The Royal Welch Fusiliers was a line infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales' Division. It was founded in 1689 to oppose James II and to take part in 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 Welch 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 infantry regiments in the British Army, hence the continued use of the archaic spelling of the word Welch instead of Welsh, and also historically Fuzileers instead of Fusiliers; these archaic spellings were engraved on swords the regiment carried during Napoleonic times. 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 nevertheless had continued to informally use the unofficial "Welch" form. The regiment was amalgamated with the Royal Regiment of Wales (RRW) on 1 March 2006, to become the 1st Battalion, Royal Welsh (RRW becoming the 2nd Battalion).
|23rd Regiment of Foot|
Welch Regiment of Fusiliers
Royal Welch Regiment of Fusiliers
Royal Welch Fusiliers
Regimental cap badge of the Royal Welch Fusiliers
|Active||16 March 1689 – 28 February 2006|
|Allegiance||United Kingdom (1801–2006)|
1–2 Regular battalions|
4–12 Volunteer and Territorial battalions
Up to 25 hostilities-only battalions
|Garrison/HQ||Hightown Barracks, Wrexham|
|Anniversaries||St. David's Day (1 March)|
Williamite War in Ireland|
Nine Years' War
War of the Spanish Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
American War of Independence
French Revolutionary Wars
Second China War
Third Anglo-Burmese War
Second Boer War
First World War
Second World War
|Ceremonial chief||HM The Queen|
|Major-General Brian Plummer|
The regiment was deployed to Ireland in August 1689 for service in the Williamite War in Ireland; it fought at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, the Capture of Waterford also in July 1690 and the Siege of Limerick in August 1690. In the following year, it fought at the Siege of Athlone in June and the Battle of Aughrim in July.
The regiment embarked for Flanders in 1694 for service in the Nine Years' War. It fought at the Siege of Namur in July 1695. The regiment returned to Flanders in 1701 for service in the War of the Spanish Succession; it saw action at the Battle of Schellenberg in July 1704 and the Battle of Blenheim in August 1704.
The regiment returned to Flanders in 1742 for service in the War of the Austrian Succession. It was in action at the Battle of Dettingen in June 1743, and at the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. It returned home later that year and was sent to Scotland to help suppress the Jacobite rising, where it saw action at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 before returning to the continent to fight at the Battle of Lauffeld in July 1747.
The regiment embarked for Germany in 1758 for service in the Seven Years' War. It fought at Battle of Minden in August 1759, the Battle of Warburg in July 1760 and the Battle of Kloster Kampen in October 1760 as well as the Battle of Wilhelmsthal in June 1762.
The regiment was sent to North America for service in the American Revolutionary War in 1773. The light infantry and grenadier companies of the Fusiliers saw bloody action at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775; the light infantry suffered particularly heavy casualties. All companies, except the grenadiers who were garrisoning New York City, fought at the Battle of Guilford Court House in March 1781. The regiment participated in nearly every campaign up to the Siege of Yorktown in September 1781. At the surrender of Yorktown, the Royal Welch Fusiliers was the only British regiment not to surrender its colours; these were smuggled out tied around an ensign's waist.
The regiment embarked for the West Indies in 1794 for service in the French Revolutionary Wars. It took part in the capture of Port-au-Prince in Haiti in 1795 before returning home in 1796. It also took part in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland in August 1799 and fought at the Battle of Alkmaar in October 1799. It then went to Egypt for the Battle of Alexandria in March 1801.
The regiment embarked for the Peninsula in 1810. It saw action at the Battle of Albuera in May 1811, the Siege of Badajoz also in May 1811 and the Battle of Salamanca in July 1812. It then pursued the French Army into France and fought at the Battle of the Pyrenees in July 1813, the Battle of Nivelle in November 1813 and the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. It also took part in the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 when it fought under Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Mitchell, in the 4th Brigade in the 4th Infantry Division.
In the nineteenth century, the regiment took part in the Crimean War, the Second Opium War, the Indian Mutiny and the Third Anglo-Burmese War. The regiment was not fundamentally affected by the Cardwell Reforms of the 1870s, which gave it a depot at Hightown Barracks in Wrexham from 1873, or by the Childers reforms of 1881 – as it already possessed two battalions, there was no need for it to amalgamate with another regiment. Under the reforms, the regiment became The Royal Welch Fusiliers on 1 July 1881. The regiment went on to serve in the Second Boer War of 1899-1902.
In 1908, the Volunteers and Militia were reorganised nationally, with the former becoming the Territorial Force and the latter the Special Reserve; the regiment now had one Reserve and four Territorial battalions.
