414: The Buffs (East Kent) & West Kent Regiment

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Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment)

The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment), formerly the 3rd Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army until 1961. It had a history dating back to 1572 and was one of the oldest regiments in the British Army being third in order of precedence (ranked as the 3rd Regiment of the line). It provided distinguished service over a period of almost four hundred years accumulating one hundred and sixteen battle honours. Following a series of amalgamations since 1961 its lineage is today continued by the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.


The origins of the regiment lay in Thomas Morgan’s Company of Foot, The London Trained Bands which was in existence from 1572 to 1648. In 1665 it was known as the 4th (The Holland Maritime) Regiment and by 1668 as the 4th (The Holland) Regiment. In 1688-1689 it was “4th The Lord High Admiral’s Regiment” until 1751 it was named as other regiments after the Colonel Commanding being the 3rd (Howard’s) Regiment of Foot from 1737-1743 at which point it became the 3rd Regiment of Foot, “Howard’s Buffs”.

  • 1751-1782 3rd (Kent) Regiment of Foot, “The Buffs”
  • 1782-1881 3rd (East Kent) Regiment of Foot (“The Buffs”)
  • 1881-1935 The Buffs, (East Kent Regiment)
  • 1935-1961 The Buffs, (Royal East Kent Regiment)

Origin of “The Buffs”

The 3rd Regiment received its nickname of “The Buffs” because it had been issued buff coats – made of soft leather – first when it served abroad in Holland and later when it was a Maritime Regiment of Foot. It was later given buff-coloured facings and waistcoats to distinguish itself from those of other regiments and had their leather equipment in buff rather than dyed the traditional white.

It received the title of “The Old Buffs” during the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, when the 31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment of Foot marched past King George II and onto the battlefield with great spirit. Mistaking them for the 3rd due to their buff facings, the sovereign called out, “Bravo, Buffs! Bravo!”. When one of his aides, an officer of the 3rd regiment, corrected His Majesty, he then cheered, non-plussed, “Bravo, Young Buffs! Bravo!”, thus granting the 31st the honour of being nicknamed the “Young Buffs”. The 3rd Regiment then took to calling themselves the “Old Buffs” to keep themselves distinct from the 31st.

The two Howards

The Buffs obtained the name of “The Buffs” officially in 1744 while on campaign in the Low Countries. The 3rd Regiment was then under the command of Lieutenant-General Thomas Howard. At the same time, the 19th Regiment of Foot were commanded by their colonel, the Honourable Sir Charles Howard. In order to avoid confusion (because regiments were then named after their colonels, which would have made them both Howard’s Regiment of Foot), the regiments took the colours of their facings as part of their names – the 19th Foot became the Green Howards, while the 3rd Foot became Howard’s Buffs, eventually being shortened to simply The Buffs.

Australian service

In between the campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars and India, “The Buffs” had a tour of service from 1821 until 1827 in the British colony of New South Wales. For the duration of their service, The Buffs were divided into four detachments. The first was based in Sydney from 1821. The second arrived in Hobart in 1822. The third, entitled “The Buffs’ Headquarters”, arrived in Sydney in 1823. The fourth arrived in Sydney in 1824, but variously saw service throughout the colonies, being stationed at Port DalrympleParramattaLiverpoolNewcastlePort Macquarie and Bathurst. The regiment reunited and was transferred to Calcutta in 1827. During their service in New South Wales, The Buffs were commanded by Lieut. Colonel W. Stewart and Lieut Colonel C. Cameron.

“Steady, The Buffs!”

This famous cry has been rumoured by many to have been uttered on the field of battle, but it was actually born on the parade grounds of a garrison.

It comes from when the 2nd Battalion was stationed at Malta in 1858 and were quartered with the 21st Royal (North British) Fusiliers. Adjutant Cotter of The Buffs was a Scot who had formerly served in the 21st Fusiliers as a Sergeant Major. Adjutant Cotter would not brook any disarray on the parade ground from his raw recruits, shouting “Steady, The Buffs! The Fusiliers are watching you!”

This greatly amused the Fusiliers and they called out “Steady, The Buffs!” on the slightest provocation, first in Malta and later whenever the two regiments met from then on. The phrase caught on and was soon shouted whenever The Buffs marched by. It then passed into common usage, even appearing in Rudyard Kipling‘s novel Soldiers Three (1888) and his play Pity Poor Mama.

Among several characters in literature and television who have uttered the phrase are; Lord Peter Wimsey and Rab C. Nesbitt.

