35 years, The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars – ‘A thousand glories reborn’
The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars began life in 1958 where it was to end just 35 years later, as an Armoured Regiment in the 7th Armoured Brigade in Lower Saxony.
It was against the leaden gloom of the German sky that the respective flags of the 4th and 8th Hussars were lowered for the last time, and to the sound of “Reveille” the flag of the new Regiment was broken. Equipped with Centurion and Conqueror tanks, the Regiment was organised into three sabre squadrons and a Headquarter Squadron. It was still partly manned by National Servicemen but was already beginning the lengthy transition to becoming all regular.
Within 6 months, the Irish Hussars took to the field for the first of many times to come, beginning the annual round of training, so familiar to the Cold War era in Europe. But in spending the most part of its existence training for the ‘Third World War’ in Germany, it was to be the less expected events in the contemporary world, often far away from home, that became such a feature of the Regiment’s life.
The first change in command came in October 1960 when Lt Col George Butler handed over to Lt Col Tim Pierson. Colonel Butler left to be the Military Assistant to the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Without doubt, he had every prospect of becoming one of the Army’s great post-war generals had he not so tragically died in a helicopter crash in June 1967 whilst he was Commander Royal Armoured Corps to the 3rd Division in Tidworth. During his two years in command, he worked tirelessly to ensure that the amalgamation was an utter success, building the foundations of a Regiment that the Army was to quickly become proud of.
1960 saw three other notable events for the Regiment.
The first of these was the announcement that Her Majesty The Queen had approved the alliance of the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s) with the Regiment, though it wasn’t until 1966 that the first exchange of officers took place. The second was the first dinner of the Association of the amalgamated Regiment on 26 October, when both the Colonel-in-Chief and Sir Winston Churchill were present. Alas, it was to be the last appearance that Sir Winston was to make as Colonel of the Regiment, for the third event was the announcement that the Regiment was to convert from tanks to armoured cars and to deploy in the following year to Aden.
THE MIDDLE EAST AND BEYOND
As the Regiment moved back to England in the summer of 1961 to prepare for their deployment, already a crisis was building up in Kuwait which led to a party of 54 being flown out to Aden to reinforce the Resident Battalion. But the tension eased and soon they were able to return to Tidworth. Before leaving, the Regiment hosted a large party in Northern Ireland where both the members of the North Irish Horse and the civic dignitaries were entertained. Here the North Irish Horse presented the Regiment with the Blackthorn Sticks to be carried by the Regimental and Squadron Sergeant Majors and also the Provost Sergeant. A new tradition was born and the tie between the Irish Hussars and The North Irish Horse was strengthened.
Embarking onto the SS Oxfordshire on 25 October 1961, the Regiment sailed from Southampton docks to arrive in Aden some 4 weeks later. With responsibilities reaching from the Trucial Oman States, on the Persian Gulf, to the Western Aden Protectorate, the Regiment was split with RHQ, ‘HQ’ and ‘B’ Squadrons in Little Aden, 20 miles from Aden itself, where ‘C’ Squadron was initially stationed. Meanwhile ‘A’ Squadron had sailed on to the Persian Gulf and the small coastal town of Sharjah, some 1000 miles across the Empty Quarter.
The main task of the Little Aden Squadron, apart from the security of the BP refinery, was to provide support for the Federal Regular Army’s outposts high in the Jebel on the Yemen border. Whilst in Aden itself, ‘C’ Squadron was mainly responsible for the internal security of the town, ‘A’ Squadron spent its time with the Trucial Oman Scouts patrolling a territory stretching across the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman to the Arabian Sea.
These patrols often covered immense distances, lasting 10 days or more. With opportunities to train in Kenya, the Squadrons were rotated during the tour, thus gaining a wider experience of the different tasks across the Arabian peninsula.
It was also at this time that the Regiment received a small increase in its establishment in the form of 16 Flight (QRIH) AAC.
This was a result of a Ministry of Defence decision aimed at encouraging Commanding Officers to send officers to learn to fly with the AAC. Now instead of losing them for 5 years, the officers would return on qualifying to fly the Regiment’s aircraft. The Flight also added a vital third dimension to the Regiment’s reconnaissance capability.
Despite the tensions and national aspirations that finally led to independence in 1968, the Regiment’s year in the colony passed with few serious incidents. Again it was on the SS Oxfordshire and now reunited with the Band which had remained in England, that the Regiment embarked for further adventure, active service in the Far East.
The ‘confrontation’ began with the outbreak of a rebellion in Brunei backed by Indonesia, which itself was posing a direct military threat on the island of Borneo. In addition, there was an ongoing insurgency threat in Sarawak where the Sarawak United People’s Party, consisting mainly of Chinese, had been infiltrated by communists. Despite efforts to overcome this by political means, which included the deportation of a number of known Chinese communists at the end of 1962, it became necessary to deploy British troops to the colony. This was done to combat any further militant communist activity as well as to prevent interference from Indonesia. Besides his backing of the uprising in Brunei, President Soekarno of Indonesia had also signalled his opposition to the proposed new state of Malaysia which was to incorporate Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah).
It was against this background that the Regiment was initially ordered to send a Squadron to Brunei to assist in putting down the rebellion. Although, at the time ‘A’ Squadron was the most suitably trained and equipped for this task (as an air-portable contingency force working to 28th Commonwealth Brigade), the necessary aircraft needed to transport the Squadron and its equipment had been returned to the UK by the RAF for an exercise.
