The Berkshire Regiment 1881-1885 The Royal Berkshire Regiment 1885-1959
The Berkshire Regiment 1881-1885
The Royal Berkshire Regiment 1885-1959
This section summarises the main events in the development of the Regiment from its formation up to the time of its amalgamation in 1959. For further information see (1) The Royal Berkshire Regiment by F. Loraine Petre, 2 volumes, originally published 1925, reprinted by the Museum in 2004; (2) The History of the Royal Berkshire Regiment 1920-1947 by Gordon Blight, 1953; (3) The Royal Berkshire Regiment (49th and 66th). The Last Twelve Years 1948-1959 by Major F Myatt, published by the Museum in 2001. (1) and (3) are available from the online shop.
1881 Cardwell Reforms
In 1873, Edward Cardwell, Minister of War under Gladstone, introduced his plan for the re-organisation of the infantry of the line. This was a gradual process culminating in the complete amalgamation of many Regiments in 1881. Under this system the 49th and the 66th became the 1st and 2nd battalions of the "Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Berkshire) Regiment". For the first time the Regiment had a permanent depot at Reading. In the 1930s this was named Brock Barracks.
1885 Battle of Tofrek - Granting of "Royal" Title
January 1885 found the 1st Battalion of the Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Berkshire) Regiment, (the old 49th) in the Suakin area of the Sudan. It was part of the British force sent to assist in protecting British authority which was being threatened by a fanatical Moslem leader, the Mahdi, and in particular a local chief, Osman Digna, who was supporting the revolt.
In March 1885 Osman Digna and his army were reported as being some 12 miles south-west of Suakin and on the 22nd it was decided to establish forward depots and a force moved off from Suakin for that purpose. The force, commanded by Major General Sir John McNeill, VC, consisted of the 1st Berkshires, a battalion of Royal Marines and three Indian Regiments together with a little over a squadron of cavalry and a vast unwieldy convoy of pack animals and light carts. The country was covered in dense scrub which made movement so slow that after several hours of tiring march the force had only reached the small staging post of Tofrek, about eight miles from Suakin.
General McNeill decided to halt there as a small clearing in the scrub offered a suitable camp site. Working parties were out constructing zaribas (rectangular defensive works of cut scrub and thorn bush) when without warning thousands of yelling Arabs erupted from the dense scrub through which they had crawled unobserved. Some managed to penetrate the as yet unfinished zaribas and the Berkshires were able to grab their rifles only moments before the main body of the enemy attacked. The Arabs had few firearms but the range was so close that a number of the Regiment were struck down by thrown spears. Once an organised line was established the immediate danger was over but the Arabs continued to attack with fanatical bravery. The disciplined fire of the soldiers inflicted over a thousand casualties although the Arabs’ determination brought them at times to close quarters and there followed fierce hand to hand fighting. Casualties were fairly heavy. The British force as a whole lost about 300. The Arab casualties, from the nature of things, were not known accurately but probably reached 2,000 and Osman Digna’s power was broken.
Tofrek was another "soldiers’ battle" in which the discipline of individual soldiers averted a terrible disaster and turned it into victory. To mark its conduct at Tofrek (which was sometimes referred to as "McNeill’s zariba") the Regiment received what was then a unique honour when on 1 October 1885 it was notified that:
"Her Majesty has been graciously pleased, in recognition of the gallant conduct of Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Berkshire Regiment) in the action at Tofrek, to approve of the Regiment being in future designated Princess of Charlotte of Wales’s Royal Berkshire Regiment. Her Majesty has been further pleased to approve of the facings of the Regiment being changed from white to blue, the Royal facings."
After the battle the battalion returned to Egypt, but the situation in the Sudan required a return visit in October the same year. On the 30th October they fought a further battle at Ginnis. They were later awarded the battle honours of 'Suakin 1885' 'and 'Tofrek'. After leaving the Sudan half of the battalion went to Malta, with the other half going to Cyprus. Service in Bermuda, Halifax, Gibraltar and Ireland followed with a final posting to Aldershot where they embarked for the First World War.
1899 The Boer War
The 1st Battalion as such played no part in the Boer War, serving in England and Gibraltar during this time. However various drafts were sent out to join the 2nd Battalion (the old 66th Regiment) which had embarked for South Africa in 1898. The experiences of the Berkshires were routine and the 2nd Battalion did not take part in any major actions. For the first part of the war the Battalion was split into two sections, operating in different areas. It also supplied two companies of Mounted Infantry. One half Battalion was with General French's force at Colesberg where it did so well that General French wrote on 2 Feb 1900 that
"To Major F.W.N. McCracken and the four companies of the Berkshire Regiment serving with this force is the successful attack on Colesberg on the 1st January principally due.
I cannot speak too highly of this officer's coolness, courage, and intrepidly, or of the gallantry and discipline displayed by his officers and men in making the night assault which he led so well.
...worthy of even greater praise is the ... tenacity with which they have held the position ever since, and the skill with which they have entrenched themselves against a constant fire from artillery and musketry..."
The combined Battalion was in action at Mosilikatse Nek where Pte William House was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for attempting to rescue a wounded comrade under heavy fire, and was himself severely wounded in the process. In 1902 this award was cancelled and replaced by the Victoria Cross.
1914 – 1919 The Great World War – An Overiew
After the Boer War the 2nd Battalion moved to Egypt and then in 1906 to India. It was still serving there in 1914. Meanwhile the 1st Battalion after its time in Gibraltar served in Ireland and England.
Following the Haldane army reforms in 1908 the 3rd Militia Battalion was transferred to the Special Reserve. It was embodied on mobilisation in 1914 for the First World War, and like all Special Reserve Battalions it served as a regimental depot, training drafts for overseas service and carrying out home defence duties.
On the outbreak of the First World War the 1st Battalion was in Aldershot and the 2nd in India. Both Battalions mobilised and were sent to the Western Front where they spent the next four years. The misery of trench warfare and the catastrophic scale of losses that developed in France and Flanders during what was also called the Great War are well known. Less familiar are the battlegrounds of Italy and Salonika. The Royal Berkshires raised 13 Battalions which served in these theatre of operations.
1914 First World War
The 1st Bn was at Aldershot when war was declared on the 4th August. They departed for France on the 12th August 1914 and participated in the fighting withdrawal from Mons as part of 6th Brigade, of the 2nd Division. Their first major action was at the Bridge on the Sambre 25th/26th August near the village of Maroilles. The final point of the Retreat was reached on 7th September when they reached Le Poteau. They had marched 236 miles in 15 days, with only one days halt, an average of 15.7 miles per day. The flow of fighting was reversed on 9th September when they crossed the Marne and then the Aisne on the 14th. They then settled into trench warfare based at La Metz Farm. The Battalion were involved in the 1st battle of Ypres from the 22nd October to the 13th November. They went into Divisional reserve on the 15th November and spent the winter in and out of trenches.Their actions since August were summed up by the Brigadier on the 21st December when they marched into Caestre when he said “Splendid, just as you have always fought”.Christmas day was spent in the trenches. The battalion did not take part in the Christmas truce.
The 2nd Battalion was serving at Jhansi, India when war was declared. They embarked at Bombay on the troopship SS Dongala on the 27th September 1914 and reached Liverpool on the 23rd October. After a brief stop-over at Winchester where they joined the 25th Brigade, 8th Division they set out for France and arrived at Le Havre on the 5th November with 30 officers and 978 other ranks. Their first job was to relieve the 1st East Surreys in trenches at Fauquissart and there they suffered terribly from trench foot and other illness’s caused by the abrupt change of climate. The next three months were spent in and out of trenches including Christmas day when they took part in the Christmas Truce.
3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion
As soon as the war was declared the function of the battalion was deal with all the reservists that were being called up. They processed through the depot in two days 1,800 reservists. 540 went to the 1st Battalion at Aldershot and the remainder went with the 3rd battalion to their war time station, Fort Purbrook, near Portsmouth. In October they relocated to Victoria Barracks, Portsmouth. Here they trained new recruits, looked after wounded soldiers who were reassessed and reposted to an appropriate unit.
On the outbreak of the war the 4th Battalion was almost at full strength and were mobilized on the 4thAugust. By the following day the complete battalion assembled at Reading. They initially deployed to their war time station at Portsmouth. This was followed by moves to Swindon, Dunstable and Chelmsford. In September they were re-designated as the 1st/4th with a 2nd/4th Battalion being formed. In December they were still in training.
A second line territorial battalion formed from the overspill from the 1st/4th in September 1914. They were initially under the command of an old Berkshire Volunteer officer Colonel Hanbury, and it was on his farm at Hitcham in Buckinghamshire that they first formed up. They trained hard in this area and on Christmas day they were treated to a dinner by the townsfolk of Maidenhead.
5th/6th/7th & 8th (Service) Battalions
It was quickly realised that the British Army was not big enough for the task ahead and as a result Service or Kitchener battalions were formed. The men of Berkshire soon filled the ranks. The 5th Battalion was formed at Shorncliffe on the 24th August under the command of Colonel Foley, and trained for the remainder of the year.
The numbers were so large that the 6th Battalion was raised from the 5th Battalion overspill at Shorncliffe, they were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dowell.
