Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

West Yorkshire Regiment

When King James IL succeeded his brother, Charles II, to the throne in 1685, he was determined to increase his Army, despite the opposition of the House of Commons to standing armies of any size. The open rebellion of his brother’s bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth, gave him his chance, because the few available troops were quite inadequate to cope with the serious situation which threatened, and Parliament had no alternative but to authorize the raising of a significant number of new regiments. Thus 1985 has been a vintage year for 300th birthday celebrations because infantry regiments which we knew as the Royal Fusiliers, King’s (Liverpool), Royal Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Devonshire, Suffolk, Somerset Light Infantry, West Yorkshire and East Yorkshire all completed their third centuries in June of this year. So also, amongst the cavalry, did our old friends, the 3rd Carabiniers.

 

For the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire, 22nd June was a very important day, because both of its constituents, the West Yorkshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales’s Own) and the East Yorkshire Regiment (The Duke of York’s Own) were founded on 22nd June, 1685, the first at Canterbury as Hales’s Regt, the second at Nottingham as Clifton’s Regt, because in those far-off days regiments were usually known by the names of their Colonels. What is more, 22nd June is “Imphal Day”, being the date in 1944 when the siege was finally raised. Both regular battalions of the West Yorkshire Regt had fought sturdily in the defence of Imphal, and kept the date as a Regimental Anniversary thereafter.

 

 Of all the British regiments which served in Burma, none surely can equal the record of the West Yorkshires. Their fifteen Battle Honours are only exceeded by the nineteen of the 10th Gurkha Rifles (which fielded three battalions in~ the campaign), and the Honour “Burma 1942-45”, the dates covering all four years of the War, is shared only with the Royal Berkshires, 7th Gurkhas and 10th Gurkhas.

 

When the German War commenced in 1939, both the 1st West Yorkshire and 1st East Yorkshire were in India performing the normal Imperial garrison duties, but 1st West Yorks were moved by sea to Rangoon immediately following the outbreak of the Japanese War. Joining battle at Pegu, the battalion was constantly involved in heavy fighting throughout the terrible retreat from Burma, but gained a formidable reputation which was to remain for the rest of the war. They returned to the Assam front in 1943, and were severely tested the following year in the desperate battles around Imphal, when they were alongside their 2nd Battalion on several occasions, and Sgt. H. V. Turner won a posthumous VC. In March 1945 they spearheaded the assault on Meiktila, where Licut. W. B. Weston won his post­humous VC, and the battalion experienced more savage fighting.

 

The luck of the draw had left 1st East Yorkshire with routine duties in India, but in April 1945 they joined 1st West Yorkshire in 17 Indian Div, and had time to show their mettle in a number of stiff fights with stubborn Japanese rearguards before the atom bombs brought the war to a sudden end.

 

Stationed in the Sudan, 2nd West Yorkshire found themselves in the forefront when the Italians entered the war in 1940. Joining 5 Indian Div, the battalion saw heavy fighting in Abyssinia and Eritrea before serving in Egypt and Libya, with much action in the Western Desert. After the retreat to the Alamein line, the Division was withdrawn and moved to the Far Eastern theatre, where they were in action again in the Arakan in 1944. Following the capture of Maungdaw, 2nd West Yorks were caught in the Japanese counter-offensive and completely surrounded at Sinzweya where they received a message from the Supremo, “Stand fast for 14 days and you will make history.” Under constant attack they held out, in fact for 25 days, completely upsetting the Japanese plan. Their Corps Commander, General Christison (our Senior Vice-President) said, “Never has any regiment counter-attacked so successfully and so often as in that battle. It is rare in history that one regiment can be said to have turned the scale of a whole campaign.” With no respite, 5 Indian Div was switched North to join the battles for Kohima and Imphal, and when the sieges were lifted they took part in the hard fighting advance for 200 miles down the Tiddim Road to Kaleymo, in wild and mountainous country during the height of the monsoon. By October, casualties and sickness had reduced the battalion to company strength, serving under command of 4th Royal West Kents. In March 1945, 5 Ind Div was flown in to join the Meiktila battle and the 2nd Battalion actually watched the 1st Battalion attacking Kyigon. During the advance South to Rangoon, 17 Indian Div (with 1st West Yorks and 1st East Yorks) and 5 Indian Div (with 2nd West Yorks) alternately led the IV Corps offensive, and soon after the war ended 2nd West Yorks were the first British regiment to return to Singapore.