Instead, ‘B’ Squadron, fully equipped with armoured cars sailed to join a force consisting of 42 Royal Marine Commando, 1/2 Gurkha Rifles and The Queen’s Own Highlanders.
Fortunately, the revolt was short-lived, though it did encourage Mr Soekarno to take further advantage of the unrest. In so doing, the British Embassy was attacked in Djakarta, where the mob tore down the Union Jack (though Sgt Marshall, ex-8th Hussars, who was serving on the Embassy Staff, promptly climbed up the flagpole and nailed it back into place).
Just 6 days later, ‘C’ Squadron, commanded by Major Paley, disembarked at Kuching, where two troops were immediately deployed onto the roads leading to Serian and Simanggang respectively (see map). Working on a three-week roulement, the remainder of the Squadron patrolled deep into the hinterland in vehicles, on foot and in boats.
But it was not until April 1963 that the long-awaited Indonesian incursion occurred, when the police station at Tedebu, on the border south of Kuching, was attacked. This called for more troops and their arrival led to ‘C’ Squadron’s role changing from being all-purpose soldiers to the more specific tasks of conducting vehicle patrols and guarding of the airfield. Also, the Regiment’s tactical headquarters, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Strawson was handed over to 3 Commando Brigade.
In July 1963, ‘C’ Squadron returned to Ipoh with ‘B’ Squadron taking over in Sarawak. At this juncture, ‘A’ Squadron, under the command of Major Currie, moved down to Singapore to take up internal security duties on the island whilst maintaining a troop on detachment in Brunei and another based in the village of Tenom in North Borneo. It was also at this time that RSM Burroughs handed over to RSM Holberton and was granted a commission in the Regiment, the first under the now-familiar scheme.
The end of 1963 saw the start of a series of contacts and actions along the frontier with Indonesian Borneo, one of the more notable being in early 1964 when ‘A’ Squadron came into contact with an Indonesian patrol that had recently abandoned an ambush position. The Saladin crews fired some 25 rounds of HE and together with their machine guns soon overcame the enemy.
As the year went on ‘C’ Squadron, based in Singapore, was called out to assist in controlling the riots that broke out on the island in July and again in August where eight civilians were killed in the violence.
Besides the operational duties, the Regiment maintained a full training programme, exercising along the east coast of Malaya and in Thailand. Also, there were many successes on the sporting front where the football team won the Far East Cup, the Polo Team won the Johore Tournament and most notable of all, Bandsman Joe Joseph won the Malaysian Decathlon Competition.
The Regiment had now been away from Europe for 3 years, and it was in September 1964, after handing over the vehicles and outstations to The 4th Royal Tank Regiment (except Ipoh which was handed over to the Malayans), that The Irish Hussars flew from Singapore back to Germany.
In the days of divided Germany, Wolfenbuttel was virtually a frontier town. As the Medium Reconnaissance Regiment for the 1st Armoured Division, the Irish Hussars were responsible for patrolling the frontier in times of tension and identifying any enemy incursion on the outbreak of hostilities. Organised into Headquarters and three sabre squadrons, the Regiment also maintained its Flight, and for the first time had its own helicopter flown by Irish Hussars.
After a visit by the Colonel-in-Chief at the end of the year, the Regiment took to the field as an entity for the first time in nearly four years. With Exercise SABRE CUT the following year, the Irish Hussars were soon thinking and working together as one again. Amongst all the exercises, one of the highlights always used to be Ex HAPPY HUSSAR. This was aimed at practising the rights of the three principal western allies to use the autobahn corridor to Berlin. Four times a year, groups of US, French and British officers and soldiers would arrive at Wolfenbuttel to go through and rehearse plans.
But the principal event at this time was in January 1965, shortly after the Regiment’s return to Europe, when, at the age of 90, the Colonel of the Regiment died.
Winston Churchill’s association with the Regiment began in 1895 when as a newly commissioned subaltern he joined The 4th Hussars in England. Going out to India the following year, he soon became an accomplished polo player, taking his place in the Regimental team for their historic victory in the 1897 Indian Inter-Regimental Tournament. Much of the memorabilia relating to those early years in his career, including the scrapbook he maintained on behalf of the Regiment, are still kept in the Officers’ Mess.
On becoming Colonel of The 4th Hussars in 1940, he visited the Regiment no less than four times during the war — a remarkable feat. One of the greatest national figures of all time, he never failed to take a close interest in the Regiment to which he belonged. He was the greatest Hussar of them all.
Officers and NCOs of the Regiment played their part in the funeral ceremonies on the 30th of January 1965, forming part of the vigil in Westminster Hall and carrying Sir Winston’s awards, decorations and insignias in the procession to St Paul’s Cathedral. Finally, members of the Regiment formed the Bearer Party that took the Colonel of the Regiment on his last journey from Waterloo Station to Bladon and laid him to rest.
A week later the Regiment held its own Drumhead Memorial service for the Great Man and the Colonelcy passed to Colonel George Kidston – Montgomerie who had for many years been Sir Winston’s deputy.
Lt Col Dick Lawrence was the first exchange officer from the 8th Canadian Hussars in 1966.
Shortly after this, the command of the Regiment passed from Lieutenant Colonel John Strawson, who had been awarded the OBE for his services in the Far East, to Lieutenant Colonel John Paley. His first big occasion was when the Regiment joined 20th Armoured Brigade to parade for the Queen in Sennelager. Mounted in vehicles, this made for a spectacular event which was commemorated in an oil painting presented – by Lieutenant Colonel Paley on relinquishing command.