Reorganisations and amalgamations

  • From 1595 to 1665, the four regiments of the English Brigade served under Dutch command. In 1665, with the coming of the Second Anglo-Dutch War the British and Scotch Brigades were ordered to swear loyalty to the Stadtholder. Those who obeyed would be allowed to continue in Dutch service and those who disobeyed would be cashiered. Using his own funds, Sir George Downing, the English ambassador to the Netherlands, raised the Holland Regiment from the starving remnants of those who refused to sign. It was designated as the 4th Regiment of Foot.
  • In 1688 the Glorious Revolution deposed James II Stuart and seated William Henry, Prince of Orange-Nassau and Stadtholder of the United Netherlands, on the throne of Great Britain as William III of England. To reduce confusion between the Regent’s Dutch Blue Guards regiment and the Stuart-era “Holland Regiment”, the latter was renumbered the 3rd Regiment and had its title changed to The Lord Admiral’s Regiment. Since Prince George of Denmark was Lord Admiral (and thus was its Honorary Colonel), it was also known as Prince George of Denmark’s Regiment until his death in 1708.
  • The 1st (Regular) Battalion existed continuously from 1572-1961.
  • The 2nd (Regular) Battalion was intermittently raised in 1678-1679, 1756-1758, 1803–1815, and 1857-1949.
  • In the Childers reforms of 1881 the East Kent Militia became the regiment’s 3rd (Militia) Battalion (1881–1953) and its short-lived 4th (Militia) Battalion [1881-1888].
  • From 1881-1908 two Kent rifle volunteer corps were redesignated as the 1st Volunteer Battalion and 2nd (The Weald of Kent) Volunteer Battalion of the Buffs. With the creation of the Territorial Force (TF) in 1908 they became the regiment’s 4th and 5th (TF) Battalions. In 1921 the TF was reformed as the Territorial Army (TA) and the two units were merged as the 4th/5th (TA) Battalion. The two battalions resumed separate existences on the doubling of the TA in 1939, but were again merged in 1947.

Spion Kop Memorial to Captain Naunton Henry Vertue of the 2nd Battalion

The following units participated in the Second Boer War:

  • 2nd Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
  • 3rd Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
  • 1st Volunteer (Militia) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
  • 2nd Volunteer (Weald of Kent) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)

Captain Naunton Henry Vertue of the 2nd Battalion also served as Brigade Major to the 11th Infantry Brigade under Major General Edward Woodgate at the Battle of Spion Kop where he was mortally wounded.

First World War (1914-1918)

For service in World War I, nine battalions were raised:

  • 2/4th (Territorial Force) Battalion [1914-1917]
  • 3/4th (Territorial Force) Battalion [1915-1916]; 3/4th (Reserve) Battalion [1916-1919]
  • 2/5th (Territorial Force) Battalion [1914-1917]
  • 3/5th (Territorial Force) Battalion [1915-1916]
  • 6th (Service) Battalion [1914-1919]
  • 7th (Service) Battalion [1914-1919]
  • 8th (Service) Battalion [1914-1918]
  • 9th (Service) Battalion [1914-1915]; 9th (Reserve) Battalion [1915-1916]
  • 10th (Royal East Kent & West Kent Yeomanry) Battalion [1917-1918]

Corporal William Richard Cotter was awarded the VC whilst serving with the 6th Battalion.

Second World War (1939-1945)

For service in World War II, ten battalions were raised :

  • 4th (Territorial Army) Battalion [1939-1947]
  • 5th (Territorial Army) Battalion [1939-1947]
  • 6th (Home Defence) Battalion [1939-1941]
  • 7th Battalion [1940-1945] This was converted to armour in 1941 and was known as 141st Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (7th Battalion The Buffs)
  • 8th Battalion [1940-1942]
  • 9th Battalion [1940-1946]
  • 10th Battalion [1940-1943]
  • 11th Battalion [1940]
  • 30th Battalion [1941-1943]
  • 70th (Young Soldiers’) Battalion [1940-1943]

Post-War amalgamations

In 1956 the 410th (Kent) Coast Regiment (Royal Artillery) was disbanded and converted into infantry. It was then combined with elements of the 4th (Territorial Army) Battalion, The Buffs (Royal East Kent) Regiment to form the 5th (Territorial Army) Battalion of The Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment and was the last separate unit to bear the distinct honours of The Buffs. In 1966 it became the 5th Battalion, The Queen’s Regiment. In 1967 it merged with the 4th Battalion to become the 4th/5th (East Kent TAVR) Battalion, The Queen’s Regiment.

In 1961 the “The Buffs”, Royal East Kent Regiment was amalgamated with The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment to form: The Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment.

In 1966, the The Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment was amalgamated with the other three regiments of the Home Counties Brigade to form The Queen’s Regiment.

In 1992 the Queen’s Regiment was amalgamted with the Royal Hampshire Regiment to form the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.