The 7th Battalion were initially formed at Reading under the commanded of Colonel Bray (a Maiwand survivor) where after a short spell in Wiltshire spent Christmas in Reading. The 8th Battalion were formed at Reading in September under the command of an Indian Army officer Colonel Walton. They remained in the Reading area until Christmas training.
9th (Service) Battalion
This battalion was formed early in November 1914 as a service battalion, but the following year was re-designated as a reserve Battalion. . Its function was to train solder for the front line battalions.
1915 First World War Continued
They were relieved on Boxing day returning to Beuvry for a rest. They spent the winter in and out of trenches, mounting attacks at Ducks Bill (20th Feb 1915), The Keep (10/11th March) and Richebourg (15th May) On the 16th May they retired to a position near Béthune to receive drafts from the 3rd Battalion. The summer was spent in and out of trenches before they took part in the Battle of Loos from the 25th September to 13th October 1915. On the 28th they lost 288 men in one day. During this battle Lieutenant Turner led a bombing attack down Slag Alley at Fosse 8 winning a Victoria Cross. Unfortunately he was wounded and later died. The winter of 1915 was spent recuperating and the inevitable spells in trenches. They spent Christmas day in the Trenches at Beuvry.
The first real action for the battalion came at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle which took place between the 10th and 15th March 1915 when they lost 75 men killed, 223 wounded and 17 missing. Further losses were incurred on the 10th May in a confused raid on German trenches near Bac St Maur. The summer was spent alternating between front line duty and billets. They were part of the first phase of the Battle of Loos at Bois Grenier on the 25th September 1915. None of them managed to get into the German 2nd line trenches and they suffered 131 killed, 206 wounded and 60 missing. This was followed by a spell in Divisional reserve at Fleurbaix and then two months of intensive training to incorporate all the new men who had been drafted in to replace the casualties. They spent Christmas in billets at Sercus.
3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion
The Battalion continued with their duties of training new recruits, looked after wounded soldiers who were re-graded and reposted.
The battalion left for France in 1915 and initially took up positions to gain front line experience at Romarin with experienced units of the 4th Division. On the 15th April the battalion took over trenches in its own right in Ploegsteert Wood where their first officer casualty was Lieutenant Ronnie Poulton-Palmer a famous England three quarter Rugby player. They remained in and around this area until June manning the trenches, patrolling and generally becoming accustomed to soldiering in the field. In July they redeployed to Hebuterne where again they took up positions in the trenches, this time a lot closer to the enemy. The remainder of the year was spent patrolling and they were engaged in this task over the Christmas period.
2nd /4th Battalion
Early in 1915 the battalion went to Northampton for further training and then to Chelmsford in April to join 184th Brigade. Whilst here they assisted in digging trenches for the defence of London. During the Christmas period they were still in training.
The Battalion moved to France on Sunday 30th May. Their initial training was at Armentières and they moved to Ploegsteert June 14th to learn trench warfare from a regular battalion. Throughout the summer of 1915 they alternated between trench duty and periods in reserve and for most men it was all a great game. When the Battle of Loos opened on 25th September they were engaged in creating diversions and uncertainty in the German lines well to the north of the main battlefield. The following day however they began a move south and were brought to grim reality by the sight of casualties and appalling conditions. They made their attack on the 13th October at Hulluch Quarry and acquitted themselves well but 65 were either killed or died of their wounds and 91 wounded many of whom later died. They retired to a Reserve location and Christmas was spent at Béthune
The Battalion arrived in France on the 25th July 1915 and sustained their first casualty when Pte S Danby was wounded by a shell whilst they were practising trench warfare. Their first real job was holding a front line trench opposite Mametz which began 22nd August 1915. They missed the battle of Loos being kept in the Somme sector and doing spells in and out of the trenches. On the 2nd August they went into the trenches at Bouzincourt, North West of Albert where they received instruction from experience troops. They later took up positions in trenches near Mametz where they started to take casualties. On the 16th September they took over the trench line opposite La Boisselle where the main problems were mines. Mining fatigues were very heavy, and the battalion had 112 men working day and night in four six hour shifts of 28 each. Over a 3000 bags of chalk were taken out daily. They spent Christmas in the Albert area with the main enemy being the mud. They were fortunate in being under the command of Major General Ivor Maxse whose training methods were perhaps the most forward thinking in the British Army.
In early May 1915 the 7th went to Fovant near Salisbury to join 78th Brigade where at last they got khaki uniforms (previously they were wearing blue post office uniforms as these were all that had been available). On 21st July the 78th Brigade moved to Sandhill Camp near Warminster to join 26th Division and on 15th September they embarked for France. In France the 7th battalion were attached to other units for familiarization at Ailly sur Somme and Aubigny but on the 9th November they were posted to Salonika and departed from Marseilles on the 11th November on the MT Arcadian. They reached Alexandria on the 18th and Salonika on the 24th. At the end of the year the battalion were in trenches at Yailajik.
The battalion left for France on the 7th August 1915 and were allocated to 1st Division to replace one of the Guards Battalions in 2nd Brigade. This was one of the original BEF Regular Divisions and the 8th battalion were expected to meet Regular standards with no allowances made for their volunteer status. They began their service in France with 27 officers and 765 other ranks. For the next two months they were in training for the forthcoming Battle of Loos, based in the Ames area. They set off on the 21st September and were in position on the 24th. The Battle of Loos opened on September 25th and the 8th attacked Hulluch village. One platoon fought its way into the village and captured two German field guns as well as a number of machine guns. 2nd Lt Lawrence won the MC for his exploits. The casualties however were enormous. The 8th lost 493 and was reduced to 2 officers and 184 men. Many of the wounded were returned to the battalion and on the 5th and 10th October, reinforcements arrived from the 9th (Reserve) Battalion. They attacked again on the 13th October, losing nearly another 140 men and were then withdrawn to Lillers where they spent the winter. They were carrying out trench duties in the same area at Christmas.
9th (Reserve) Battalion
Early in the year they sent four of their officers to Join the Hampshire Regiment at Gallipoli. In May they were ordered to Bovington Camp, near Wool and in June they were changed from a service battalion to a reserve battalion. They remained here for the remainder of the year. During the year they provided drafts of trained soldiers to the front line battalions of the regiment
10th (Labour) Battalion
The 10th Battalion was formed in the latter part of 1915 under Col J H Balfour as a Labour Battalion. It was based at Cambridge Barracks in Portsmouth and was formed of men who were deemed not suitable for front line duties. After October 1915 large numbers of conscripts began arriving and those classified as for Labour Service were initially allocated to Headquarters Works Companies but these were then formed into the 10th Battalion. They were brought back briefly to Reading over the Christmas of 1915. On the 7th May 1916 they were mobilised and embarked for France after having been delayed by influenza, on the night of the 18th/19th June. They went to no 3 Labour camp at Rouen where they were employed on loading and unloading supplies from trains. They became the 158th and 159th Companies of the newly formed Labour Corps on 12th May 1917 and virtually severed all links with the rest of the Regiment.
1916 First World War Continued
They started the year out of the line, training until the middle of January when they returned to the trenches at Hingette .The winter of 1916 was spent recuperating and with the inevitable further spells in trenches. They were preparing to join in the Battle of the Somme with their major action taking place on the 27th July at Delville Wood. During this time they lost 8 officers and 256 other ranks. They saw little more action until the 14th November when they attacked in the area of Munich Trench, near Serre. Of the 435 men who took part in this action, 211 became casualties. Christmas was spent behind the lines playing football.
From January to March 1916 the battalion remained west of Lille with some trench duty. On the 28th March they were moved to the Somme area as part of the build up for the coming offensive. Towards the end of June they conducted a silent reconnaissance on the German trenches and found them quite snug and happy in their deep dugouts despite the artillery bombardment which had supposedly reduced the Germans capacity to defend themselves. They reported their findings to higher authority but were told they were mistaken. The 2nd Battalion attacked Ovillers on the first day of the Somme offensive and had 437 casualties. The remnant of the battalion had to withdraw to reform and recuperate and the rest of the summer and early autumn was spent near Vermelles with only a few periods of trench duty. They came back to the Somme area on the 10th October and the 23rd took part in an action at Zenith Trench which cost the battalion a further 203 casualties. The remainder if the year was spent in and out of the trenches with a few raids to break the monotony. On Christmas day they were resting behind the line.
3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion
The Battalion continued with their duties of training new recruits, looked after wounded soldiers who were re-graded and reposted.
The early part of the year was spent in the trenches lasting until spring. It is said to be the longest spell allotted to any division throughout the war without rest. In May they came under a severe and violent attack. The battalion lost 98 men, Killed, wounded and taken prisoner. After this attack they reorganised and carried out some more training. In July they were ready for further action but did not attack on the 1st July. Their first attack took place on the 22nd at a location called Sickle trench, followed by other attacks in the same area. After this series of events the battalion had lost 35% of its strength. In August they went to Bouzincourt where they were in support of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry they faced their most serious task to date losing most of their officers. They ended up on the Thipeval ridge where they later took part in the successful attack that captured it. In October they regrouped near Arras, followed by trench duties in different parts of the front line. During the year they had lost 779 men. They were in the line on Christmas day.