During the 6 years in Wolfenbuttel, the Regiment also engaged in a number of other activities and sports. Amongst the successes was the football team which reached the final of the Cavalry Cup in 1967, Captain Johnny Powell’s win at the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown on ‘Indian Spice’ and again in 1967, victory in the Captains’ and Subalterns’ Polo Tournament.
On 23 September 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Bidie succeeded Lieutenant Colonel Paley as the Commanding Officer and soon after his arrival came confirmation of the Regiment’s move to the RAC Centre in 1968. This was to be another chance for the Regiment which was to convert back to tanks at Perham Down (on the edge of Salisbury Plain), before moving down to Bovington. Here the Irish Hussars learned (and a few relearned) the skills of armoured warfare which involved a comprehensive programme of courses, a range firing period at Castlemartin and an exercise on Salisbury Plain which was probably most notable for the atrocious weather conditions.
In August the Regiment moved on down to Bovington to take up its duties as the RAC Centre Regiment. A task hitherto done by extra-regimentally employed officers and soldiers, The Irish Hussars had to accept many changes to its normal ways of life. Not least of all, was that the Regiment lacked its exclusive messes and facilities, having to share these with all the other staff in the centre. But the Regiment soon came to terms with its often uninspiring task and high morale was maintained throughout the two years.
It was also at this time that WO1 Bill Holberton retired as RSM and handed over to WO1 Wally Townson. Bill Holberton had been the Regimental Sergeant Major for 5 years and was later awarded the MBE for his services.
Despite the Regiment’s rather mundane role and its many frustrations, there were a number of significant events during these 2 years, perhaps the most important of which was the opening of the Regimental Museum in Carrickfergus Castle.
Shared with The 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and The North Irish Horse, this for The Irish Hussars had been a long-cherished dream brought to reality under the masterful direction of Brigadier Tim Pierson. The opening ceremony was performed by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, The Rt Hon Terence O’Neill (whose son served in the Regiment in Wolfenbuttel) with all three Regiments providing a combined Guard Of Honour and Band.
Shortly after this event, WO1 Stanley Patch was succeeded by WO1 Peter Smith, having been the Regimental Bandmaster for over 9 years. His immense enthusiasm and remarkable musical talents assured him his commission whereupon he became a Director of Music.
Early in 1969, the Colonel-in-Chief paid a visit to the Regiment, this time arriving at Wool Station in the Royal Train. During his stay, which was much publicised in the national as well as local press, Prince Philip took the opportunity to drive a Chieftain and do some gunnery on the training areas.
In May, at the Cavalry Memorial weekend, Colonel George Kidston-Montgomerie relinquished the Colonelcy of the Regiment to General Sir John Hackett. General Shan joined the 8th Hussars back in 1931 and, Regimentally is probably most renowned for his incredible command as ‘C’ Squadron Leader during the intense fighting in North Africa from Bir Hacheim to El Alamein. It was during this time, in the summer of 1942, that the 4th and 8th Hussars were temporarily brought together as a composite regiment, the 4th/8th Hussars. Commanding one of the two parachute brigades at Arnhem at the age of 33 (where he won his second DSO) General Shan’s remarkable military career culminated in his final appointment as the Commander-in-Chief, of Northern Army Group and BAOR.
Again on the sporting front, the Regiment continued to be extremely active where the most outstanding event was the Cavalry Cup final in May 1970 when the Regimental Football Team beat The 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards 3-2 at Burton Court. It was also in May 1970 that command of the Regiment passed to Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Troughton and soon after it was confirmed that the Irish Hussars would be moving to Paderborn as an armoured regiment at the end of the year.
THE MIDDLE YEARS
Paderborn is an ancient Catholic town in the State of Westphalia with a thriving industry that has expanded considerably since the war. Barker Barracks, to the east of the town, which was built in the 1920s, was to be home for The Irish Hussars for the next 9 years.
The first main problem the Regiment faced was that it was some 60 men under strength. This was a consequence of the difference in establishment between the RAC Centre Regiment and an armoured regiment in BAOR and it took all of 2 years for the Regiment to attain full manpower. In Paderborn, the Regiment was once again comprised of three sabre squadrons with a Command and Support Squadron, made up of Command Troop, Recce Troop and a newly-formed Guided Weapons Troop. The Regiment did not take long to settle into the familiar routine of life in BAOR and during the nine years, there were a predictable amount of experiments with force structures, organisations and deployment plans, all of which were practised in one way or another.
Soon after arriving, the Regiment received a visit from the Colonel in Chief, the first of 5 that Prince Philip was to make during the tour in Paderborn. Besides the Colonel-in-Chief, one of the most significant visits was that made by the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Edward Heath, in the spring of 1971, where he spent much of the day on the Regiment’s own little training area, the Goldgrund. Also in early 1971 Major Roy Vallance MBE, DCM finally retired after an extremely distinguished career in the 8th and Irish Hussars and soon joined the Regimental Association Committee.
1972 saw the Regiment’s first deployment to the newly established British Army Training Unit, Suffield (BATUS), in the form of RHQ and ‘A’ Squadron. In leasing an area of some 2500 square kilometres with a base camp just off the main Canadian Highway between Calgary and Medicine Hat, this new venture by the Army provided the facility for battlegroups to practice fire and manoeuvre under conditions of realism far beyond the scope of anything that could be achieved in Europe.
The Irish Hussars have become frequent visitors to Suffield over the years and always it has been a rewarding experience, not only on the prairie but also in taking advantage of the superb adventurous training opportunities provided in the Rocky Mountains.
