300 Years of XLI-ence!
By Tom Fournier
March 11, 1719 represents the founding of the 41st/Welch Regiment, one of the key lineages in the current Royal Welsh. This blog looks at the evolutions, integrations and amalgamations as well as some key highlights along their history.
On March 11, 1719 subsistence was allowed for Colonel Edmund Fielding’s Regiment of Invalids.
Separate from Fielding’s Regiment were also formed a number of independent companies of invalids.
Fielding’s Regiment was to consist of 10 companies, with each having two Sergeants, two corporals, a drummer and fifty effective private men in each company.
This regiment was to be formed from out pensioners of the Chelsea Hospital.
Invalids were soldiers disabled by their wounds, and veterans ineffective from old age and length of service who were no longer capable of active service but still fit for garrison duty.
Regular regiments posting abroad but who were understrength would comb through an invalid unit.
For the most part Colonel Fielding’s Regiment served at Portsmouth.
Becoming the 41st!
August 5, 1758 the regiment became known as the 41st Regiment of Invalids under the command of Colonel Parsons. Its service was confined mainly to the Portsmouth garrison with detachments at Plymouth and Channel Islands.
Invalids no More!
On 11th December 1787, the Invalids character of the regiment was abandoned and the out-pensioners discharged. Re-categorized as a marching regiment of the line, younger men were recruited in preparation for active or general service at home or abroad. The strong links with the Royal Hospital Chelsea continues to this day.
Ireland and The West Indies - 1787-1796
A great deal of time was devoted to recruiting in 1788, a year which on 23rd January saw Lieutenant the Honourable Arthur Wesley (Wellesley) exchange from the 76th Foot into the regiment. Wellesley, afterwards the Duke of Wellington, was a 'bird of passage' who moved on into the 12th Light Dragoons within 17 months, but his connection was always proudly valued by the regiment.
In 1793 the 41st embarked at Cork for the West Indies where they were present at the capture of Martinique, St. Lucia and Guadeloupe, and in operations in San Domingo (Haiti/Dominican Republic). In 1796 surviving private soldiers were transferred to the 17th Foot. The Officers and NCOs disembarked at Portsmouth in October of the same year tasked with totally rebuilding the 41st so that it could once again deploy.
Canada - The Anglo-American War of 1812-1814
France - With the Army of Occupation 1815
In August l799, the 41st embarked at Cork for Canada where in 1812 a declaration of war by the United States destroyed any hopes of an early homeward passage. During the difficult campaign, the 41st was reinforced by a 2nd Battalion (raised 1812). United as one battalion, they were actively engaged until the war ended in December 1814. In June 1815, the battalion arriving in Spithead was diverted to Belgium and thence Paris to join Wellington’s Army of Occupation. In November they returned to England and in due course received the battle honours Detroit, Queenstown, Miami and Niagara for their campaign in North America.
Campaigning in Burma – 1826
In 1822 the 41st embarked at Gravesend for India and by 1824 was serving with Sir Colin Campbell’s expeditionary force to the Kingdom of Ava (now Burma), where until March 1826 they were involved in the 1st Burma War. They earned the Battle Honour Ava.
That campaign was followed by years of garrison duty in India.
The 41st become Welsh!
The 41st gained a territorial affiliation as The Welsh Regiment of Infantry in February 1831.
The 1st Afghan War- 1842-1843
In 1842 the regiment formed part an Army of Retribution which launched a two pronged attack on Afghanistan. Included in General Nott’s Column, its services in the arduous campaign was later marked by the award of the battle honours Candahar, Ghuznee and Cabul. Returning to the United Kingdom in 1843, the regiment served in South Wales. In 1845 it moved on to Ireland and garrison duties until 1851.
The Crimean War – 1854-1855
The 41st embarked from Ireland for the Mediterranean in 1851 where for two years they formed the Ionian Islands garrison.
As part of the British Second Division, the regiment in September 1854 landed in the Crimea and subsequently fought in and gained battle honours for the battles of the Alma, Inkerman and the Siege of Sebastopol. Two Victoria Crosses and seventeen Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to members of the 41st for gallantry during the campaign. The regiment disembarked at Portsmouth on 28th July 1856, and on the following day were together with other Crimea veterans reviewed by HM Queen Victoria at Aldershot.