On the 26th May the battalion left England for France and regrouped at Merville. Their first action was a raid at Ferme du Bois 13th July 1916. This was close to the Belgian border and well away from the Somme fighting. On the 17th they took part in a further attack but lost forty men to shellfire before they arrived in the front line. This attack failed with the casualties being 22 Killed, 123 missing and 9 missing. They moved south to the Somme on 19th November 1916 but took almost no part in that battle. The rest of the year was spent in different trench locations and at the end of the year they were at Varennes.
The first few months were spent either in the trenches or training for the 'big push' They were transferred to III Corps on 16th June 1916 and made their debut at the Somme on 3rd July at Ovillers fighting over ground strewed with the bodies of men from the 2nd Battalion who attacked two days before. This engagement won them 6 MCs, 6 DCMs, and 17 MMs but the Battalion was reduced to 340 men. They came under severe counter-attack on the 8th August winning another 14 MMs. 300 reinforcements joined them in October and they retired to Arras to recover. The winter of 1916 was spent in and out of the trenches and training.
They spent the first two months in the area of La Boisselle and Albert. A number of moves followed with the training used to prepare them for the forth coming Battle of the Somme. The First Day of the Somme, July 1st 1916 saw the Battalion on their first major engagement. They were very close to the huge mine that was exploded at Casino Point and a few of the 6th were injured by flying debris but the effect on the Germans was devastating and the survivors surrendered to the 6th in droves. The 18th Division was one of the few to completely attain all their objectives that day and the 6th Battalion advanced over one and a half miles in the day. They spent the night of the 1st July in Montauban Alley, preparing for the counter attack, which never came.
Their second engagement was at Delville Wood on the 19th July where they served as part of the 9th (Scottish) Division. They were desperately trying to plug the gap caused when the South Africans were driven out of the wood so there was very little planning and great confusion about lines of command. The 6th lost 27 killed and 127 wounded.
The third engagement, also on the Somme on the 26th/27th September saw the 6th in mainly a supporting role in the battle for the Schwaben Redoubt just by Thiepval.
The winter of 1916 was spent variously resting in billets and in and out of trenches in the Ancre Valley. They spent Christmas resting in billets at Le Titre near Abbeville.
For the first few months they were engaged in Training and by May they finished constructing the defensive line when they moved to Redan Camp where most of the men caught either dysentery or Malaria or both. On the 22nd July they started a march north to take over lines between Lake Doiran and the River Vardar which had been held by the French. The next few months were spent on patrols and capturing hills one by one with the odd raid on the Bulgar lines to capture prisoners. The Battalion was in the Front Line on Christmas Day.
They spent the first four months in the area of Noeux-les-Mines, Lillers and Allouagne. They returned to action on the 2nd May when a strong fighting patrol attacked a German position known as the Double Crassier. Their next major action was on the Somme on the 14th July 1916 when they attacked the two woods at Bazentin. This was followed up by an attack on Mametz Wood on 18th August and at High Wood on September 3rd. They were withdrawn from the line on 2nd October and spent the winter and spring in and out of trenches in the Albert area spending Christmas in billets at Albert.
9th (Reserve) Battalion
They remained at Bovingdon for the early part of the year until April, when it became the 37th Training Reserve Battalion.
11th (Labour) Battalion
Formed in Parkhurst in June 1916 and moved to France on 24 July 1916. Became 160th and 161st Labour Companies of the Labour Corps in April 1917.
12th (Labour) Battalion
Formed in Freshwater in June 1916 and moved to France in August 1916. Became 162nd and 163rd Labour Companies of the Labour Corps in April 1917.
13th (Labour) Battalion
Formed in Cosham in July 1916 and moved to France on 21 September 1916. Became 164th and 165th Labour Companies of the Labour Corps in April 1917.
1st Garrison Home Service Battalion
This unit was raised in October 1916 and disbanded in December 1917. They were the for runners of the Home Guard.
1917 First World War Continued
The Battalion started the year in a rear area keeping the roads free of snow where they remained until early February. On the 4th Feb 1917 a small fighting patrol launched an attack at Courcelette and achieved the odd result of taking prisoner exactly the same numbers of German officers and of men that the patrol itself consisted of. Further attacks were made at Miraumont on the 15th February and Oppy Wood on the 29th April where Lance Corporal J Welch won a Victoria cross. By the 1st May there was only enough men left to form two companies of 4 officers and 100 Other ranks each which was merged with the 23rd Royal Fusiliers to form a composite battalion. At the end of a second action at Oppy on the 3rd May the battalion was down to 2 officers, both wounded and 94 other ranks. They were restored to a complement of 38 officers and 694 Other ranks by the end of August. They were back in action for the Battle of Cambrai near Bourlon between the 26th and 30th November 1917 as part of 99th Brigade. The 2nd Division withstood the assault by two German Divisions with very little assistance from other units of the Division. After this it was back to the rear areas and then to the rest of the winter in the trenches. Christmas day was spent in O’Shea Camp. Lebucquiere.
The Battalion retuned to the front line on the 23rd January 1917 near Sailly-Saillisel spending the next month improving the defences. After some stiff training they again attacked on the 3rd March attacking Pallas and Fritz trenches, all objectives were gained. They remained in this position under very severe enemy bombardment, but held the line. On the 30th March the battalion carried out two very successful fighting patrols causing the enemy to withdraw. Most of June was spent in the Hazebrouck area where they absorbed new drafts and trained. On the 5th July they took up positions in the town of Ypres, carrying out trench duties on the outskirts, which involved many raids and patrols. On the 10th July they took part in a major raid at Hooge which cost them many casualties. In August they took part in a major attack on Iron Cross Redoubt acting as the spearhead for the 8th Division. After this action the battalion was reduced to 60 men. After this they remained in reserve until September. They came back to the Somme area on the 10th October and were in and out of trenches almost in constant contact with the enemy. They celebrated an early Christmas, on 23rd December, for they returned to Passchendaele on 24th December for another week in the line.
3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion
The Battalion continued with their duties of training new recruits, looked after wounded soldiers who were re-graded and reposted. In November they were sent to Ireland where they were based at Portobello Barracks, Dublin.
January was spent reorganizing and at the end of the month they moved to Hamel where their major enemy was the adverse winter weather conditions. In March they carried out a successful raid with few casualties. On the 4th April they took part in a major operation to take the villages of Ronssoy, Basse Boulogne and Lempire. The following months were spent in and out of the front line. On the 16th August they took part in a major attack at St Julien losing about one third of their battle strength. After this and a number of other actions they moved south and took up billets at Villars-au-Bois, North West of Arras. Here they received drafts including a number from the 3rd Wiltshire Regiment. In early November they took up positions in front of Vimy Ridge and it was here that they suffered their last casualties on French Soil when they received news that they were being sent to Italy. The battalion travelled to Italy in two trains finally settling after a long journey at Croce Bigolina not far from the Asiago Plateau. It was here that they spent Christmas.
The first two months were spent in the rear area, reorganizing and training. They went into the line on the 16th February reliving a French Battalion at Deniecourt. They carried out raids and reconnaissance missions. Their next action was at Bihecourt-Pine Copse on 2nd April 1917. The summer was filled with training and trench duties, gradually moving back northwards. On the 22nd August they began their part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) with an attack on the enemy defences SE of St Julien. The next few months were spent in the unremitting mud and carnage of Flanders. On the 21st August the battalion provided thirteen platoons for dealing with strong points during a major attack at St Julien. This was a new tactic whereby the assaulting troops would by pass enemy strong points and leave them to designated parties. Each and every one of the assaults on these positions became a mini battle in its own right. In this action the battalion suffered 32 men killed, 111 wounded (some dying later) 79 Missing. They rested during October and later moved back south to take part in the Battle of Cambrai on the 27th November 1917 but their participation was quite marginal. They remained in the line until the 23rd December, when it went back to Lechelle where then spent Christmas.
The winter of 1917 was spent in and out of the trenches and training. They engaged in a short raid on the 17th March which was modestly successful. On the 9th April they moved out from Arras through a network of tunnels and distinguished themselves once more at Battery Valley where they captured many German guns, even managing to turn some of them on the fleeing Germans. The summer of 1917 was spent mainly in and around Arras but there were no major actions. They arrived at Peronne on 15th November to prepare for the Battle of Cambrai which was launched 20th November. They achieved all their objectives despite their tanks suffering breakdowns but lost 6 officers and 161 Other Ranks out of a starting tally of 17 officers and 590 Other Ranks. The German counter-attack came on the 30th November and they were forced to retire. Their German opponents later commented on the quality of the greatcoats and the ample supply of food which the 5th had been obliged to leave behind. The Germans were most appreciative of their windfall. By the time the battle concluded the 5th had lost 8 officers and 295 Other ranks. They went into Reserve for the winter and spent Christmas day at Merville.