It was on one such trip to BATUS, just after Lieutenant Colonel Brian Kenny had taken over as the Commanding Officer from Lieutenant Brian O’Rorke in 1974, that the flexibility of The Irish Hussars was truly put to the test. With nearly half the Regiment across the Atlantic (including the CO and his Advance Party), all further aircraft were cancelled and the Regiment was warned that it would be going to Cyprus instead to assist with the emergency following the Turkish invasion of the island.
At once the CO and a number of others flew back from Canada on civilian flights, whereupon the Regiment was reorganised for its impending task. By 27 September, just 2 months later, the deployment was complete with RHQ and ‘B’ Squadron in St Patrick’s Camp in Paphos and ‘C’ Squadron in Limassol. A much depleted ‘A’ Squadron formed the basis of the Rear Party, which remained in Paderborn. The following month ‘C’ Squadron moved up to Nicosia to take over from the RAC Parachute Regiment as the UNFICYP Force Reserve.
The next 6 months gave the Regiment the opportunity to carry out peace-keeping operations (still denied to it in Northern Ireland) in a difficult and sometimes tense environment. Winning the trust and respect of the local communities, The Irish Hussars earned fulsome praise from the Force Commander for what it achieved during the tour.
Coming together again as a Regiment in March 1975, the football team was able to enjoy. another success in the Cavalry Cup, this time beating the 16th/5th Lancers 2-1. In July of that year, Major General John Strawson succeeded General Sir John Hackett as Colonel of the Regiment and came out to Germany for the Colonel-in-Chief’s visit in November. During this visit, Prince Philip was met by the Guard Of Honour outside the Rathaus in Paderborn and after meeting the Burgermeister and Stadtdirektor went on for drinks in the Sergeants’ Mess. From there he was driven through a route lined by blazing torches in a pony-cart to have dinner in the Officers’ Mess which included officers from the 2nd Belgian Lancers and 144 Panzer Battalion.
The final 4 years in Paderborn saw the Regiment participating in numerous exercises both in Germany and in Canada. But the two most significant events in this time during Lieutenant Colonel Dick Webster’s command was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Parade and the 25th anniversary of the appointment of Prince Philip as Colonel-in-Chief. The Queen’s Review in 1977 was an impressive spectacle with the whole of the 4th Division on parade.
Transmitted to television audiences throughout the World, the Regiment led the drive past in front of the famous windmill on the Sennelager Training Area where Her Majesty took the salute. It was a truly grand occasion and a moment of great pride. The second event was more of a family occasion when Prince Philip’s visit took place, appropriately over the Balaklava anniversary in 1978. Dining with the whole Regiment in the Cookhouse on the evening of the 24th of October, the Colonel of the Regiment presented Prince Philip with an inscribed carriage clock to mark the occasion which was specifically designed for his coaching events.
The main focus was the parade the following morning at which the Guidon was trooped. Under the detailed direction of Colonel Webster, the parade was as near to perfection as experience and practice could make it. Fortunately, high winds and heavy rain that had dogged so many of the rehearsals held off for the day.
Also during these last few years, the Regiment enjoyed a number of sporting successes These included a further victory in the Cavalry Cup in 1977, this time beating the 9th/12th Lancers in the final, and the incredible achievement by the Regimental Athletics Team going via the Divisional Championships to come 4th in the BAOR finals.
In 1978 there were some notable successes on the equitation front with Sandy Cramsie and Peter Carew scoring some impressive results in the races they entered. Also, at last, there was a victory for the Polo Team. Though yet again experiencing the familiar disappointment of being runners-up in the final of the Inter-Regimental tournament, the Captains and Subalterns went on to win their tournament by beating the 14th/20th Hussars 3-1 in the final.
Also in 1978, the Regiment managed to mount one of its more spectacular enterprises which traced the route taken by the 4th Light Dragoons in Afghanistan during the 1839 campaign. Organised by Captain Charles Weston-Baker and sponsored by Major John Hurst, who had served with the 8th Hussars (all three of his sons also served in the Regiment), the team set off in Land – Rovers across Europe, Turkey and Persia into the depths of the Hindu Kush. Taking place just one year before the Soviet invasion of this sad and wretched country, the expedition was a terrific experience for all those who took part.
In July 1979, command of the Regiment passed on to Lieutenant Colonel Robin Rhoderick-Jones and with this came a long-awaited chance for the Regiment to move back to England.
During the Paderborn years, the Regiment saw two major changes in its dress. The first was the adoption of the green V-necked pullover back in 1972 worn as working dress by officers and senior NCOs. The second happened in January 1979 when the Regiment changed from wearing blue berets to green ones, but retaining the broad green band.
Any thought that Regimental life in England would be a pleasant sabbatical was quickly disproved. Now as the only Armoured Regiment in the United Kingdom, The Irish Hussars adopted a unique organisation. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons, equipped with Chieftains, were based with RHQ in Tidworth, whilst ‘C’ Squadron took up duties as the Demonstration Squadron at The School of Infantry in Warminster. ‘D’ Squadron, which had been born out of Command & Support Squadron back in 1978, formed 4 troops each with 6 Scimitars. One of these was the ACE Mobile Force Close Reconnaissance Troop, another was the Regiment’s own close recce troop whilst the remaining two were assigned to 8th Field Force.