The 1st Battalion landed at Zeebrugge as part of the 22nd Brigade in the 7th Division in October 1914 for service on the Western Front. The 1st Battalion became forever associated with the terribly destructive action at Mametz Wood in 1916. The 2nd Battalion landed at Rouen as part of the 19th Infantry Brigade which was an independent command at this time. The 2nd Battalion endured the horrors of the massacre in the mud of Passchendaele (Third Ypres) in 1917. In 1914 The Royal Welch Fusiliers did not participate in any Christmas 1914 Football Game with the Germans. The myth that they did was created in 2008 when a plaque was unveiled to the Royal Welch Fusiliers Truce at Frelinghien. Although it was then acknowledged that no football was played by 2nd Battalion, a game was played as part of the day's celebrations.
The 4th (Denbighshire) Battalion landed at Le Havre as part of the 3rd Brigade in the 1st Division in November 1914 for service on the Western Front. The 5th (Flintshire) Battalion, the 6th (Carnarvonshire & Anglesey) Battalion and the 7th (Merioneth & Montgomery) Battalion, all serving as part of the 158th (North Wales) Brigade of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, sailed from Devonport, bound for Gallipoli via Imbros (now Gökçeada) on 19 July 1915 and landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 9 August 1915: the battalions were evacuated from Gallipoli during December 1915 and moved to Egypt. The evacuation was forced by a combination of combat, disease and harsh weather which saw the division reduced to just 162 officers and 2,428 men, approximately 15% of full strength.
The 8th (Service) Battalion landed in Moudros as part of the 40th Brigade in the 13th (Western) Division in July 1915 and subsequently served in Gallipoli, Egypt and Mesopotamia. The 9th (Service) Battalion landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer as part of the 58th Brigade in the 19th (Western) Division in July 1915 for service on the Western Front. The 10th (Service) Battalion landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer as part of the 76th Brigade in the 25th Division in September 1915 for service on the Western Front. The 11th (Service) Battalion landed in France as part of the 67th Brigade in the 22nd Division in September 1915 but moved to Salonika in November 1915.
The 13th (Service) Battalion (1st North Wales), 14th (Service) Battalion, 15th (Service) Battalion (1st London Welsh), 16th (Service) Battalion and 17th (Service) Battalion (2nd North Wales) all landed in France as part of the 113th Brigade in the 38th (Welsh) Division in December 1915 for service on the Western Front.
During this war, several writers served with various battalions of the regiment in France, including the poets Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, David 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. Captain J C Dunn, a medical officer attached to the regiment's 2nd Battalion, 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. Another record can be found in Frank Richards' Old Soldiers Never Die, detailing how, as a reservist, he was recalled to the colours at the outbreak of the First World War, serving on the Western Front until the end of the war (including being in the front line during the famous Christmas Truce of 1914).
During the Second World War, the 1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers was a Regular Army unit and part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division. It served in France in 1940 with the British Expeditionary Force. The battalion fought in the short but fierce battles of France and Belgium and was forced to retreat and be evacuated during the Dunkirk evacuation. After two years spent in the United Kingdom, waiting and preparing for the invasion that never came (Operation Sea Lion), the 1st RWF and the rest of 2nd Division were sent to British India to fight the Imperial Japanese Army after a string of defeats inflicted upon the British and Indian troops. The battalion was involved in the Burma Campaign, particularly the Battle of Kohima, nicknamed Stalingrad of the East due to the ferocity of fighting on both sides, that helped to turn the tide of the campaign in the South East Asian theatre.
The 2nd Battalion also served in British India during the war. It was part of the 29th Independent Infantry Brigade. The battalion fought with the brigade throughout the war and served in the Battle of Madagascar in 1942 against the Vichy French. It was transferred to the South-East Asian Theatre soon after. In 1944, the battalion and brigade became part of 36th British Infantry Division, previously an Indian Army formation.
Both battalions came under the command of Lieutenant-General Bill Slim, commander of the British Fourteenth Army, described at the time as the 'Forgotten Fourteenth' (so-called because their exploits went almost unnoticed in the British Press and were seemingly of little or no importance to the war).
The 4th, 6th and 7th Battalions, all Territorial units, served in 158th (Royal Welch) Brigade assigned to the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division. They took part in the Battle of Normandy at Hill 112, where the 53rd Division suffered heavy casualties. Due to heavy fighting and casualties in Normandy, some of the battalions were posted to different brigades within the division. The 53rd again suffered heavily during Operation Veritable (the Battle of the Reichswald) under command of the First Canadian Army, in which action the British and Canadians, and the 53rd Division in particular, endured some of the fiercest fighting of the entire European Campaign against German paratroops.