The winter of 1917 was spent variously resting in billets and in and out of trenches in the Ancre Valley. The 17th/18th February saw them in action again in the battle of Boom Ravine when again they met all their objectives but had to withdraw as they had got too far ahead of the rest. Their final engagements were at Third Ypres. They moved north on the 3rd July 1917 and on the 31st they made their move against a background of flawed intelligence reports and 30th Division having taken a wrong direction. Consequently when they approached Sanctuary Wood they came under strong German Machine gun fire. However they achieved their objectives and in the course of the battle, their Medical Officer, Captain Harold Ackroyd earned a Victoria Cross for the way he attended to the wounded under the hottest fire. He had no less than 23 separate commendations. The final action was at Poelcapelle on the 9th October when their CO, Lt Col H G F Longhurst was killed. After that they spent a miserable winter around Houthulst Forest. They were at this location at Christmas.
The next few months were spent on patrols and capturing hills one by one with the odd raid on the Bulgar lines to capture prisoners. It was not until April 1917 that they began serious offensives. On the 24th they were one of the assaulting battalions when a major attack was launched near Doiron. At the end of these operations the casualty figures were 16 killed, 225 Wounded and 36 missing. On the 9th May they took part in another major attack, this time one that failed they had 14 killed, 131 wounded and 9 missing. In November 1917 they were engaged on building a railway while being withdrawn to Divisional Reserve - through the winter of 1917 they were battling against malaria and blizzards which made life pretty unpleasant for all concerned. Christmas was spent constructing railways.
The first month was spent training moving to a position on the Somme south of Peronne remaining there until the end of March. The month of May was spent road building. On the 18th June the battalion moved back north to the Belgian Border to guard the Yser Canal and familiarise themselves with coastal defence work. They were withdrawn to Le Clipon camp near Dunkirk just after the Germans launched a major attack on their former positions and destroying several battalions. At Le Clipon (known as Hush Hush Land) they trained for amphibious warfare as they were designated to be part of the British force to land on the Belgian coast as the follow up to the 3rd Battle of Ypres. Thus they missed most of the horrors of Passchendaele They returned to the Ypres area arriving there on the 30th October. For the remainder of the year they took part in minor raids, and on Christmas day they were at Reninghof.
1918 First World War Continued
In mid January together with the rest of the Division they took up a sector of the line at La Vacquerie where in February they received a draft of 10 officers and 160 men from the recently disbanded 6th Battalion. From this position they carried out many fighting patrols. During this time they were made aware of an impending German attack .They were in Corps reserve at Manancourt when, on the 21st March, the German offensive began. By the 23rd the Germans were upon them and they were forced to retreat suffering heavy casualties. They fought rearguard actions until the 27th when they were relieved. April, May and June 1918 were fairly quiet months, but in early July the great influenza epidemic struck. Attacks began again on the 21st August and the Battalion were involved in numerous actions until the Germans were retreating rapidly and it was mainly a case of following them and dealing with rearguards actions. Quite heavy casualties were incurred during this final phase of the war and they were at St Hilaire when the armistice was signed on November 11th
The battalion spent the first two months of 1918 holding the line near Passchendaele. When the German Spring offensive broke on the 21st March 1918 the 2nd Battalion was moved back to the Somme area to try to stem the attack. They saw action first on the 24th March and gradually retreated until 25th Brigade were withdrawn on the 28th March. From 27th April they were in the French sector and faced the third German attack on the Aisne on 27th May. The casualty return almost tells the story: killed 2, wounded 51, missing 653. They had been overrun and virtually wiped out.
The remnant of the battalion which then comprised 7 officers and 120 other ranks was merged with the other remnants of 8th Division to form the 1/8th Composite Battalion. The Division was reduced to two such battalions, the 1/8th and the 2/8th. On the 12th June they were transferred back to the British Army and moved to near Dieppe where the 2nd Battalion was rebuilt.
They were back in the line at Vimy Ridge on the 22nd July and were part of an attack on the 21st September when the advance to Victory began. The Germans were pursued towards Douai and the 2nd Battalion were at Pommeroeuil when the Armistice took effect on November 11th.
They returned to Reading on the 17th May 1919 having been reduced to cadre by leave and demobilisation. A detachment of the Battalion was sent to North Russia to fight the Bolsheviks but spent most of the time sailing up and down the Volga. The detachment returned to England on the 27th September to reform for peacetime duties.
3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion
The Battalion were in Dublin continued with their duties of training new recruits, looked after wounded soldiers who were re-graded and reposted. During the war 21,605 men passed through the battalion, besides officers. At the end of 1918 nearly all the demobilized men from the front line battalion were processed through the battalion, including many Prisoners of war. Whilst engaged in this task the battalion also played its part in occasional round ups of Sinn Feiners. The battalion was disembodied on the 5th September 1919. 1,040 men were made over to the 2nd Battalion.
Early January was spent in familiarizing themselves with the area and new language. After an inspection by the Divisional commander they spent February at the Convent di Praglia. On the 27th February the battalion returned to front line duties at Montello. They remained here for two weeks having only one casualty. In April they became the divisional reserve at Granezza near the Asiago Plateau where they were to remain until October. Their first major action was an attack by the Austrians on the 16th June. This was resisted with one company capturing sixty prisoners. The next few moths were spent in aggressive patrolling which continued until the end of the year. The war for the battalion ended in the Village of Vigalzano.
They returned to the front line on the 14th January facing Pontruet. On the 21st March when the German Spring Offensive started they were at Marteville. Whilst carrying out a counter attack they lost their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dimmer VC, MC on the 22nd. The next few days they fought a valiant retreat until they were withdrawn on the 30th March. From August to November 1918 they were part of the final British offensive which eventually forced the Germans to seek an Armistice. They finished the war at Sepmeries. They remained in the Cambrai/Arras area until May 1919 when they were sent to Egypt to guard Turkish POWs and help deal with civil unrest. They were disbanded there 25th September 1919 with most of the men transferring either to the 1/6th Glosters or the 1/8th Hampshire’s. The colours which had presented to them in France on the 6th January 1919 were returned to Reading and were deposited in Barclays Bank for safe keeping.
They went into Reserve for the winter of 1918 around Béthune but had to move south rapidly when the German Spring Offensive began on the 21st March. However despite coming under occasional attack their role was primarily defensive and they were able to return to Reserve on the 29th March. They came under attack at Bouzincourt on the 5th April but it was beaten off. The 5th joined up with the Anson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division on the 24th May to launch an attack at Hamel. They captured a number of prisoners and guns but lost 14 dead with 73 wounded and 19 missing, mainly a reflection of the inexperience of the newly drafted Reinforcements. By the 30th June they were back to full strength of 719 and ready to join in the final defeat of the Germans. After that the advance was in full flight with engagements at Meaulte on the 22nd August, at Carnoy 26th August, Nurlu 5th September, Epehy 17th September and Tetard Wood 19th September. They were moved to Arras on the 5th October and saw their final engagement at the Canal de l'Escau on the 28th. When the Armistice came on the 11th November the 5th were at Vieux Cond and then retired to winter quarters at Erre near Valenciennes.. Demobilization began on the 1st Jan 1919 and Colours were presented on the 14th February 1919. The remnant of the battalion left France on the 15th June and they had a Civic Reception at Reading on the 18th. Demobilization was completed immediately afterwards and the Battalion disbanded.
In February 1918 the order was given to reduce each Brigade to three rather than four Battalions and the 6th Battalion were dropped from 53rd Brigade and disbanded, most of the men going to other Royal Berkshire Battalions.
In Spring 1918 they returned to the front and on the 22nd September the great advance began. By September 30th the Bulgars had surrendered and the 7th were advancing towards Sofia as part of the Army of occupation. However on the 15th October they were diverted to Mustafa Pasha and Adrianople and on to Rustchuk on the Danube where the influenza epidemic struck.Later they went to Batum and Tiflis and finally to Constantinople where they were mostly demobilised. A cadre returned to Reading on the 31st August 1919 to lay up the Colours at St Giles Church. The battalion was finally technically merged with a Glosters battalion and absorbed into the 8th Ox and Bucks Light Infantry in November 1919
In the great re-organisation of the army that took place in February 1918, the 8th were sent to join the 18th Division, taking the place of the 6th battalion in 53rd Brigade in the St Quentin area. Thus they were at the sharp end of the German offensive on the 21st March and had a large number of men taken prisoner. The remnant of the battalion withdrew gradually to Nampcel where they were formed into a composite battalion with remnants of the Royal West Kent’s and the 53rd Trench Mortar battalion. Together the three battalions had only 23 officers and 433 other ranks. They formed part of the defence of Amiens on 4th April and later withdrew to St Fuscien where they began to receive drafts of men from other units.
The final British offensive began on the 8th August with the Battle of Amiens with 8th in action at Gressaire Wood. They captured the great crater at La Boiselle on the 24th. They were in action again at Trones Wood on the 27th August and at St Pierre Vaast Wood on 2nd September.
There was a tragedy on September 5th when a train load of new conscripts arrived at Mericourt Station. As they were disembarking a shell exploded accidentally killing 31 and injuring 25. The pursuit of the Germans resumed at L’Empire on the 19th September, at L’Eveque Wood on the 23rd October, at Mount Carmel 26th October and Mormal Forest 4th November. The war ended with the 8th at Le Cateau.