Hardly had the Regiment arrived when ‘A’ Squadron embarked at Southampton for an exercise in Germany and ‘B’ Squadron, reinforced with a troop from ‘D’ Squadron, deployed to Cyprus for 6 months as the UNFICYP Force Reserve. But these activities had been planned for in the Regiment’s forecast of events.
The first surprise came in November when the CO was summoned by the Task Force Commander to be told that he and 25 other members of the Regiment were to join a 1200-strong Commonwealth Force to monitor the cease-fire between the warring factions in Rhodesia and help supervise the subsequent elections. Op AGILA as it became known, saw Britain’s fifteenth and final colony in Africa peacefully graduate to proper independence. In achieving this, The Irish Hussars played their full part in undertaking various tasks which included the monitoring of the Security Forces during the ceasefire and the manning of various assembly areas for surrendering members of the Patriotic Front. It was a rewarding if not unusual experience for all those who were involved.
With everyone back for St Patrick’s Day, the Irish Hussars spent much of April training together on the Salisbury Plain Area. During the summer, a visit by Prince Philip coincided with the beginning of the first of two Old Comrade Weekends. Landing at Warminster, he started the day by meeting ‘C’ Squadron who were coming off exercise, then moved down to Tidworth where he presented Mrs Inge Smith with the BEM before having lunch in the Officers’ Mess.
In the afternoon, the Colonel-in-Chief walked around a number of stands which had been set up to depict the activities of the Irish Hussars over the last 12 months, including Zimbabwe, Norway (showing the AMF(L) Troop on exercise) and Cyprus. Before leaving Prince Philip met a number of Old Comrades who were assembling for the weekend. With an all ranks dance on Saturday night and a Drum-head Service on Sunday, the weekend was designed to finish on a high note by seeing the Polo Team win the UK Inter-Regimental final. But again luck was against the Irish Hussars as they lost to the Welsh Guards.
In the summer of 1980, the Regiment spent much of its time preparing for what was to be one of the largest post-war deployment exercises. Some 60,000 troops, both Regular and TA, deployed from the UK to join forces with those stationed in BAOR. For the Regiment, this meant ‘tracking’ down to Southampton Docks and loading onto ships for Europe. The last time this had happened in the United Kingdom was when the 8th Hussars embarked for Korea in 1950, again from Tidworth.
Attracting considerable publicity, the drive down to the docks became quite a spectator event, including the breakfast halt set up by the wives on the Winchester by-pass!
The end of 1980 heralded the next surprise. This time it was the Firemens’ strike and out came the venerable Green Goddesses. 100 selected Irish Hussars began an intensive training programme led from the front by the Regiment’s Chief Fire Officer (alias Capt Weston-Baker complete with pith helmet).
But just as a ‘D’ Squadron troop deployed once again to Norway for training with the ACE Mobile Force in the New Year of 1981, so the Regiment was confronted by a further and perhaps even more unusual task.
This time the Prison Warders had gone on strike and so ‘B’ Squadron, under Major Lowther, was tasked to guard a makeshift camp on Salisbury Plain, turned into a temporary prison. Assisted by the Police, the Squadron watched its charges 24 hours a day for a month whilst the strike was resolved. No – one escaped.
During March, in fact on Paddy’s Day, ‘A’ Squadron this time deployed for the second of the Regiment’s tours with the UN in Cyprus. Again, the troops rotated on a monthly basis between each contingent as well as taking advantage of all the tremendous opportunities the island has to offer.
Perhaps the two most Regimentally historic events happened in the summer of 1980. The first was when the Regimental Band and a contingent of officers and soldiers joined the massed bands of the other Irish Regiments to Beat the Retreat on Horse Guards in the presence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth The Queen The Colonel-in-Chief, accompanied by Maj Gen Strawson at St Patrick’s Day in Tidworth. The Colonel-in-Chief also watched with the Commanding Officer from the window of The Major General’s Office overlooking Horse Guards. It was a magnificent occasion where the Pipers stood out in their saffron against the green cloaks of the other Regiments. The second piece of history was lived in July when all the past Colonels and Commanding Officers were invited to dinner in the Officers’ Mess. Only four were unavoidably missing for this occasion.
Again there were various sporting successes during the 3 years in Tidworth with the Regimental football team again winning the Cavalry Cup in 1982. Also, finally, at last, and after a period of intensive training under the guidance of Major Chris Vernon Miller, an ex-8th Hussar, the Polo Team won the 1982 UK Inter-Regimental Tournament. Next came the United Services Cup, a match between the respective winners of the UK and BAOR inter-Regimental Tournaments. Again it was a victory to the Irish Hussars, beating the Lifeguards 4-3. Also, with numerous adventurous training trips to Mexico, Sardinia, Morocco, Norway and America, the Regiment came to the end of an extremely active, but nevertheless satisfying 3 years in England.
With the command of the Regiment now handed on to Lieutenant Colonel Richard Barron, so the task of bringing the Irish Hussars back together as an entity began in preparation for the move back to Germany in the summer of 1982.
By comparison to Paderborn, Munster is a large, historic university city. It is also the capital of Westphalia and home to the 4th Armoured Brigade. Organised into armoured squadrons (D Squadron, under Major Denaro, had by now converted back onto tanks) and a Recce Troop of 8 Scimitars, the Regiment moved into York Barracks which were the best in Munster with good accommodation and large messes. The hangars were not so satisfactory but were soon to be rebuilt.
