Where Have All the Regiments Gone? The Modern Descendants of the Regiments of the 1815 British Army: the Guards and 1st to 25th Foot
Compiled by Donald E. Graves
In 1815 there were 137 regiments of guards, infantry of the line, veterans battalions, garrison battalions and overseas units such as the West India regiments, Ceylon regiments and the five Canadian fencible regiments as well as a number of humbler entities -- some of which had no title such as the rather forlorn “Regiment at the Cape of Good Hope.” In 2009 the regular infantry of the British army consists of the five battalions of Guards (Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh), and ten regiments, all of which have more than one battalion except the The Royal Irish Regiment which has only one. Six of the ten regiments are entirely new creations arising out of the 2006 re-organization and, in order of seniority, they are:
In addition, there is The Parachute Regiment with three battalions, and The Brigade of Ghurkas with the two battalions but as these are post-1815 creations, they do not concern us here. This being said, let us see how the Guards regiments and the 25 senior regiments of foot of the 1815 army have fared as indicated in the chart below.
Not surprisingly. Her Majesty’s Regiments of Guards have done relatively well, compared with the infantry of the line. All three 1815 Guards regiments are extant today as independent entities, the only change being that the 3rd Regiment had undergone a title change and is now The Scots Guards.
This is not the case with the regiments of the line which experienced major upheavals in the 2006 re-organization. With reference to the county attributions of the 1815 regiments, these were first assigned in 1782 as an incentive to recruiting but in most cases the regiments had little to do with the counties with which they were connected until the Cardwell reforms of the early 1880s when each regiment had a depot located in its county.
The 1st Foot, the senior regiment of the line, raised for the king of France in 1633 but brought into English service in 1678 is now the senior battalion of the new Royal Regiment of Scotland. Note how its appellation cites it title first, its battalion number second and its regiment third which is in contrast to the more normal, battalion/regimental title sequence. Clearly the regiments that were amalgamated to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland (a very unpopular move) are striving to retain their earlier identities.
The lineage of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 16th, 17th, and 20th Regiments of Foot has not changed since 2006 as these regiments were part of earlier amalgamations carried out between 1964 and 1992.
However, the 4thand 8th Foot are now part of the new Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment while the 11th and 13th now form a senior battalion of The Rifles which, as we shall see, also incorporates the 43rd and 52nd light infantry and 60th and 95th rifles of the Napoleonic period. The 14th, 15th , and 19th Foot are now part of the new Yorkshire Regiment while the 21st and 25th are in the new Royal Regiment of Scotland.
There were always three clearly identified Welsh regiments in the army – the 23rd, 24th and 41st. The 23rd was The Royal Welch Fusiliers (note spelling) which enjoyed an independent existence for 317 years until it was amalgamated in 2006 with The Royal Regiment of Wales (former 24th and 41st Foot) to form The Royal Welsh. The 23rd is now 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (Royal Welch Fusiliers) but as an indication of their pride (and their obstinacy) have retained their unique but archaic spelling of “Welch” in their sub-title vis-à-vis the more common “Welsh” in their main title. Both battalions of the The Royal Welsh are now fusiliers which begs the question why a regiment that is Royal, Welsh and fusilier is not called the The Royal Welsh/Welch Fusiliers but there are boundaries to investigating such matters beyond which is not wise to tread.
A special note must be made of the 22nd Foot, first raised in 1689 and which acquired its Cheshire county title in 1782. Like the 23rd, the 22nd managed to survive as an independent entity through all the major amalgamations of the army in the 1880s, 1920s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1990s only to be felled in 2006 when it was made the first battalion of the new Mercian Regiment, although it managed to retain its Cheshire sub-title – at least for now.
Finally, the 18th Foot was disbanded, along with with five other Irish regiments, at the time of the creation of the Irish free state in 1921. At that time it was The Royal Irish Regiment. I believe its Battle Honours are now held by the last surviving Irish regiment, also called The Royal Irish Regiment, which was formed in 1992
The Army List, 1815: Ministry of Defence and regimental websites: Victor Sutcliffe, compilor, Regiments of the British Army; A Handbook with Lists. Part 1, Infantry (East Rudham, 2008); Arthur Swinson, ed., A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army (London, 1972)
Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2009
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