Here they remained, clearing up the left over of war and collecting salvage. They were burying dead animals and trying to identify booby traps as part of their regular work. There was plenty of time for sport and recreation and gradually men were discharged back to civilian life. The Battalion was reduced to cadre and disbanded on the 12th April 1919.
First World War Summary
The Regiment earned 55 Battle Honours and 2Lt Alexander Turner and L/Cpl James Welch were awarded the Victoria Cross. The cost in deaths was heavy with the Royal Berkshires losing 6,688 men.
For a more detailed examination of what each battalion did in the First World War go to the War Diaries Section of this Web site.
1919 – 1939: Between the Wars
After the First World War the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion was disembodied in 1919, with personnel transferred to the 2nd Battalion. The two regular battalions reverted to "peacetime soldiering" with postings in familiar locations such as India, Ireland and Egypt. However, this was a far from peaceful time. The 2nd battalion went to Dublin were it was in action against the IRA, at the same time sending a reinforced company to Russia. Between 1920 and 1921 the 1st Battalion was again on active service in Mesopotamia and Persia followed by a short rest in India. A further redeployment to Waziristan on the frontier came in 1924 after a local uprising.
In 1920 the Regiment's name changed to The Royal Berkshire Regiment (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s).
1939 -1945 The Second World War – An Overview
During the Second World War a total of 11 Royal Berkshire Battalions were eventually raised of which six (1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 10th and 30th) saw service in France, North West Europe, Italy, Sicily and Burma. The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion nominally remained in existence during the war, but it was never activated.
On 6 May 1944 at Bernières-sur-Mer, part of Juno Beach, the 5th Berkshires (known as the Hackney Ghurkhas) provided infantry support for No.8 Beach Group which was involved in unloading stores and vehicles, and loading wounded and Prisoners of War for the return trip, sometimes under heavy fire.
Both of the regular Battalions fought in Burma as part of the 14th Army, which later became known as the "Forgotten Army". The 1st Battalion was the first unit of the 2nd Division to relieve the besieged Royal West Kents at Kohima. Once in position the Battalion continued the battle with the Japanese for a further 5 weeks in appalling conditions, losing over 300 men. At the same time their comrades in the 2nd Battalion were fighting their way to Mandalay as part of the 19th Indian (Dagger) Division.
Although the overall cost in lives did not approach that of the First World War, individual Battalions at times suffered heavily, for example the 10th Battalion (a war raised unit) was reduced to 40 men defending the Anzio beachhead. In all the regiment lost 93 officers and 974 other ranks and was awarded 24 Battle Honours.
1939 Second World War Continued
The battalion in early 1939 was stationed at Blackdown, Aldershot as part of 6th Brigade, 2nd Division (Same as 1914). Although war had not been declared the training under Lieutenant Colonel M C Dempsey MC was increased. The Regiment mobilized on the 3rd September and the following day the colours were dispatched to the Depot at Reading. The mobilization was complete by the 14th. On the 23rd the battalion set out for France landing at Cherbourg on the morning of the 24th. They eventually arrived at Arras then moved forward to take up their positions on the Belgian border. They were at this location at Christmas. They were inspected in December by his Majesty the King, followed by the Duke of Gloucester and the Prime Minister. They were at this location at Christmas.
The battalion was based in India on the outbreak of war and were destined to remain there for a number of years before being mobilized.
In August the battalion was at Annual camp with its sister battalion the 6th where the talk was of the impending war. On the 1st September key personnel of the Territorial Army were called up
5th (Hackney) Battalion
In London started too mobilized on the 1st September. The battalion were divided between East and West ham. Plaistow and Ilford working on civil defence with the police and civil defence services. In November they went to Suffolk where they were at Christmas.
They started the war guarding vulnerable points, but lacked good instructors and equipment During the remainder of the year the battalion was spread out in Berkshire divided between Reading, Maidenhead, Abingdon, and the aerodromes of Harwell and Benson.
7th (Stoke Newington) Battalion
In London started too mobilized on the 1st September and by the 13th were deployed guarding vulnerable points in Enfield, Battersea, Kensington, Hammersmith and shepherds bush. In November they went to Suffolk where they were at Christmas.
8th (Home Defence) Battalion
On the outbreak of war national defence companies were formed in the country with the sole purpose of guarding vulnerable point. There were five such groups in the South Midland area, forming 84 group. In November 1939, all such groups we formed into battalions, and No 84 group became the 8th (Home Defence) Battalion The Royal Berkshire Regiment. They were initially formed of men of a lower medical category and young soldiers and the battalion grew to 2000 strong. In September the young soldiers were separated and formed another unit The 70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion The Royal Berkshire Regiment.
1940 Second World War Continued
They started the year on the extreme left of the Division astride the Orchies-Tournai road.. It consisted of trenches and a number of pill boxes later known as the Gort Line. In February the battalion moved back to Beaurains, outside arras to carry out some more offensive training. In March they guarded aerodromes at Beaumont near Douai, provided working parties for the Royal Engineers and even assisted local farmers. On May 10th everything changed due to the German assault into Belgium. As part of a pre arranged plan the battalion moved into Belgium through a number of town to a location near the River Dyle. They took up a defensive position along the river. On the evening if the 13th they made their first contact with the German Army when a patrol came into contact with them resulting in two dead and four missing, the regiments first casualties. On the 15th came the main attack but the battalion held their ground. Later orders were received to withdraw and so the retreat to Dunkirk began. They were taken from the beaches in the Royal Daffodil landing at Margate. Before leaving the ship they were presented with a bill for the tea! On arrival in England they were initially dispersed all over England by finally to Yorkshire where the 2nd Division were concentrating. There a major reorganisation took place. Serious training was embarked on with one company recorded as marching 72 miles in 36 hours, whilst another company covered 44 miles in 15 consecutive hours, a clear signal that the battalion was back on track. By December the Division was ordered to mobilise for service overseas. They were in Gloucestershire at Christmas preparing to go to an as yet undisclosed destination.
In March 1940 the Battalion were relegated to internal security duties. By June the motor transport began to increase and by October the horse transport had completely disappeared.
The Battalion embarked for France on the 17th January taking up positions at Tourmignies. They initially embarked on a vigorous training programme. During the period known as ‘The Phoney War’. On the 10th march they also moved out and left for Belgium. By the 13th hey dug in as the centre battalion within the confines of the Gementee woods, facing Louvain. On the 17th they to received orders to with raw, marching at one point through Brussels. After a number o sharp action the battalion finally left France from the beaches near La Panne. The battalion had been reduced no more than 40 men. What was left concentrated at Frome. Between June and December the battalion remained un-allotted to a field formation. They ended up carrying out defensive operations at Avonmouth docks and the nearby Filton aerodrome. At Filton they lost a number of men to German bombing. In December they went to Northern Ireland joining the 148 independent brigade. They were still in Ireland at Christmas.
In January they went to Southampton as a complete battalion, but this time their role was to safeguard the oil refinery at Hamble, the experimental station at Christchurch, and guarding prisoners of war and internees. During this period training intensified and after the evacuation of Dunkirk their duties on the coast brought a certain amount of urgency to the task. On June the 18ththey received an order warning them to prepare to move the same day for an unknown destination. They ended up at Larne in Northern Ireland, and immediately marched to Kilwaughter castle. Here they lived in tents and the duties were a repeat of those carried out in England in as much as they were guarding. Because Southern Ireland was not at war with Germany the border became one of the areas to patrol. On the 9thOctober they relocated to Coleraine where they occupied Gribbons factory, a grim and forbidding building. They were at this location at Christmas.
Early part of year in Suffolk training in spring moved to Northumberland becoming part of the mobile reserve. At this time some men from this battalion were linked with their comrades in the 7th battalion into a new unit for combined operational work, a forerunner of the commandos. It was called No 3 Company and within a month went to Norway, where it made long forced marches and fought hard. The remainder of the year was spent of defensive and costal duties.
Early part of year in Suffolk training in spring moved to Northumberland becoming part of the mobile reserve At this time some men from this battalion were linked with their comrades in the 5th battalion into a new unit for combined operational work, a forerunner of the commandos. It was called No 3 Company and within a month went to Norway, where it made long forced marches and fought hard The remainder of the year was spent of defensive and costal duties.
8th (Home Defence) Battalion
They spent the year guarding Vulnerable points throughout the south of England.
The Battalion was formed at Reading in the Summer of 1940, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel L. Tremellen and immediately moved to Hereford as part of 213 Infantry Brigade. In October they moved to East Anglia and by December taking up the responsibility of a part of the Norfolk Coast, running northward from Caistor to Somerton.
At the end of 1940 the regiment formed a holding Battalion which was the 50th (Holding) Battalion. It initially consisted of three officers but was soon strengthened by soldiers being posted in from other disbanded units. In September it was renamed the 10th Battalion. After ten weeks training the new battalion marched past his majesty the King.
70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion
Once they left the 8th Battalion they formed up at Thame in Oxfordshire. The unit consisted of boys who had presented themselves for service before the National Service act demanded it. They trained for the remainder of the year.