Once again, not unlike times in Paderborn, the Regiment found itself involved in further reorganisations and another revamping of the General Deployment Plan (GDP). The first reorganisation of the Regiment occurred on arrival and no sooner had The Irish Hussars come to terms with the Type 62 structure, than when it was to change again, barely 12 months later to a Type 57. This consisted of one tank for the CO and four squadrons each with 14 tanks (four troops each with three tanks and an SHQ with two tanks). Also the Guided Weapons Troop, this time consisting of 9 vehicles, was returned to the Armoured Regiments from the Gunners.
The first significant event was in September when the 4th Armoured Brigade was granted the Freedom of the City of Munster. The Regimental Band and a Guard of Irish Guards marched through the City where the ranks were invaded by student demonstrations. Though it threatened to disrupt the occasion, the Band kept in step whilst the German Police asserted their authority. The unflappable bearing of them earned considerable applause from the spectators and the dignitaries of the City.
1983 heralded the Silver Jubilee of The Regiment and also the announcement that the Regiment was to furnish the Guard Force for the Maze and Crumlin Prisons in Northern Ireland at the end of the year. During the year, most of the Regiment trained at BATUS, the Irish Hussar battlegroup being commanded for much of the final exercise by Major Alistair Miller when the CO had to leave the prairie with an injury to his back.
In celebrating the Regiment’s 25th birthday, there were greater things to look forward to with the Tercentenary just 2 years hence — and surely there would be future Irish Hussar anniversaries. On the 12th of December 1983, history was made when ‘D’ Squadron deployed with 200 of all ranks to be the first Prison Guard Force to be founded from an Irish Regiment. It was also the first (and only) time The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars served in Northern Ireland. It was especially pleasing that Prince Philip was able to visit members of the Prison Guard Force whilst on a visit to the Province in early 1984 and the first duty of Lieutenant Colonel Steve Daniell on taking over as CO was to present the General Service Medals to the Force.
Following a further session on the prairie during the summer of 1984, the Regiment became involved in the largest post-war exercise ever staged by the British Army. As with CRUSADER, over 60,000 troops deployed from the UK to reinforce the 1st British Corps and participate in a 2-week exercise across the Corps area.
For the Regiment, Ex LIONHEART was probably more notable for its scale rather than for the tempo of activity.
The greatest sporting success in 1984 was without a doubt achieved by the Regimental Polo Team. There was victory and honours as the Irish Hussar team, masterminded by Captain Jeremy Mains, won the BAOR inter-Regimental tournament for the first (and only) time as well as the Captains and Subalterns tournament. They then went on to take their ponies over to England and again won the United Services Cup, this time beating The Royal Hussars 5-4.
In London, Major ‘Jock’ Ferrier handed over as the Regimental Secretary to Major Bob Smith. Major Ferrier had been in this appointment for 10 years since retiring from the Regiment and had seen much change. Firstly the office moved from Belfast to London in 1975 as he took over from Major Tom Leckie, and with it the Regiment expanded its recruiting area, adding Surrey and London to the northern counties of Ulster. Major Ferrier had joined the 4th Hussars in 1948 from the Northamptonshire Yeomanry, winning a Mention in Despatches during the Malayan Emergency. He was awarded the MBE in 1975. Sadly, he died on 21 January 1990. His successor, Bob Smith had recently retired after 35 years of service. Joining the 8th Hussars in 1949, he was commissioned in 1970 and served continuously at Regimental Duty until July 1980 when he went to The Royal Yeomanry in London. There was little he didn’t know about the Irish Hussars and how to sort out the more wayward subalterns. He was also the last serving Korean war veteran to retire from the Regiment.
The Tercentenary, witnessed by so many Irish Hussars, past and present, was a masterpiece of administration. For Major Smith, it meant organising the travel arrangements for hundreds of old comrades, whilst for the Regiment, it meant receiving, transporting, accommodating, feeding and entertaining a veritable force of Association Members and guests. The Colonel-in-Chief arrived on the evening of Friday 24 May to enjoy a truly magnificent and historic weekend.
The escort to Prince Philip at the Tercentenary parade The high point of the weekend was, without doubt, the parade. Immensely ambitious, it was imaginative, and evocative and ensured that we were all proud to be Irish Hussars.
As the guests and spectators arrived on Saturday morning, the Band played in the foreground whilst the Regiments’ tanks were lined up just in front of the wood line on the far side of the Munster Polo Pitch. Then, coming forward into full view, the tanks halted and crews dismounted for the Royal Salute as the Colonel-in-Chief mounted the saluting dais. After this, Prince Philip mounted an open-top Land Rover, and flanked by a mounted escort in Full Dress Uniform, reviewed the Regiment. After trooping the old Guidon for the last time, there followed a short Drumhead service, with all the crews now dismounted and formed up in a hollow square, at which the Chaplain General consecrated the new Guidon. Prince Philip then formally presented it to RQMS Bamford and before it was trooped for the first time he addressed the Regiment during which he said:
‘Twenty-seven years is not a very big proportion of the 565 years of the two former Regiments’ histories, but they are years in which most of us here have made our contribution to its continuity and to its record, and I think that past and serving members have reason to feel proud on this important anniversary.
It is always a bit dangerous to feel self-satisfied, but I believe a worthy chapter has been added since the 24th of October 1958. Apart from Germany and the United Kingdom, the Regiment or parts of the Regiment have seen service, much of it active, in Aden, Brunei, Sarawak, Singapore, Rhodesia and Cyprus. There can be no greater satisfaction than a duty well done.’
Led by the Commanding Officer the Regiment drove past, the tanks in each rank in a perfect line, each turret traversed and gun dipped in unison as the Chieftains passed the saluting dais.
