteer Corps: redesignated 2nd (Hertfordshire) Volunteer Battalion in 1887
  • 1st Bedfordshire Rifle volunteer Corps: redesignated 3rd Volunteer Battalion in 1887

In 1900 the 4th (Huntingdonshire) Volunteer Battalion was raised.

Under the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 the reserve battalions were reorganised in 1908:

  • The two militia battalions were renamed as the 3rd (Reserve) and 4th (Special Reserve) Battalions.
  • The 1st and 2nd Volunteer Battalions were merged to form The Hertfordshire Battalion (Territorial Force)
  • The 3rd and 4th VBs became the 5th Battalion (TF)

The following year the Hertfordshire Battalion left the regiment to become the 1st Battalion The Hertfordshire Regiment.

Service 1881-1914

On formation, the 1st Battalion the Bedfordshire Regiment was stationed at Newry in Ireland, while the 2nd was in India. The 1st Battalion remained on home service in England and Malta until 1889, when it sailed for India. In 1895 they formed part of the force that took part in the Relief of Chitral. The battalion left India in 1907, arriving in England via Aden in the following year. In 1913 they were posted to Mullingar in Ireland.

The 2nd Battalion served in India and Burma until 1891 when it returned to England, moving to Dublin in 1898. From there it moved to South Africa in 1900, taking part in the Second Boer War. In 1903 they returned to England, moved to Gibraltar in 1907, Bermuda in 1910 and to South Africa in 1912.

1914 – 1919

The Bedfordshire Regiment was greatly expanded during the First World War and was engaged in Europe and the Middle East, with seven Victoria Crosses being won by men serving in the regiment. In addition to the regular and special reserve battalions the following were formed:

  • The 5th Territorial Battalion was redesignated as the 1/5th in August 1914 with the formation of a duplicate 2/5th Battalion. A 3/5th Battalion was raised in 1915.
  • The 6th to 11th (Service) Battalions were raised in 1914
  • The 12th and 13th (Transport Workers) Battalions were raised in 1916 and 1917
  • The 1st to 3rd Garrison Battalions served in India and Burma

The Hertfordshire Regiment raised two further Reserve battalions and its front line 1st/1st Battalion served on the Western Front until 1919, with two men winning Victoria Crosses during the war.

The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment

1919 – 1939

In 1919 the regiment was renamed to The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, in recognition of the service of men from Hertfordshire during the First World War. During 1919 the war-formed battalions were disbanded, and the special reserve battalions were placed in “suspended animation”. In 1920 the Territorial Force was reconstituted as the Territorial Army. The inter-war battalions were:

  • 1st Battalion
  • 2nd Battalion
  • 5th Battalion (TA)

The 1st Battalion was stationed in England until 1920 when it moved to Sligo in Ireland, returning to England when the Irish Free State achieved independence in 1922. They were posted to Malta in 1925, to China in 1928, to India in 1929 and to Egypt in 1938. The 2nd Battalion was stationed in India from 1919 to 1925 and in Iraq from 1925 to 1926. They returned to England, from where they were dispatched to suppress the Arab revolt in Palestine in 1936. From Palestine they moved to England in 1938.

1939 – 1947

The regiment was expanded for the duration of the Second World War:

  • The 5th Battalion (TA) formed a duplicate 6th Battalion in 1939
  • The 7th, 2/7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Battalions were raised

The 1st, 2nd and 5th Battalions saw active service:

At the end of the war in 1945 the 1st Battalion was in India and the 2nd in Greece. The 1st Battalion moved to Libya in 1947 and then to Greece, where civil war had broken out. The 2nd Battalion moved from Greece to Egypt in 1946, returning to the United Kingdom in 1947.

1947 – 1958

Following the disbanding of the war-formed units and the reconstitution of the Territorial Army in 1947, the regiment had the following battalions up to amalgamation:

  • 1st Battalion
  • 2nd Battalion: absorbed by 1st Battalion in 1948
  • 5th Battalion (TA)

The 1st Battalion returned from Greece to England in 1950, moving to Cyprus in the following year and to Egypt in 1952. In 1954 they returned to England for the final time, and were posted to Germany in 1956 where they remained until amalgamation.