50th (Holding) Battalion
They were formed in Reading in May 1940. Their sole purpose was to ‘hold’ men who were temporarily homeless, including the medically unfit, and those returning from abroad, awaiting orders, courses or reposting to other units.
1941 Second World War Continued
At the start of the year they were still based at Gloucestershire but by this time knew they were bound for the far east. They embarked at Liverpool in April
In January the battalion carried out a Flag March through the eastern part of the united provinces. They moved to Colaba in October where they assisted escorting Italian POWS up country. At the end of the year they were in camp at Thana, a camp infested with snakes. The battalion were based a several locations in India carrying out as much training as possible, but always on call for civil unrest
The Battalion spent the whole year in Ireland training returning to England April 1942
In March went to Burford where training continued and they returned to Suffolk in November
At the start of the year they were still in garrison at Kilwaughter, but the training was increased to a very high level Their marching ability was unsurpassed, and companies covering over 100 miles in two and a half days, reported back ‘not unduly tired’ It was during one of these many marches and exercises that the CO likened their plight to that of the 66thFoot at Maiwand in 1880 when they came across a church. One of the signallers went into the church and bought to the attention of the Commanding Officer a memorial plaque inside. It was the memorial to Lieutenant Colonel Galbraith the CO of the 66th(Berkshire) Regiment who was killed in action at Maiwand in Afghanistan, 1880. This training tempo continued for the rest of the year.
In march they went to Kingston Bagpuize where training continued and they returned to Suffolk in November
8th (Home Defence) Battalion
They spent the year guarding Vulnerable points throughout the south of England up to December the 29th when the Home Defence title was dropped and they were re-named the 30th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment.
They started the year in the same position on the Norfolk coast carrying out as much training as possible. In July they moved to Wymondham to carry out even further exercises for a month after which they returned to the coast remaining there for the rest of the year.
In February the battalion was relieved of its costal defence duties and sent to join the 56th (London) Division. At this point they became a fully fledged field unit. A number of moves followed ending up in Suffolk. Their they were inspected by the Corps Commander whose farewell message was “The corps is in fine fettle, and fit to engage in battle with Germans or anyone else”
70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion
At the start of the new year they moved to Cornwall and after a short period of stabilization they were spread all over Cornwall guarding Vulnerable points.. In October they left for Northern Ireland where they became part of the Belfast Garrison. In December they went to Ballykinlar, with the promise of two months training. Here they met up with the other battalions the 4thand the 6th.
1942 Second World War Continued
In June 1942 the battalion went to India and on their arrival at Bombay they met for the first time for many years, the 2ndBattalion. They immediately embarked on a hard round of training In December they journeyed across India to Chittagong arriving on Christmas eve.
At the end of February the battalion was ordered to mobilize and to move to Calcutta, and there embark for Rangoon. This was cancelled as he Japanese army had arrived first. They reverted to local soldiering and were soon immersed in guards of honours for visiting dignitaries such as the duke of Gloucester. In August they were ordered to join the 19th Indian division and took up a position the coat of madras as it was open to a seaborne invasion by the Japanese. They trained for the remainder of the year,
In January the battalion moved to Bellaghy where they undertook the defence of Londonderry until relieved by the Americans. They returned to England in April training up defensive positions on the isle of Thanet, In July they learned that they were to become an officers training unit (OCTU). At this point half the battalion were drafted away.
In January the battalion moved from Londonderry to Crom Casle. During this period the Americans arrived an d as a result the battalion formed part of a striking force together with its sister battalion the 4th. Where they remained for the rest of the year.
The battalion spent the year in Suffolk training
The battalion spent the beginning of the year in Suffolk training and in September 1942 the battalion was disbanded and the dispersal was completed by the 23rd December.
In June together with the remainder of the Brigade they moved to North Walsham, where hey occupied a position in reserve near Furze Hill. More exercises followed for the rest of the year.
The battalion started the year in intensive training in Suffolk and in July were mobilised for overseas service. They embarked at Liverpool on the 28th August thinking they were bound for the middle east, but ended up at Basra, Iraq on the 5th November. They were heading for Kirkuk. Where they were grated by a sandstorm, a thunder storm and an everlasting small of oil. They then embarked on a heavy round of training and spent Christmas in the desert.
The 30th Battalion came from a re-designation of the 8th (Home Service) Battalion. They initially acted as a mobile reserve in the Oxfordshire Area. They also provided drafts for other units. In November they moved to Cosham in Wiltshire where they guarded the Box tunnel and provided duty men for the Southern Command Headquarters at Wilton.
70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion
In spring they moved to Bangor where further training was carried out in addition to duties I Belfast docks. In June, they lined the streets of Belfast during the visit of their majesties The King and Queen. The battalion was growing well. In August they moved again to another camp at Glenarm by which time the battalion was 1000 strong. The hope was that as a battalion they could son see action.
1943 Second World War Continued
During January the battalion took up a position on the seashore north of Chittagong, avoiding Japanese air raids and practicing ‘Combined operations’. They moved to and spent February at Teknaf, situated on the Naf River. On the 1stMarch the battalion was again on active service when they were ordered to assault Donbaik with the rest of the 6thbrigade. They arrived in the area of operations on the 5thand this was followed by a ten weeks campaign of the most trying kind in very difficult country. The attack commenced on the 18thbut effectively failed after hard fighting. This was the start of what was to be another fighting withdrawal down the Arakan. From this point up to the 25thMay they march, patrolled and fought under sustained Japanese attack. On May 30ththey returned to Ahmednagar in Western India. On arrival at Ahmednagar they reorganised and continued training taking on board some of the lesson learned in the Arakan. One of the main problems was to eradicate malaria contracted in the Arakan venture. (24 officers and 641 were diagnosed with Malaria). In November they went to Bombay returning to Ahmednagar on the 1stDecember. This is where they spent Christmas.
At the beginning of the year the battalion occupied Basha huts fifteen miles south of Madras. In May they moved to an area near Bangalore where they practiced jungle warfare. By August all the companies were considered proficient. By October they arrived in the teak forests of Malabar, comparable to the Burmese Jungle. At the end of the year they went to Bidala where they re-fitted, in the hope of a move towards Burma.
The battalion commenced its duties as an Officer training unit at Wrotham spending the rest of the year employed as such.
The battalion started the year on costal defence duties on the Suffolk coast and towards the end of June they learned that they were to be included in the approaching allied invasion as No 8 Beach Group. This necessitated a reorganisation within the battalion and the training was developed with the landing in mind. . In August the battalion went to Scotland where they received training in secret at Gailles Camp, near Irvine. In September they returned South, this time to Bournemouth where they carried out specialized training that included street fighting in Southampton. They were carrying out this training at Christmas.
The battalion left Northern Ireland in January for Colchester, and later Aylesbury. During this period they carried out intensive training with an expectation that they would soon be call upon to embark on active service. In October they moved to Dover to take up costal defence duties and on news year day they were on the Romney Marshes.
At the beginning of the year they were still heavily involved to training at North Walsham, in Norfolk. By this time they had taken up the nickname of ‘The Farmers Boys’ to fool the Germans!!. At the end of October they were told that they were to be disbanded. By Mid December the battalion ceased to exist. The training was not in vain as many of the soldiers from this battalion joined their comrades in Burma and Italy.
The battalion remained in Iraq until March when they left for Egypt where they continued their training near the bitter lakes In May they went to Gaza where they remained for a moth. Here they were ordered to waterproof all their vehicles. On the 1st July. The battalion embarked on SS City of Canterbury and after a short stopover at Alexandria made their way for the invasion of Sicily. They landed of D+3. After landing they made their way to the assembly area at Florida. Long marches under the boiling Sicilian sun followed Their first battalion attack took place at Fossa Bottaceto. After digging in they came under sustained mortar fire and sustained heavy casualties. They remained in position and under fire for five days at a location named ‘Berkshire Farm’. After being withdrawn into reserve they continued operations around Primasole. On the 5th August they took part in the General Advance after the German defences were breached at Etna. A number of smaller but none the less violent actions took place until September when the campaign in Sicily drew to a close. The battalion initially remained on Sicily to prepare for the next leg in Italy. Since arriving in Sicily they had a casualty total of 7 officers and 102 other ranks. On the 10th October the battalion moved to Italy and rejoined the Division somewhere North of Naples. Their first role was to take up a position in the bridgehead at Pignataro Later in the moth they took part the attack on the ridge at Calvi Risorta which was successful. This was followed by further actions at Teano, Gloriana and Roccamonfina. These were all minor actions compared to what followed at the River Garigliano and Monte Camino. This part of the campaign took place up to early December when a completely exhausted battalion were relieved. They went to Casanova when they spent Christmas.
In January the battalion was based at Ridge Camp, Corsham, Wiltshire when they were ordered to provide two platoons as a personal guard for Her Majesty Queen Mary, then living at Badminton. When the battalion left the area the two platoons remained at the express wish of the Queen. At the en of April the battalion began a series of moves, to Whiteparish, Wareham, and Swan age, while companies wee scattered all over the south of England guarding Vulnerable points. In October, No one Independent Company of five platoons was formed with responsibilities of watch and ward in Southampton. At this point the battalion were being designated for dock duties overseas, but these were later scrapped and the battalion reverted to Home defence duties.
