368: Royal Welsh Fusiliers (1689)

This entry was posted by Tuesday, 13 March, 2012
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Royal Welch Fusiliers

The Royal Welch Fusiliers was an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales’ Division. It was founded in 1689 to oppose James II and the imminent war with France. The regiment was numbered as the 23rd Regiment of Foot, though it was one of the first regiments to be granted the honour of a fusilier title and so was known as The Welsh Regiment of Fusiliers from 1702. The “Royal” accolade was earned fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713.

It was one of the oldest regiments in the regular army, hence the archaic spelling of the word Welch instead of Welsh. In the Boer War and throughout the First World War, the army officially called the regiment “The Royal Welsh Fusiliers” but the archaic “Welch” was officially restored to the regiment’s title in 1920 under Army Order No.56. During those decades, the regiment itself unofficially used the “Welch” form. As of 2004, it was one of only five line infantry regiments never to have been amalgamated in their entire histories.  The regiment was however amalgamated with the Royal Regiment of Wales (RRW) on 1 March 2006, to become 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh (RRW becoming the 2nd Bn).

Soldiers of this regiment were distinguishable by the unique feature of the “flash”, consisting of five overlapping black silk ribbons (seven inches long for soldiers and nine inches long for officers) on the back of the uniform jacket at neck level. This is a legacy of the days when it was normal for soldiers to wear pigtails. In 1808, this practice was discontinued, but the RWF were serving in Nova Scotia when the order to discontinue the use of the flash was issued. Upon their return they decided to retain the ribbons with which the pigtail was tied, and were granted this special concession by the King. The Army Council attempted to remove the flash during the First World War citing the grounds that it would help the Germans identify which unit was facing them. As Fusilier Robert Graves reported, “the regiment retorted by inquiring on what occasion since the retreat from Corunna, when the regiment was the last to leave Spain, with the keys of the town postern in the pocket of one of its officers, had any of His Majesty’s enemies seen the back of a Royal Welch Fusilier?,” and the matter remained “in abeyance throughout the war.” As a fusilier regiment, the RWF wore a hackle, which consisted of a plume of white feathers mounted behind the cap-badge of the modern beret. The full dress of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, as worn by the entire regiment until 1914, included a racoon-skin hat (bearskin for officers) with a white hackle and a scarlet tunic with the dark blue facings of a Royal regiment. This uniform continued to be worn by the RWF’s Corps of Drums and the Regimental Pioneers until the amalgamation of 2006.


The Regiment served in the Williamite War, fighting at the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim. In the War of the Grand Alliance, they were at the Siege of Namur and in the War of the Spanish Succession, they were at Schellenberg and Blenheim. During the War of the Austrian Succession, they were at DettingenFontenoy and Lauffeld and in the Seven Years’ War, they fought at MindenWarburgKloster Kampen and Wilhelmsthal.
The light infantry and grenadier companies of the Fusiliers saw bloody action at the Battle of Bunker Hill and all companies, except the grenadiers who were garrisoning New York City, at the Battle of Guilford Court House in the American War of Independence. The regiment participated in nearly every campaign from the Lexington & Concord to Yorktown. Many first hand accounts of the American War of Independence can be found in “the Diary of Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie” or Serjeant Roger Lamb’s “Original and Authentic Journal of Occurrences During the Late American War”. In the Wars of the French Revolution, the Fusiliers served in the West Indies in 1793-94, before going to Europe for the Helder Expedition and to Egypt for the Battle of Alexandria. During the Napoleonic Wars, they served from 1810 to 1814 in the Peninsular War; fighting at AlbueraBadajozSalamancathe PyreneesNivelle and Toulouse and took part in the Battle of Waterloo. where they fought in the 4th Brigade under Lt-Col. Harry Mitchell, in the 4th British Infantry Division (see Order of Battle of the Waterloo Campaign.)

In the 19th Century, the Regiment took part in the Crimean War, the Second China War, the Indian Mutiny and the Third Anglo-Burmese War before serving in the South African War of 1899-1902.

Several battalions of the regiment saw notable service in France and Belgium during the First World War, in particular the 1st, which became forever associated with the terribly destructive action at Mametz Wood in 1916, and the 2nd, which endured the horrors of the massacre in the mud of Passchendaele (Third Ypres) in 1917. In 1915 The Royal Welch participated in the legendary Christmas 1915 Football Game with the Germans.

During this war, several writers served with various battalions of the regiment in France, including the poets Siegfried SassoonRobert GravesDavid Jones and Hedd Wyn. Their memoirs, including Graves’ Good-Bye to All That, have resulted in the activities of this regiment being vividly recorded for posterity. Ford Madox Ford wrote movingly of the Welsh soldiers he commanded in his four-volume novel Parade’s End. Captain J. C. Dunn, a medical officer attached to the regiment’s 2nd Battalion during the First World War, compiled a chronicle of that unit’s experiences during its more than four years of service in France and Belgium. His epic, The War The Infantry Knew, has become a classic among military historians for its comprehensive treatment of all aspects of daily life and death in the trenches. The best known account by one of the Other Ranks is ‘Old Soldiers Never Die’ by Frank Richards DCM,MM. Fusilier Richards was a Reservist recalled to the colours at the outbreak of World War I, and served on the Western Front 1914-1918 (including being in the front line during the famous Christmas Truce of 1914). He also wrote about his pre-war service in a book called ‘Old Soldier Sahib’.

As with the Royal Regiment of Wales, the regiment has traditionally had a goat mascot. The tradition dates from at least 1775, and possibly from the regiment’s formation. The goat is given full honours of a corporal by all ranks and attended to by the Goat Major.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum is located in CaernarfonWales, and the official headquarters are at Wrexham. In 2004, it was announced that, as part of the restructuring of the infantry, the Royal Welch Fusiliers would amalgamate with the Royal Regiment of Wales to form a new large regiment, the Royal Welsh. This merger took place on 1 March 2006, leaving only two Welsh foot regiments in the British Army: the Welsh Guards and the Royal Welsh. The Royal Welch Fusiliers is now the name of the first battalion of the new regiment, which still recruits from across Wales.


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