The size of the British Army was reduced following the publication of the 1957 Defence White Paper. A policy of grouping regiments in administrative brigades, and amalgamating pairs of regular battalions was inaugurated. Accordingly the 1st Battalions of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment and the Essex Regiment were merged to form the 3rd East Anglian Regiment (16th/44th Foot) on 2 June 1958, which itself became part of a new “large regiment“: the Royal Anglian Regiment in 1964. The regiment’s modern lineage is continued directly by D Company, 2nd Battalion of The Royal Anglian Regiment.

Territorial units after amalgamation

Although the regular battalion was merged into the 3rd East Anglian Regiment in 1958, the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment name continued in the Territorial Army for a further fourteen years. On formation of the 3rd East Anglians the territorial battalion was redesignated as the 5th Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment (TA). A reduction in the size of the Territorial Army in May 1961 saw the 5th Bedfords merge with the 1st Battalion, The Hertfordshire Regiment to form The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (TA). This regiment was disbanded in 1967, with its successor units in the new Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve being the 5th (Volunteer) Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment and The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (Territorials). The latter unit was a home defence unit, reduced to an eight-man cadre in 1969 and eventually forming part of the 7th (Volunteer) Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment in 1971.

Badges and dress distinctions

When the regiment was formed in 1881 the badges of the 16th Foot and Hertfordshire Militia were combined. The badge for the full dress helmet plate featured a Maltese cross superimposed on an eight-pointed star, in the centre of which was a hart crossing a ford. A similar design was used for the cap badge adopted in 1898, with the addition of a representation of the Garter around the central device, and a scroll with the regiment’s title. The collar badge was also the hart in a ford.

The regiment wore a black and primrose lanyard on the battle-dress blouse. The lanyard was later worn by territorial units of the Royal Anglian Regiment based in the former regimental area.

Battle honours

When the regiment was formed in 1881, it was unique in having no battle honours to display on its colours, as the 16th Foot had never received such an award in spite of having served for nearly two hundred years and having been engaged almost constantly in Europe during the first few decades of its existence. A committee was assembled in 1882 under the chairmanship of Major General Sir Archibald Alison to review the award of honours, and the Bedfordshire Regiment received honours for four battles under the command of the Duke of Marlborough fought at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The regiment subsequently received awards for past services in 1897 (for Surinam in 1804) and 1910 (for Namur in 1695). To these were added contemporary honours for fighting in the North West Frontier Province and the Second Boer War.

The regiment was awarded more than seventy honours for service in the Great War in 1925, and eighteen for the Second World War in 1957. In common with other regiments, ten honours from each war were selected to be borne on the queen’s colour.

Essex Regiment

The Essex Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army that saw active service from 1881 to 1958. Members of the regiment were recruited from across Essex county. Its lineage is continued by the Royal Anglian Regiment.


The Essex Regiment was formed in 1881 following the union of the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot and the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot. The merger was part of the under the Childers Reforms of the British Army.

The new regiment was designated The Essex Regiment. The Old 44th became the 1st Battalion of the new regiment and the Old 56th became the 2nd Battalion.

For history of the regiment prior to 1881 see:

Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902)

The 1st Battalion and the 2nd Battalion both served in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War. Notably, the regiment participated in the Relief of Kimberley and the Battle of Paardeberg.

First World War (1914-1918)

During the First World War the Essex Regiment provided 30 infantry battalions to the British Army (3 Regular Army, 18 Territorial Force, 6 Kitchener Army, 3 Garrison). The regiment’s battle honors for the First World War include Le CateauYpresLoosSommeCambraiGallipoli and Gaza.

Battle of the Somme

1st Battalion took part in the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. The battalion (comprising W, X, Y, and Z companies) took up position in the British trenches at 3:30am. At 8:40am the battalion received orders to advance and clear the German first-line trenches. The battalion was delayed by heavy enemy fire and congestion in the communication trenches. The Newfoundland Regiment advancing to the left of the Essex battalion was almost entirely wiped out as they advanced towards German lines. At 10:50am the Essex companies were in position and received orders to go “over the top”. Companies came under heavy artillery and MG barrage immediately they appeared over the parapet, causing heavy losses. The attack became bogged down in no man’s land. The battalion received orders from 88th Brigade headquarters to recommence the attack for 12:30pm, but at 12:20pm the battalion commander advised brigade HQ that “owing to casualties and disorganisation” it was impossible to renew the attack. The survivors of the battalion received orders to hold their position along the line of Mary Redan – New Trench – Regent Street.