The West Indies, India, Aden and Natal – 1857-1881
In January 1857 the Welsh embarked at Portsmouth for the West Indies to serve in garrison at Trinidad and Barbados and Jamaica where they remained April 1860.
At Sheffield in 1862, the regiment received from the Queen a white billy-goat from the Royal herd as replacement for its Russian goat which had died in the West Indies.
From Ireland in 1865 the regiment embarked for India. Service there was followed in 1874 by a year in the Aden garrison prior to returning to the United Kingdom in March 1875.
Service at home which included some time in Pembrokeshire was in 1880 followed by seven months in the Gibraltar garrison and then service in Natal policing the colony in the aftermath of the Zulu campaign.
Amalgamation: the 41st absorbs the 69th Regiment!
In July 1881, a new territorial system saw the 41st (The Welsh) united with the 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment to form respectively the 1st and 2nd Battalions, The Welsh Regiment. The reorganization saw the Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry Militia become the Regiment’s third battalion and four South Wales Rifle Volunteer Corps affiliated as Volunteer Battalions of the regiment. A new regimental depot was established at the recently completed Maindy Barracks in Cardiff.
Natal, Egypt, The Sudan, Malta and the United Kingdom 1881-1898
In 1886, the 1st Battalion moved from Natal to Egypt where on 20th December 1888, a half battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel CC Smyth saw action against a Dervish force at Fort Gemaizah near Suakim. In 1889 the battalion mounted infantry were active against Dervishes in the vicinity of Tosci. After Egypt the battalion moved to Malta and thence to Wales and Pembroke Dock in December 1893. There in March 1895 a disastrous fire resulted in the loss of much officers mess silver and many early manuscript regimental records. Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion served at home, Ireland and then moved to India..
The Second Anglo-Boer War – 1899-1902
The Haldane Reforms - 1908
The war in South Africa saw the 1st Battalion disembark at Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape in November 1899 to participate in a war where for the first time the regulars of the battalion found themselves supported by Volunteer companies drawn from the four Volunteer Battalions of The Welsh Regiment at home in South Wales.
Prelude to War – 1903-1913
On its return to the United Kingdom from South Africa in 1904, the 1st Battalion enjoyed some home service prior to embarking in December 1909 for service in Egypt and the Sudan. In February 1914, the battalion moved on to India where at the outbreak of World War 1, it was stationed at Chakrata. Ordered back to the United Kingdom, the 1st Battalion was brought up to war establishment and embarked for France on 16th January 1915.
From England in 1892, the 2nd Battalion embarked for India. After almost fourteen years in the sub-continent, in 1906 the 2nd Battalion moved to garrison duties in South Africa before returning to the United Kingdom in 1910. It embarked for France on 12th August 1914 where with the 6th Battalion (TF) it represented the regiment in ‘Britain’s Contemptible little Army’.
The Great War – 1914-1918
Of the Welsh Regiment’s thirty-four battalions active during the war nineteen saw active service overseas in France, Belgium, Gallipoli, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia and Macedonia. Three members of the regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross for valour.
Battle Honours: Mons, Retreat from Mons, Marne 1914, Aisne 1914 '18, Ypres 1914 '15 '17, Langemarck 1914 '17, Gheluvelt, Nonne Bosschen, Givenchy 1914, Gravenstafel, Saint-Julien, Frezenberg, Bellewaarde, Aubers, Loos, Somme 1916 '18, Albert 1916 '18, Bazentin, Pozières, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Ancre Heights, Ancre 1916 '18, Messines 1917 '18, Pilckem, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, Passchendaele, Cambrai 1917 '18, St. Quentin, Bapaume 1918, Lys, Estaires, Hazebrouck, Bailleul, Kemmel, Béthune, Scherpenberg, Arras 1918, Drocourt-Quéant, Hindenburg Line, Épéhy, St. Quentin Canal, Beaurevoir, Selle, Valenciennes, Sambre, France and Flanders 1914–18, Struma, Doiran 1917 '18, Macedonia 1915–18, Suvla, Sari Bair, Landing at Suvla, Scimitar Hill, Gallipoli 1915, Egypt 1915–17, Gaza, El Mughar, Jerusalem, Jericho, Tell 'Asur, Megiddo, Nablus, Palestine 1917–18, Tigris 1916, Kut al Amara 1917, Baghdad, Mesopotamia 1916–18
Becoming Welch Again!