As the last tanks left the arena, there was a momentary silence, then the sound of hooves as the mounted escort galloped past, resplendent in their uniform — a poignant reminder of former times.
The last act of this event was a short ceremony which took place in Windsor Castle some months later. Here, in the presence of a small audience, the Commanding Officer took the old Guidon from RQMS Bamford and handed it over to Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Kenny, who had succeeded Major General Strawson as Colonel of the Regiment immediately after the Tercentenary. He in turn handed it to Prince Philip to be laid up finally in the Waterloo Room.
As Colonel Steve Daniell handed over to Lieutenant Colonel Sir Charles Lowther Bt (whose father had commanded the 8th Hussars in Korea) a new era in armoured warfare was heralded with the introduction of the Challenger tank. Better protected, faster and with improved gunnery and fire control systems, the tank crews looked forward to putting their new hardware to the test. This came sooner than expected with a range period in the Spring of 1987 where the Regiment excelled.
Later in the year, The Irish Hussar Battlegroup went with the 4th Armoured Brigade to join a Dutch Division to participate in the 1987 Ex REFORGER in northern Germany. Although somewhat money-driven, which translated into long spells of inactivity, it did give the Regiment its first opportunity to appreciate the improved capability of this tank. It was a much-needed and timely improvement on the old and decrepit Chieftain fleet.
But again it was time for another change and the Regiment’s last tour in the United Kingdom. Its new role was to be the RAC Training Regiment in Catterick, a task not previously done by the Irish Hussars (or its forbears), but there was to be a difference.
Yet again the hand of change was to give the Regiment another opportunity at making a new idea work. In this case, the Irish Hussars was not only to train recruits at Catterick but also to maintain two squadrons at the RAC Centre to take over the duties of the RAC Centre Regiment. From the outset, the Regiment divided itself up by function with “Trade and Basic Military Training Squadrons” based up at Catterick with RHQ.
Meanwhile the two “Vehicle Squadrons” set up down at Bovington and Lulworth.
A thankless and often menial task, especially for the troops at the RAC Centre, the Regiment was assured that it would remain in this role for no more than 2 years. But even with the geographic separation of the squadrons, the fabric of Regimental life was kept alive throughout the tour under the leadership of Colonel Charlie Lowther, which included getting the Regiment together in Catterick for at least two weekends each year.
At the end of April 1989, Colonel Charlie Lowther handed over command to Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Denaro having seen The Irish Hussars through a transition of equipment and one of the more complex moves in the life of the Regiment. In this, he was ably assisted by Major John Rooke as Second-in-Command who also did so much to rejuvenate the Regimental Pipe Band which was first formed as a joint initiative by Lieutenant Colonel O’Rorke and The Lord St Oswald back in 1974.
Of course, no tour in the United Kingdom could ever go by without an Old Comrades’ weekend, and so it was in July 1989 that the Regiment hosted another magnificent gathering which included displays, a Beating Retreat and parties up in Catterick at which both the Colonel-in-Chief and the Colonel of the Regiment was in attendance.
Even with the dispersion of the Regiment, the tour in England provided the opportunity to enjoy many diverse sporting activities, both as a whole and on a more individual basis. Besides the shooting and hunting, in and around Catterick, other sports came more into focus, in particular, sailing, rugby and Nordic skiing. But this time the spotlight must be turned onto the marvellous achievements of the downhill team, where the Regiment won the 1989 UKLF Championships and came 7th in the whole Army. This was a brilliant achievement, led by Lt Alex Paine, who himself skied into the annals of Regimental history by gaining 2nd Individual Place in the Army.
THE GRAND FINALE
With the move to Fallingbostel set for March 1990, much of 1989 was spent reconstructing the Regiment’s ORBAT, piecing together the component parts from Catterick, Bovington and Lulworth.
Meanwhile, the attention of the World was already focusing on events in Eastern Europe.
Whereas the uprisings in Eastern Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 had all been ruthlessly crushed, the strikes and political protest instigated by the workers of the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk during the 1980s had at last revealed a chink in the communist armour. The Solidarity movement became a light, providing inspiration to others living within the darkness of communism. With the dawn of “Glasnost” and concessions by the Party, surely the increased freedom of movement between countries and the mass demonstrations in East Germany was about to herald something much greater. And so it did on that unforgettable night of 9 November 1989 when the very symbol of the Cold War was ruptured and the Berlin Wall ceased to have any further meaning. Soon after came the almost total collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and in 1990, the reunification of Germany.
It was amongst this and the uncertainties stemming from the study of options for Britain’s future Defence Programme that the Irish Hussars returned to Germany to serve again as part of the 7th Armoured Brigade. With the pace of political change and the dawning of a ‘New World Order,’ it was only a matter of time before the Regiment would be affected in some by the restructuring plans now being announced in Parliament.
But hardly had the Irish Hussars settled back to its role as a ‘Type 57’ Challenger Regiment when during the summer of 1990 new tensions began to emerge in the Middle East. This time the menace came from Iraq where Saddam Hussein was massing his forces in the south of the country, until on the night of 1st/2nd August 1990, the Iraqis invaded Kuwait. Now with his massive army poised on the Kuwait/Saudi Arabian border, there was little that could have stopped Saddam Hussein’s troops from continuing the advance into Saudi Arabia and seizing the Dahran oil fields.