 

Whilst the West Yorkshires were adding to their laurels in Burma, the East Yorkshires won much honour in Europe, North Africa and Sicily. The 2nd, 4th and 5th Battalions all went to France with the 1939 BEF, and were heavily engaged in the fighting retreat to Dunkirk. 2nd East Yorks were in 3 Div, under a certain Major-General B. L. Montgomery, of whom more was to be heard. The 4th and 5th Battalions were in 50 Div, and went to the Middle East in 1941. When Rommel attacked the Gazala line in May 1942, both battalions, together with 2nd West Yorks in 5 Indian Div, were heavily engaged, 4th East Yorks, with their brigade, being surrounded and virtually wiped out. 5th East Yorks were later prominent at the battles of El Alamein, Mareth and Wadi Akarit (where Pte E. Anderson won a posthumous VC), and then in Sicily, where they were the first British troops to enter Messina.

 

On D Day, the East Yorkshire was the only regiment in the Army to have two battalions in the initial assault on the Normandy beaches, the 2nd with 3 Div and the 5th with 50 Div, and they were so heavily involved in subsequent battles that the 7th East Yorks had to be disbanded to provide them with reinforcements. The shortage of manpower became critical and, after many hard battles, 50 Div, including 5th East Yorks, had to be withdrawn and broken up in November 1944. 2nd East Yorks were constantly in the heaviest fighting right up to VE Day, and they particularly distinguished themselves at Schaddenhof in the Rhineland.

 

The story of 300 years valiant service to Crown and Country is not easily compressed, particularly when so many episodes claim attention. Both Hales’s and Clifton’s regiments (which we will refer to as the 14th and 15th Foot hereafter, although the numbering system was not formally adopted until 1751) were blooded in King William’s wars in the Low Countries, but not until 1910 did the West Yorkshires receive the Battle Honour “Namur”, won by their ancestors of Hales’s Regiment in 1695! The 15th served under the great Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, and the 14th was at Culloden where the Stuart cause was finally extinguished. During the conquest of Canada the 15th was prominent at the capture of Quebec, and Col. the Hon. James Murray of the 15th became Governor of the City soon after it was surrendered by the French. “Quebec Day”, 13th September, was observed as a holiday by the East Yorkshires, and is now one of the Regimental Days of the Prince of Wales’s Own. King George III was so well pleased with the 14th when they were stationed at Windsor and Hampton Court that he granted them the White Horse of Hanover as their badge, and it is now the badge of the Prince of Wales’s Own. During the War of American Independence, the 15th were well to the fore, and gained their unusual nickname “The Snappers” at the Battle of Brandywine, a victory which led to the occupation of Philadelphia by the British. Ammunition was in short supply and was handed only to the best shots. The remainder ‘snapped’ small powder charges to confuse the enemy, and the ruse was successful.

 

The exceptional record of the 15th in the West Indies during three of the French wars led to five Battle Honours for their brave conduct. When County titles were first linked to the regiments in 1782 the 14th became the “Bedfordshire” and the 15th the “Yorkshire East Riding”. Later the 14th exchanged counties with the 16th and became the “Buckingham­shire”. Not until 1881 were they to be associated with West Yorkshire. In 1793 the 14th became the only regiment ever to win its regimental march in battle. It is the French revolutionary song “Ca Ira”, which is very difficult to translate into modern English from the contemporary French slang. “That will be swept away” has been suggested by one authority. “That’s the way it’s going to be” is another, and even freer, alternative. The 14th was attacking the French at Famars in Flanders, and were not getting the best of matters. The French soldiers were cockily singing “Ca Ira”, which was very popular at the time. Lieut.-Col. Doyle, commanded the 14th, ordered his drums and fifes to play “Ca Ira”, calling to the regiment, “Come on, lads! Let’s beat them to their own damned tune.” And (you’ve guessed it!) the British won the day. Soon afterwards the Commander-in-Chief, the Grand Old Duke of York, ordered the 14th Foot to adopt “Ca Ira” as its regimental quick march. 