70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion
They spent the early part of the year continuing the training but in June they received the devastating news that they were to be disbanded. This happened in June when the troops were transferred to other front line units.
1944 Second World War Continued
They were still at at the beginning of the year. The battalion was now healthy and up to strength. They hosted the visits of many dignitaries and also demonstrated the effectiveness of a new flame thrower. In March they went to Belgaum for further training in jungle warfare. On 26thMarch they received the order to ‘move to an operational area’. They moved out on the 5thApril eager to carry out a re-match with the Japanese. For the third time the battalion embarked on Active Service and moved towards Assam. They moved into a camp at Dimapur and learned straight away the situation was critical and that the Japanese were only 30 miles away. This was a major offensive by the Japanese to Invade India
With Imphal and Kohima being their first objectives. On the 12th April the battalion moved up the Manipur road. The battalion started the move towards Kohima that was under siege and being held by a small but resilient band. After the breach was made the battalion was the first unit of the 2nd Division to relieve the defenders. They then took up defensive positions within the perimeter and fought the Japanese who in some places were within grenade throwing distance (and sometimes closer) Many fierce and violent actions took place at Kohima and they were finally relieved on the 17th May returning to Dimapur After five weeks hard fighting 2 officers and 56 men were killed, 15 officers and 239 men were wounded, with a further 60 falling sick. On the 22nd after a short rest they returned to the fight assaulted some locations known as ‘Matthew’ ‘Mark’ and ‘Luke’. They remained in constant action up to July. In December the battalion were at Kailua ready to cross the Chin win. The battalion was destined for Sheba via Cheongsam, Singing, Thetkegyin, and Okkan. All was going well until Christmas Eve when they approached Wainggyo which was garrisoned by some hard line Japanese defenders. The battalion spent Christmas day in action. On New years day they moved to Taze.
They started the year at Bidada where they carried out training for ‘combined operations’. The months that followed were difficult because of the lose of time expired soldiers some who had been abroad since 1934. In May it was reported that the battalion was 186 men below strength. In June the battalion assembled at Janori, near Deolali in the Western Ghats. In July they were warned for ‘operations in Burma in the early autumn. This necessitated a lot of work to get the battalion into operational order. Many exercises followed and new weapons were supplied. . Late in September the transport left Nasik for Assam. On the 29th October the battalion, complete in officers and men, followed. Through five years of war they had trained and waited. Now their reward had come. A fortnight later they concentrated at milestone 116 on the Kohima-Imphal road. Nearby was the 1st Battalion who they visited, but by December they were at Nathanyit preparing to cross the Chindwin River. On the 13th December the first companies of the battalion crossed the Chindwin from Nathanyit to Naungtaw. After the crossing they quickly advanced with the battalion marching 60 miles including a range of hills that seemed to rise perpendicularly from the plain. They were first ordered into action at Kyaikthin, and on Christmas day they advanced towards Kanbalu where on boxing day ‘B’ company encountered the enemy killing the commander.
During the year they continued their role of training officers at Wrotham.
They started the year as they finished 1943, on Costal duties. In July the battalion was ordered to the Orkneys. There they were located in Tormiston and Quoyer Camps, described as ‘undoubtedly the dirtiest and most dilapidated collection of tin huts ever set down in a bog’. In November they returned to England and Bexhill in Sussex where they remained for the remainder of the year.
The battalion spent the early part of the year preparing for their role as a beach battalion in the forthcoming Normandy Landings. They were destined to Land on Juno Beach as part of the Canadian 3rd Division. Although a beach battalion they were also a fully trained and equipped Infantry Battalion. After the Canadians landed and moved through it was left to the battalion to mop up German defenders in a number of pill boxes. Each of the defences was attacked in turn with grenades and bayonets. After all opposition was removed the battalion carried out their primary role as a beach battalion and started work to ensure the supplies and reinforcements landed with the minimum of fuss. They also dealt with the aftermath in ensuring that wounded men were shipped out quickly and Prisoners of war were processed. As time progressed and the situation stabilized whole platoons were drafted away to other units that required reinforcements due to battlefield casualties. Many were sent the 4th and 5th Wiltshire Regiments in the 43rd Wessex Division. By the 26th August the battalion had been reduced to sixteen officers and 136 men. What remained later moved to Rouen. In December they were reinforced by 380 men of a low medical category, but were still designated as a ‘beach group’ unit. . When the Germans attacked through the Ardennes they were formed into a mobile column. In the early hours of Christmas morning they moved into Lille.
The battalion left Casanova on New Years Day to return to the front line and they were destined to play a major part in the crossing of the River Garigliano. They initially took up positions in the secluded villages of Lauro and S. Castresse. By night they moved forward to take up positions into the deserted space of ‘No Mans Land’ thus dominating the ground. Intensive patrolling took place over the next ten days. Some patrols even crossed the river to gather information. The main attack took place on the 19th. Twelve hours before zero, the artillery bombardment opened, heralding the new battle. For the recent drafts it was a particularly awe-inspiring performance, as the shattering fire of guns sent an unending stream of shells tearing overhead like the roar of express trains. Even anti-aircraft batteries pumped long lines of tracer shell into ground targets across the river. In launching the attack, the division crossed the Garigliano on the battalion front, after which the 168 Brigade prepared to follow. The Germans stout fighters that they were - withstood the guns and offered stiff resistance on every hill. The battalion crossed the river in the early hours of next day. To allow the London Irish to concentrate for an attack on Castelforte, a company was sent to Lorenzo, where they themselves were attacked. The enemy overran part of the position and destroyed a platoon in their first rush, but an immediate counter-attack restored the situation and the company continued to hold their ground. The most prominent feature in the German position was a pudding shaped hill called Damiano, it was a barren, inhospitable outcrop of jagged rocks, standing over a thousand feet above the valley. Its sides had an average slope of one in three. The battalion occupied Mount Damiano on the 21st and as soon as they arrived they were attacked again and again by the Germans from dawn onwards. Each attack was broken up and the hill was held. On the second day food and ammunition were in very shirt supply and the situation became so bad that Brigade headquarters were engaged by the enemy. That afternoon the battalion experienced the heaviest shelling they had ever experienced, but still they held. The mortar section broke up a number of attacks but simply ran out of mortar shells, but returned to the rear and re-supplied themselves. And when they ran out for the second time fought on as a rifle section. . This continued on the third day. It was decided that an assault moist take place on the ground held by the Germans that overlooked the battalion position (Point 411). After a magnificent effort by the Second in Command a full supply of ammunition was carried out an assault became a feasible proposition. On the 14th the attack stated when the Germans opened fire with everything they had. All the battalion officers became casualties during the confused fighting that followed. Both side fought themselves to a stand still until a truce was brokered to remove the wounded from both sides. After another days intensive fighting the battalion was relieved where they received the Corps commanders congratulations for holding the hill. After a short rest they were re-deployed to Anzio as part of an independent brigade group, landing on the 2nd February and taking up a position north of the town . The bridgehead was under constant attack and the battalion were soon involved. On the 5th they took over part of the line near Carroceto from the divisional reconnaissance regiment. It was here they came under bombardment. Movement by day invited a prompt and violent response, but night patrols were a regular feature. This continued until the 4th March when the whole Division were sent back to Egypt to re fit. At the end of March they received the sad news that they were to be disbanded due to the lack of manpower. Most of those present elected to transfer to other units within the 56th (London) division known as the Black cats (Divisional sign). In little more than three years the battalion was born and fought and died. By its action at Calabritto, on the Garigliano, at Damiano, and particularly at Anzio, it added honour to the Regiment.
This was an Infantry holding battalion, formed in Clacton in November 1944 conjunction with the Royal Sussex Regiment. This unit moved to Reading in 1945 and was disbanded in 1946.
In June they were made responsible for the care of survivors from Channel loses, plus the burial of prisoners of war. Over a thousand men, including soldiers from wrecked transports, British and America sailors, German prisoners, and Russian refugees, passed through their hands. One company was detached to Southampton docks to assist in loading supplies for the Normandy landings. On the 27th August they moved to Devon and were ordered to mobilize in five days. They had been earmarked to form part of Force 135 and the reoccupation of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. They practiced hard but the operation as far as they were concerned was cancelled. Their time training was not wasted as they were assigned for service with the 21st Army Group, fighting in France.