Responses to this outrage were immediate and within days King Fahd invited western armies into Saudi Arabia to help protect his Kingdom. By early September a defence line had taken shape along the Saudi/Kuwait border and the DESERT SHIELD was up. However, it was to be some weeks before any possibility of sending British armoured formations became apparent, despite the considerable anticipation throughout August.
Then after a meeting with her key Cabinet colleagues on 13 September, the Prime Minister agreed to the deployment of the 7th Armoured Brigade, which was announced the following day. For the Regiment, this was at once translated into a period of frenetic activity. It involved taking over a number of Challenger Mark 3s from other regiments to make up a full fleet of the most modern tanks, firing them all on the ranges and painting them in desert camouflage, in just 2 weeks. By the first week of October, the vehicles were all on their way to the port of Jubayl leaving the Regiment some time to do some training in individual skills before flying out.
It was in sweltering heat that the crews reunited with their vehicles on the Jubayl quayside where the Regiment had to spend much of the first two weeks crowded into storage hangars whilst further modifications were completed on the tanks. Then after a day celebrating Balaklava on a nearby beach, the Irish Hussars began deploying into the desert to commence training in earnest. ‘C’ Squadron, later to be assigned to the 1 STAFFORDS Battlegroup, was first onto the exercise area, where the press had gathered in force to capture this memorable moment. ‘A’, ‘D’ and ‘B’ Squadrons followed on the 28 October, with the Regiment being complete by 1st November, culminating with a final exercise between 14-18 November, the Brigade was now fully operational and took its place as the 1st US Marine Division reserve.
However, this was to change when just before Christmas it was announced that the 4th Armoured Brigade was to join 7 Brigade and together they were to come under command of Headquarters 1st Armoured Division. After a short Christmas celebration, the Regiment said farewell to its many newfound friends in the US Marine Corps to start the move into the 7 (US) Corps area, some 250 km to the northwest.
After much prevarication, the UN deadline for Iraq to unconditionally withdraw from Kuwait was set for 0800 hours 16 January 1991. Within 16 hours of its expiry, no less than 100 Tomahawk Cruise missiles were launched at Baghdad with allied aircraft attacking communications, chemical weapon sites and airfields.
The war to liberate Kuwait had begun and the Regiment was on red alert against Iraqi retaliation. During this period the Irish Hussar Battlegroup completed its move into the new concentration area. Area KEYES was a cold, bleak, featureless plain that had become a quagmire following a week of rain.
Here the Division was to live, in radio silence, until 14 February.
On 15 February, the Regiment combined a practice breaching operation and advanced with its move to the final concentration area (RAY) 50 km south of the Iraqi border, 80 km west of Kuwait. After receiving his orders, the CO held a number of briefings before the Regiment went into action.
Crossing the minefield breach at 1202 hours on 25 Feb 94, ‘D’ Squadrons’ Challengers were the first British tanks to enter Iraq and the start of the ‘100 hours’ for the Regiment.
Playing a lead role throughout the operation, the Regiment was to earn applause, honours and awards; applause from the Nation, honours for the Guidon and awards for gallant and distinguished service, which included the OBE for Lieutenant Colonel Denaro, the Military Cross for Major Maddison (who commanded ‘D’ Squadron), the Military Medal for Staff Sergeant Scott (also ‘D’ Squadron) and Mentions In Despatches for Captain Murdoch, WO2 Stevenson and LCpl Hammond.
Arriving back to a rapturous welcome from families and friends the Irish Hussars were joined by the Colonel of the Regiment and Brigadier Patrick Cordingley (Commander the 7th Armoured Brigade) for the celebration of St Patrick’s Day. In presenting the parade and asking the Colonel’s permission to march on the Shamrock, the CO said “. . . and we are also gathered here to thank God that every one of us who went out to the Gulf has returned home safely.”
But amongst the various celebrations, there were some twinges of sadness as the short history of the Irish Hussars was soon to come to an end. Handing over to Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Bellamy, there was no doubt that Colonel Denaro had had an epic command from which he went straight on to be Commander 33 Armoured Brigade in Paderborn. However, this was no time for the Regiment to rest on its laurels. Now, even with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ‘New World Order’ was already just a myth. With the conflict now breaking out in Europe itself with the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, there seemed to be little prospect of any reduction in Britain’s military commitments.
Indeed, just 20 months after returning from the Middle East, the Regiment has now fulfilled a 6 month UN tour in Cyprus, manning the ‘Green Line’ both in the British and former Danish sectors to the west of Nicosia.
Meanwhile, the Queen’s Own Hussars have had squadrons deployed both in Northern Ireland and Cyprus, leaving the two Regiments with scarcely 2 months to move equipment, join up and reorganise for the amalgamation.
As on that Balaklava Day of 1958, it was again under rain-filled skies that the flags of The Queen’s Own Hussars and The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars were lowered for the last time, concluding the Regiments’ respective 35 year histories.
But unlike that day in 1958 the World is no longer divided by an Iron Curtain and the Soviet empire has but ceased to exist. This has been replaced, not by the imagined peaceful co-existence of the ‘New World Order’, but by the spread of unrest and conflict, provoked by greed, bitterness and hatred.
In being born into this uncertain climate The Queen’s Royal Hussars can expect to have to be even more prepared for the unexpected. But this should not deter. On the contrary, the Regiment now comes together with a collective history of over 1100 years and an active service record that is second to none. Mindful of this, the Regiment has all the strength and experience to meet these challenges in the same manner as its forebears have done in the past.
That is with imagination, a sense of purpose and thoughtfulness, applied with determination, skill and courage MENTE ET MANU.