The 8th, 9th and 10th Battalions were 2nd Line Territorial battalions raised in 1939 as duplicates of the 4th, 6th and 7th Battalions respectively. The battalions initially served in the 115th (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Brigade, 38th (Welsh) Division, itself a 2nd Line duplicate of the 53rd (Welsh) Division.
The 8th and 9th battalions never saw action abroad, remaining in the UK throughout the war in a training role, supplying trained replacements to units overseas. In this capacity, the 9th battalion served with the 80th Infantry (Reserve) Division and the 38th Infantry (Reserve) Division.
In the summer of 1942, the 10th battalion was converted into the 6th (Royal Welch) Battalion, Parachute Regiment. The 6th Parachute Battalion was assigned to the 2nd Parachute Brigade, alongside the 4th and 5th Parachute battalions, originally part of the 1st Airborne Division. The battalion played a small part in the Allied invasion of Italy during Operation Slapstick, an amphibious landing aimed at capturing the port of Taranto. After that, the 2nd Para Brigade became an independent brigade group. The brigade took part in Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France, being the only British troops to do so (see 2nd Parachute Brigade in Southern France). The brigade returned to Italy before being sent to Greece to help calm the Greek Civil War.
The 5th Battalion was a 1st Line unit that was converted, before the war, into the 60th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery in the Royal Artillery and, in 1939, raised a 2nd-Line duplicate, the 70th Anti-Tank Regiment.
The 11th (Home Defence) Battalion was raised in 1939. The 12th battalion, which was raised in 1940, was converted to the 116th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery in January 1942. It served with 53rd (Welsh) Division until December 1944, at which time the regiment was disbanded.
After the War ended, the regiment was mostly based in Germany and various British colonies. The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1957. The regiment did not take part in the Gulf War, but did perform several tours in Northern Ireland (Operation Banner) before being deployed to the Balkans.
During the Yugoslav Wars, the regiment came to attention when 33 of their men and 350 other UN servicemen part of UNPROFOR were taken hostage by Bosnian Serbs at Goražde on 28 May 1995. The situation caused some political debate as the UN troops had been given orders only to "deter attacks" and did not have a mandate or adequate equipment to fully defend the mainly Muslim town of Goražde, which was initially declared "safe" by the UN, thus rendering them exposed when armed members of the Army of Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Army) ignored the NATO ultimatum and attacked the town without warning. The regiment managed to hold off the Bosnian Serbs until they were forced to retreat into bunkers - those who did not make it quickly enough were taken hostage - and remained trapped underground while BiH Army reinforcements arrived and fought back. The commanding officer, Lt Col Jonathon Riley (later promoted to Lieutenant General), broke with protocol and directly reported to then Prime Minister John Major about the situation over the phone while in the bunker. All the men were eventually safely rescued. An unprecedented five gallantry awards, seven mentions in despatches and two Queen's Commendations for Valuable Service were awarded to the regiment. Although the incident was largely unreported at that time, the regiment was credited in hindsight by observers for saving the town from a possible genocide - after failing to take Goražde, the Bosnian Serbs continued south to Srebrenica, where they would massacre over 8,000 Bosniaks.
It was one of only five line infantry regiments never to have been amalgamated in its entire history, the others being The Royal Scots, The Green Howards, The Cheshire Regiment, and The King's Own Scottish Borderers. However, in 2004, it was announced that, as part of the restructuring of the infantry, the Royal Welch Fusiliers would merge with the Royal Regiment of Wales to form a new large regiment, the Royal Welsh.
The regiment was awarded the following battle honours:
The following members of the regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross:
The Colonels-in-Chief of the Regiment were:
The Colonels of the Regiment were:
As with the Royal Regiment of Wales, the regiment traditionally had a goat, never called a mascot. The tradition dated back to at least 1775, and possibly to the regiment's formation. The goat was always named 'Billy'.
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 when the order was issued the RWF were serving in Nova Scotia and had not received the instruction when the regiment departed to join an expedition to the West Indies. In 1834 the officers of the 23rd Foot were finally granted permission by William IV to wear this non-regulation item as a distinction on the full dress uniform as "a peculiarity whereby to mark the dress of that distinguished regiment". This was extended to all ranks in 1900.
Khaki service dress replaced the scarlet tunic as the principal uniform, and 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 officer 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." The efforts of the regiment to retain the distinction was further reinforced at a medal ceremony when King George V saw an officer of the regiment in the line. He ordered an About Turn and seeing the flash still on the tunic said sotto voce, "don't ever let anyone take it from you!" The wearing of the flash on service dress was extended to other ranks in 1924.
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 merger of 2006.