Thiepval Memorial

The names of 949 members of the Essex Regiment are recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, commemorating the officers and men of the regiment who died on the Somme and have no known grave.


In March 1921 at Crossbarry in County Cork the regiment encircled the IRA “West Cork Flying Column” with 1,200 troops. The IRA flying column, under the command of Tom Barry, numbered 104 volunteers. In a successful guerilla operation, the IRA column split into seven small groups and escaped through the encirclement. In total, the British Army stationed 12,500 troops in County Cork during the conflict, while Barry’s men numbered no more than 110. The British Army failed to subdue the IRA flying column, and Barry’s tactics made West Cork ungovernable for the British. In Tom Barry’s book “Guerilla Days In Ireland” written in 1949, Tom Barry gives first hand account on the Essex collision with his flying column. In the first ambushes of the Irish War of Independence, captured Essex men were granted their lives and told to leave the Republicans be. The warnings were not met by the “ill-disciplined” Essex and Tom Barry gave a general order to shoot any Essex on the spot, while other garrison’s soldiers were treated fine.

Turkey (1922)

At the conclusion of the First World War Britain maintained a garrison at Constantinople to ensure free passage of the sea lanes between Aegean and Black Sea. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and its transformation into the Turkish Republic coincided with the rise of Greek nationalism, resulting in the Greco-Turkish War. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George increased the size of the British garrison – which included 2nd Battalion Essex Regiment. The garrison was withdrawn in 1923.

Saar Plebiscite (1935)

As part of the Treaty of Versailles, the Saarland province, on the border of France and Germany, was put under French control. In 1935, by the terms of the treaty, the people of the Saarland were to determine whether to remain as part of France, or to become German. The British government sent 13th Brigade as a supervisory force to the Saarland, which comprised 1st Battalion Essex Regiment, 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, and 16th/5th Lancers. The result of the plebiscite was 90.3% voting to join Germany (then under Nazi government).

.India (1922-1935)

The 2nd Battalion spent the 13-year period 1922 to 1935 as part of the British garrison in India. During this lengthy period of overseas service the 2nd Battalion was stationed at Ambala (1922–1927), Landi Kotal (1927–1929), Nowshera (1929–1931), Nasirabad (1931–1933), and Bombay (1933–1935). The 2nd Battalion spent an additional year overseas in Sudan (1935–1936), before finally returning to Britain and the regimental depot at Warley.

Second World War (1939-1945)

The Essex regiment provided 2 combat battalions for the British Army. One fought in the China-Burma-India theatre. The other, the second battalion, was part of the 56th Independent Infantry Brigade. This brigade was landed on Gold Beach on D-Day from roughly 1.00 pm and immediately set off inland.

Taking part in the battle of Le Havre, elements of the regiment discovered the German payroll for the Le Havre garrison in the basement of the hospital.


The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1948. In 1951-53 the Regiment was stationed in Luneburg, Germany, as part of the B.A.O.R. In mid 1953 the regiment sailed on the Troopship “Asturias” for a year in Korea. The next move was in 1954 to be part of the Hong Kong Garrison. The 1st Battalion merged with the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment in 1958 to form the 3rd East Anglian Regiment (16th/44th Foot). In 1964 the regiments of the East Anglian Brigade formed the new Royal Anglian Regiment. The Essex heritage continued in the regiment’s 3rd Battalion (also known as ‘The Pompadours’). In 1992, the 3rd Battalion was disbanded and the old Essex connection ceased. However, infantry recruits from Essex county are assigned to companies in the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment if they wish to serve with others from their county. C (Essex) Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment continues the Essex link.

Territorial Army

The “Essex” tradition also continues in the Territorial Army. The Essex infantry reservists are represented by E (Essex and Hertford) Company, The East of England Regiment. Under recent changes the East of England Regiment was retitled 3rd Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment.

The drums of the former 4/5th Battalion are still carried by the Corps of Drums of King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford. who also wear the Regiment’s full dress of scarlet tunic and Pompadour purple facings. The King Edward VI Grammar School Corps of Drums is currently led by Drum Major Christopher Nisbett. The Corps has approximately 25 members with the older drummers passing on the skills to the junior drummers and new recruits. Every year the Corps of Drums plays at Warley Barracks, Brentwood to the veterans of the Essex Regiment at the Essex Regiment Reunion.

Recipients of the Victoria Cross

The following members of the Essex Regiment have been awarded the Victoria Cross The Essex Regiment Museum:

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