Freedom of the City of London

The Buffs was one of five regiments enjoying the Freedom of the City of London. The gave them the right to march through the City with drums beating, bayonets fixed, and colours flying. This is due to a Royal Warrant written in 1672 allowing them to raise volunteers “by beat of drum” in the City of London. Since recruiting parties paraded in full array accompanied by company or regimental musicians and marched with a colour, this right was given to the regiment as a whole.

Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment

The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1961. It was formed as The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) as part of the Childers Reforms by the amalgamation of the 50th (Queen’s Own) Regiment of Foot and the 97th (Earl of Ulster’s) Regiment of Foot. In January 1921, it was renamed The Royal West Kent Regiment (Queen’s Own) and in April of the same year The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. In 1961 it was amalgamated with The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) to form The Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment. It was popularly, and operationally, known as the “Royal West Kents.”

From Formation to the Great War

The 1st Battalion took part in the Egypt Intervention in 1882, fighting in the second battle at Kassassin on 9 September and the Battle of Tel el-Kebir a few days later. It then spent two years on garrison duty in Cyprus before being shipped to the Sudan and the Mahdist War, in which it fought at the Battle of Ginnis, notable for being the last battle fought by British Redcoats. It spent the years up to the outbreak of the Great War on garrison duty, both at home and throughout the Empire.

The 2nd Battalion was shipped to South Africa shortly after its formation, in the aftermath of the First Boer War. The following year, it was posted to Ireland and spent the remaining years of the 19th Century in Britain, being sent back to South Africa for the Second Boer War. Its only action was a skirmish at Biddulphsberg, in the company of the 2nd Battalions of the Grenadier and Scots Guards. It then moved to the East, being stationed in CeylonHong KongSingaporePeshawar and Multan before the outbreak of the Great War.

The Great War

The outbreak of the Great War found the 1st Battalion in Dublin, whence it was moved to France as part of the 5th Infantry Division. It spent most of the war on the Western Front apart from a brief period from December 1917 to April 1918, when it was moved, with the 5th Division, to Italy.

The 2nd Battalion was shipped from Multan to Mesopotamia, via Bombay, arriving in Basra in February 1915, where it was attached to the 12th Indian Brigade. Two Companies were attached to the 30th Brigade (part of the 6th (Poona) Division) and were captured in the Siege of Kut in April 1916. The remaining Companies were attached to 34th Brigade (part of 15th Indian Division), and were transferred to 17th Indian Division in August 1917. The Battalion remained in Mesopotamia for the duration of the war.

Most of the Territorial battalions spent the war on garrison duty, particularly in India and Egypt, relieving the Regular battalions for front-line service. However, the 2/4th Battalion took part in the Gallipoli Campaign and the 3/4th Battalion served as a Pioneer battalion in France.

Several of the Service (sc. Hostilities-only) battalions of the New Army fought in France and Flanders and in the Italian Campaign.

Between the Wars

At the end of the war, the 1st Battalion was transferred back to India, where it took part (along with the Territorial 1/4th Battalion) in the Third Afghan War and the putting down of a Mahsud tribal rebellion in the Northwest Frontier in 1920. It spent the next years in India, returning home to England in 1937.

The 2nd Battalion returned to India from Mesopotamia in 1919, and to England in 1921, briefly becoming part of the Army of Occupation in Germany (the British Army of the Rhine). It was stationed at various garrisons in Britain until 1937, when it moved to Palestine to aid suppression of the Arab revolt. In 1939, it was transferred to Malta.

The Second World War

The 1st Battalion was part of the 4th Infantry Division of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940, returning to England via Dunkirk. It remained in Britain until 1943, leaving to take part in the Tunisia Campaign, the Italian Campaign and the Greek Civil War that broke out after the German withdrawal in 1944.

The 2nd Battalion was part of the garrison of Malta during its protracted siege. It then formed part of the 234th Infantry Brigade in the abortive assault on the Italian-held Dodecanese islands in 1943, being captured by the Germans on the island of Leros. It was reconstituted in 1944 by redesignation of the 7th Battalion.

Other hostilities-only battalions of the Regiment fought in North Africa, notably at El Alamein and Alam el Halfa, and in Burma.


The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1948 (nominally being amalgamated with the 1st Battalion).

From 1951-1954, the sole remaining Battalion contributed to the security forces that successfully contained the Communist guerrilla uprising in Malaya. Less happily, it was involved in the militarily successful, but politically disastrous, occupation of the Suez canal zone in 1956. It then took part in the campaign in Cyprus against EOKA guerrillas.

In 1959, it returned to Britain for the last time, being amalgamated in 1961 with the The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment), to form The Queen’s Own Buffs, Royal Kent Regiment.

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