Official approval by the Army Board was given on 27th January 1920 for the reinstatement of the spelling ‘Welch’.
Between the Wars – 1919-1939
By 1920 the regular battalions were as they had been in August 1914, with the 2nd Battalion at home and the 1st Battalion in India.
In 1920-1921, the 2nd Battalion saw service in troubled Ireland whilst 1923-1924 found the 1st Battalion on active service against Waziris on the North West Frontier. In 1927, 1 Welch moved via Aden back to the United Kingdom whilst 2 Welch embarked for Shanghai and duty with the China Defence Force. From China, 2 Welch after service at Singapore moved on to India where in 1935 the battalion served at Landi Kotal on the North West Frontier. At the close of 1938, the 1st Battalion was stationed at Belfast and the 2nd Battalion at Agra in India.
The Second World War – 1939-1945
During World War 2, eleven battalions of the regiment were active, but only four saw service overseas. The 1st Battalion which at the outbreak of war was serving in Palestine served in the Western Desert, Crete, Sicily and Italy, whilst the 2nd Battalion served with the 14th Army in the Burma campaign. After home defence service, the 4th and 1/5th Territorial Army battalions served with the 53rd (Welsh) Division during the 1944-1945 campaign in France and through North West Europe.
Over 1,100 soldiers gave their lives during the conflict. The regiment was later awarded twenty two battle honours of which ten were selected for display on the King’s Colour of each battalion.
Battle Honours: Falaise, Lower Maas, Reichswald, North-West Europe 1944-45, Benghazi, North Africa 1940–42, Sicily 1943, Coriano, Croce, Rimini Line, Ceriano Ridge, Argenta Gap, Italy 1943–45, Crete, Canea, Withdrawal to Sphakia, Middle East 1941, Kyaukmyaung Bridgehead, Maymyo, Rangoon Road, Sittang 1945, Burma 1944-45
The post Second World War years – 1945-1969
In 1947 the regular battalions returned to the United Kingdom after years of peacetime and wartime foreign service. In 1948 the 2nd Battalion was disbanded thus leaving the regiment with one regular battalion. The 1st Battalion in 1951 was sent to Korea to serve under United Nations command in the Commonwealth Division. Its year of service during the war brought the battle honour Korea 1951-52 to the Colours and was followed by a period of service in the Hong Kong garrison.
Thereafter the battalion, interposed with service at home, was involved increasing activity with the British Army of the Rhine particularly in Berlin when ‘The Wall’ was built in 1963, in Cyprus during the EOKA campaign, Libya and again in Hong Kong in support of the police during the riots at the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In 1968 the Battalion when stationed at Gravesend undertook public duties in London and in 1969 celebrated the 250th anniversary of its formation.
Amalgamation with The South Wales Borderers (24th)
On the 11th June 1969, came amalgamation with the 1st Battalion, The South Wales Borderers to form the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Wales (24th/41st Foot), thus bringing to a distinguished close its 250 years of independent service.
A Further Amalgamation, the Royal Welsh
On 1st March 2006, as a result of the Ministry of Defence’s 2005 paper on ‘Future Infantry Structures’, and discussions between the Colonels of Regiments within The Prince of Wales’s Division, it was announced on 16th December 2004 that the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Wales (24th/41st Foot) would form the 2nd Battalion of a new larger regiment with the title ‘The Royal Welsh’.
In 2012, it was announced as part of the Army's 2020 Strategic Defence and Security Review that 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh would be removed from the Order of Battle and absorbed into the rest of The Royal Welsh.
The 3rd Battalion The Royal Welsh is a Territorial Army Infantry unit that recruits from the whole of Wales. Previously, the battalion was known as The Royal Welsh Regiment which was formed on the 1st July 1999 when the 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion, The Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 2nd (Volunteer) Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Wales were amalgamated at Otterburn Camp, Northumberland. Its headquarters are in Maindy Barracks Cardiff.
* Many thanks to the Museum of the Royal Welsh (Brecon) for much of this information!
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These articles are written and compiled by members of the 41st Regiment Living History Group.