1945 Second World War Continued
On new years day they eat their Christmas dinner and on the 4th/5th January they fought a short sharp action at Bugyi. . After clearing the village they moved into Brigade reserve. On the 9th at Thayetpinzu they were addressed by Field Marshal Slim who congratulated them for their outstanding week. After this they spent some time training on the Mu River for a future crossing of the Irrawaddy on the 4th February they took up a position in Natkayaing and immediately came under enemy shelling. At the end of February they moved to a concentration area at Myittha taking part in the action at Nyaungyin. A further advance took place with a number of smaller actions until the 31st march where they learned they were to be flown back to India
On the 2nd January the battalion entered Kanbalu which was weakly held by the Japanese, but progress was slow due to the heavily mined roads and tracks. Each man carried 60 ponds of equipment as they advanced into the Shwebo plain. On the 4th they successfully attacked Zigon. In this operation they outflanked the Japanese defenders and ended up in a position facing their own Brigade. After this action they moved on towards Kinu, and as they did so they were aware that the 1st Battalion in the 2nd Division was advancing on a similar axis four miles to the West towards Shwebo. On the 6th the battalion was the lead battalion as the advance towards Kinu continued. The following two days were spent in conducting a battalion attack at Kinu. The casualty level was such that ‘C’ Company was temporarily disbanded. On the 16th January what remained of the battalion merged with soldiers from the 8th Frontier Force (and called Finch Force) after the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Finch. They then attacked Kabwet. Operation in and around this area continued up until, the 31st January, but with a high cost of ninety casualties. After this protracted and successful battle they moved twelve miles down stream to Kyaukmyaung where they came under the command of the 64th Indian Infantry Brigade. At this point they were reinforced and the battalion was soon fully up to strength. On the 19th February the Battalion crossed the Irrawaddy to Ngapyin. From this position long range patrols were carried out, some with great success. After the breakout from the Singu Bridgehead the brigade advanced. On the 2nd March crossed the river at Taung-In and moved to a position in order to assault the village of Shwegondaing. As ‘C’ company approached the village they were fired on. The Japanese were well dug in and one of the heaviest artillery bombardments in Burma followed. They eventually captured the village but a number of Japanese troops had escaped. They advance eight miles the following day. On the 7th May they made for Madaya which they captured after a stiff fight. The Japanese bodies counted numbered sixty. The move from this location brought them to the outskirts of Mandalay. It was hear that the battalion was to fight major actions at Mandalay Hill and Forft Dufferin. They were in continual action till the 19th May, some of their hardest fought battles. After Mandalay was taken they moved to a position between Sado, on the Myitnge River, and Tonbo, nine miles away on the road to Maymyo. From here they conducted many patrols to counter potential Japanese counterattacks on Mandalay. They were stretched as the fighting strength was down to 180 men. Nevertheless aggressive patrolling dominated the ground. This continued until the 25th May when they Maymyo, a well known Burma hill station forty two miles east of Mandalay. Here the well earned rest was interrupted when they redeployed on the 7th April with the rest of the 19th Division to take up positions to stop the Japanese withdrawal. On the 16th they were ordered to move on Meiktila. From this pint they were again in continuous action. Between the 26th April and the 7th May they played a major part in the attack on the Three Pagodas’ near Karenchaung. They were withdrawn on the 8th and regrouped at Toungoo. On the 9th they took control of a sector fifteen miles north of Nyaunchidauk where they remained until the 18th June. Their work came to an end on the 15th August. As things settled down the battalion spent their time maintaining order going between Zeyawadi, the hillsides of Kalaw, and the cantonment of Mingaladon. During this time the Commanding Officer received a message that his holiness had ordered a festival in honour of the battalion. Hew decreed that henceforth March 12th would be observed as ‘2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment day’ and that it should be celebrated with Burmese pews (dances) and puppet shows on the slopes of the holy hill (Mandalay Hill). A regimental plaque was put in place. The battalion was to remain in Burma until the 3rd January 1948; they were the last British Battalion to leave the country.
During the year they continued their role of training officers at Wrotham. They went into ‘suspended animation’ the following year.
Towards the end of February they left St Riquier and went to Waterscheide, a small mining village in eastern Belgium. This was their concentration area for a new task in which they would ‘assist a division to cross a river’. From that point the battalion was rebuilt and they were re-designated as a ‘Bank Group’ Although the objective was a secret, everyone knew it was The Rhine. They moved to Xanten on the Rhine and made initial preparations and they established that they were to assist the 15th Scottish Division across the river. . H Hour was 2 am on the morning of the 24th March and two companies were to cross in the first wave. This was to consolidate the far bank and to provide good communications with the following units. The battalion remained in Xanten until peace was declared. They spent the rest of the year carrying out garrison duties and in June the following year were disbanded at Hildesheim.
On VE day the battalion wren still based in Sussex where they were busy in re-training several hundred men of the royal artillery. They were ordered to prepare for a move to the Far East, but this was later rescinded due to the capitulation of the Japanese. In October they moved to Hothfield and later Dover where in 1946 they amalgamation with what remained of the 1st battalion after their return from Burma. This battalion was later reconstituted as the 1st Battalion.
In mid January the battalion was training in South Brent, near Plymouth when they were ordered to transform themselves from a garrison battalion into a field force unit. They were brought up to strength both in men and weaponry. On the 13th February they landed at Ostend and joined the 21st Army Group. On the 19th February they took up a position at Lottum and were in contact with the enemy for the first time. They later moved to an area near Loo Plage where they came under command of the 1st Czech Armoured Brigade. In April they moved to Boulogne and later ended up in Holland where they became the ‘T’ Force Battalion of Western Holland. Their duty in this role was to guard and protect installations, factories and stores of scientific interest. On the 8th May 1945 they were the first unit into Rotterdam; this was unopposed as the Germans had capitulated the day before. After VE day they went to Germany where they were scattered over a wide area. On the 15th November the battalion was disbanded.
For a more detailed examination of what each battalion did in the Second World War go to the War Diaries Section of this Web site.
1946 Post War Years
At the end of the war the 2nd Battalion remained in Burma, becoming the last British Regiment to leave that country. In 1947 HM King George VI became Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Berkshire Regiment. The post war years saw the start of the scaling down of the British army which reduced each Regiment of the Line by one Battalion by merging the 1st and 2nd Battalions. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of The Royal Berkshire Regiment amalgamated at Asmara, Eritrea, where they were on active service against the Shifta Rebels, on 5 March 1949 to become the 1st Battalion The Royal Berkshire Regiment.
Following the amalgamation of the two Battalions came service in Egypt, West Germany, Malta (including the anti tank platoon deployed to Suez in 1956) and the UK, concluding with three strenuous years on active service in Cyprus. Movement over steep and rugged terrain was difficult so donkeys were used to carry equipment during the operations against EOKA terrorists.
1956 – 1959 Cyprus
The population of Cyprus was largely Greek with a considerable minority, amounting to about 20 per cent of the whole, of Turks. Although the two communities had lived in reasonable amity for many years there was a long standing wish on the part of the Greeks for union with Greece. The Greek majority was largely under the influence of the Greek Orthodox Church, led by Archbishop Makarios, insisting on its claims for Union with Greece. Greece was also in favour of the movement , so much so that it not only set up a guerrilla organisation, known as EOKA, but also provided a leader for it in the person of George Grivas.
In December 1954 the United Nation’s General Assembly rejected Greece’s claim to the island after which open revolt developed. 1st Battalion The Royal Berkshire Regiment deployed to Cyprus in October 1956, initially stationed near Episkopi and then shortly detaching a and B Companies to Dhekhelia. On 3 November the Battalion suffered its first fatal casualty in an EOKA ambush.
This incident was followed by a couple of local operations, one of which saw three members of the Battalion wounded by the detonation of a remote control bomb. On 13 December 1956 the Anti-Tank Platoon returned from participating in the Suez Crisis and this coincided with the battalions new role within 3 Brigade as a highly mobile reserve capable of carrying out large scale anti-terrorist operations in the whole theatre. They were stationed in Primasole Camp.
In January 1957 the Battalion took part in Operations ‘Black Mac’ and Brown Jack, the former operation producing one terrorist killed and 2 captured whilst the latter operation produced a few weapons. February saw the Battalion involved in Operation ‘Green Dragon’ where they re-learnt the lessons of Burma, the value of animal transport in difficult terrain. After that operation the Battalion had three days in camp before deploying on Operation ‘Lucky Mac’, which lasted ten weeks and culminated in the killing of two terrorists (including the notorious Afexentiou) were killed and four captured.
In July 1957 came the announcement of that the Battalion was to amalgamate with the Wiltshire Regiment, however more immediate thoughts were concentrating on the Battalion’s participation in Exercise ‘Kestrel’, a large scale amphibious exercise which took up most of August and September 1957.
On 6 January 1958 the Battalion was moved from 3 Brigade to 50 Independent Infantry Brigade, also located in Cyprus, and whilst there was no physical movement it did mean a change of role to that of Internal Security in and around Nicosia. Within three weeks the Battalion was being tested due to the serious rioting in the Turkish quarter of the city. On 10 April 1958 trouble erupted suddenly in Camp K, the main detention centre, where the Cypriot detainees set fire to their compound; order eventually being restored by B Company. On 7 June trouble again broke out in the Turkish sector of Nicosia and B Company had a strenuous few days but soon had things under control.
1959 UK and Amalgamation
On 6 Dec the advance party sailed, the remainder of the Battalion embarked at Limmassol on 25 February, disembarking at Southampton on 7 March
Following a number of farewell parades in the UK in the late Spring, and the laying up of the Colours at Windsor Castle on 22 May, the Regiment came to an end on 9 June 1959 when the Battle Honours, traditions and history of the Royal Berkshire Regiment (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s) were carried forward into the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire and Wiltshire).