It was the great General Marlborough who, in 1702, recommended the 23rd Foot to Queen Anne for the honour of her approval that the Regiment should become one of the three original fusilier regiments and be designated “The Welch Regiment of Fusiliers”. They were in the front line of the assault on the hilltop fortifications at Schulenburg in 1704 and no less than sixteen of their officers were killed or wounded; and yet only a few weeks later they were in the van again at the great victory of Blenheim where a further nine officers fell.
In all Marlborough’s great battles the Regiment earned such distinction that in 1712 Queen Anne dubbed it “Our Royal Regiment of Welch Fusiliers”. When George I succeeded her, he further honoured it with the title of “His Royal Highness’s The Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Welch Fusiliers” and it is from this association with the eldest son of the Monarch that stems the regiment’s privilege of bearing on the Regimental Colour the three ancient badges of Edward, The Black Prince, our first Prince of Wales — the three feathers with the coronet and motto “lch Dien” (I serve), the rising sun and the red dragon rampant. The inclusion on the Regimental Colour of the White Horse of Hanover marks the occasion when George II at Dettingen was the last time the King led his troops in the field.
Perhaps one of the sternest tests that the regiment had to bear in those early days was at the Battle of Minden (1759). Advancing on a mistaken order The Royal Welch were on the left of a formation of only six British infantry battalions that attacked no less than eighty-one squadrons of French cavalry and tumbled them in ruins before turning on the mass of enemy infantry who were in support and drove them from the field. No wonder it is said that “At Minden, the impossible was achieved”.
The Regiment fought in numerous engagements during the American War of Independence and today the Fusiliers Redoubt at Yorktown is preserved and the old Union Flag flies over it to mark the only Redoubt that never fell by force of arms. Its intrepid defence was undertaken by a mere handful of gallant men who were the remnants of The Royal Welch Fusiliers.
No less than thirteen battle honours were won by the regiment during the campaigns against Napoleon serving with distinction in Egypt, at Albuhera and at Waterloo to mention only a few of the principal battles.
In the Crimean War the regiment’s achievements were no less glorious. At the Battle of Alma “the lamentable loss of the 23rd Fusiliers” was reported. 211 casualties had been suffered and two Victoria Crosses had been won, one of them by Sergeant Luke O’Connor whose gallantry in planting the Queen’s Colour on the Russian Redoubt gained him a commission. When he died in 1915 he was Major General Sir Luke O’Connor and Colonel of the Regiment. The casualties suffered in the whole campaign were severe; the Commanding Officer writing home after Sebastopol, himself severely wounded, said that 197 men of about 300 were either killed or wounded and that 14 out of 16 officers were hit.
During the Indian Mutiny the Regiment took part in the Relief of Lucknow and it was there two Victoria Crosses were won — one by Boy George Monger, the only boy in the British Army ever to have won the supreme award.
The 1st Battalion saw action in the South African War; and the 2nd was engaged in quelling the Boxer Rebellion in China, a campaign that saw a close unofficial association begun with the United States Marine Corps and which still exists. It is impossible in the space available to do justice to the huge contribution made during the Great War of 1914-18 by the 42 Battalions of the Regiment when almost ten thousand Royal Welchman died.
The sacrifice made by the 1st Battalion at St. Venant in May 1940 is well remembered when they held up two German Armoured Divisions but were finally overwhelmed. The reformed 1st and 2nd Battalions added further laurels to the Regiment by their service in 2nd and 36 Divisions respectively during the Burma Campaign 1942-45.
Today, from the back of each uniform collar flutters the five black ribbons of the “Flash”, a relic of the long abolished pigtail and the “peculiarity” which by the command of William IV “Should continue to be worn to mark the dress of that distinguished regiment”. Again today, the Ceremonial Pioneers enjoy the unique privilege at marching at the head of the Regiment being preceded only by the Regimental Goat, the Regiment’s oldest tradition.