 

The Napoleonic Wars, which involved fighting on something like a worldwide basis, were to be great consumers of manpower, and it was this age with which the infamous pressgang was associated. Many regiments of the line were authorised to raise 2nd Battalions, and the 14th was one of a few which also raised 3rd Battalions. The 3rd/l4th was raised at Weedon in Buckinghamshire in 1813, mostly from very young officers and men. They were about to be disbanded when the news broke that Napoleon had escaped from Elba and landed in France, and that the French Army was flocking to his standard. Most of Wellington’s Peninsular veterans were across the Atlantic, fighting the Americans, and so it came about that many of the British troops at Waterloo were young, raw and inexperienced, including the 3rd/l4th. En the event they behaved magnificently, and after the battle had been won their divisional commander congratulated “the very young 3rd Battalion of the 14th, which in its first trial displayed a steadiness and gallantry becoming of veteran troops.”

 

With the growth of the Victorian Empire, both of the regiments served in many parts of the globe, doing their duty in that quiet, reliable, but unspectacular way which is so typical of the British infantry. An outcome of the Indian Mutiny was the decision that the first twenty-five regiments of the line should each have two battalions, and it followed that the 14th and 15th were not involved in amalgamations at the time of the Cardwell reforms of

 

1881. In 1876, after HRH The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) had presented new colours to the lst/l4th, the regiment was honoured with his title and became the “14th (Buckinghamshire) Prince of Wales’s Own.” Five years later they became “The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment.”

 

Both 2nd Battalions served under Lord Roberts in the Second Afghan War, and they were both in South Africa during the Boer War. Shortly before the Relief of Ladysmith, Captain C. Mansel-Jones of 2nd West Yorkshire won the regiment’s first VC, and the following year Sgt. \V. B. Traynor of the same battalion also won the VC.

 

The 19 14-18 War made enormous demands on the infantry. The huge expansion of the Army led to the West Yorkshires having no less than thirty-five battalions and the East Yorkshires nineteen. The regimental casualties were approximately 12,700 and 7,500 respectively. Four members of each regiment were awarded the VC. In 1916, fifteen battalions of the \Vest Yorkshires and nine of the East Yorkshires fought in the Battle of the Somme, and in the Spring 1917 offensive it was twelve and nine. At the dreadful Third Battle of Ypres, usually known as Passchendaele, in the autumn of 1917, ten West Yorkshire battalions and five East Yorkshire were involved. The regimental memorials to the dead are in York Minster and Bcverley Minster.

 

In 1922, with the regular battalions restored to peacetime soldiering, HRH The Duke of York (later King George VI) was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the East Yorkshires, and in 1935 they became “The Duke of York’s Own.”

 

Soon after World War II, all the infantry regiments were reduced to one battalion each, and on 25th April, 1958 the two old regiments were amalgamated to form the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of’ Yorkshire, retaining the regimental seniority of the l4th/I5th Foot, all their Battle Honours and all their old traditions. The Regimental Quick March is “Ca Ira” of the 14th and the Slow March is the curiously named “The XV von England”, the origins of which are somewhat obscure, although it is known to be two hundred years old.

 

Readers in the South-West, particularly, will be interested to learn that the well-respected President of Torbay Branch, Brigadier G. H. Cree, CBE, DSO, commanded 2nd Bn West Yorkshire Regt from 1942 to 1944, significant years as this narrative will have shown. After the war, he was the last Colonel of the West Yorkshire Regiment and became the second Colonel of the Prince of Wales’s Own.

When you go home

tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

we gave our today

Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945 Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945
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