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Light Infantry Day - Wells - Sept 17th 2006


Light Infantry


The Early Years

1968-78 When the Light Infantry was formed on 10th July 1968 the 1st Battalion (1LI) was in Gravesend and, within a month, moved to Ballykinler in Northern Ireland for a two year tour. The 2nd Battalion (2LI) was in Berlin - at that time a divided city - and moved to Colchester in April 1969 to join 19 Airportable Brigade and take over Meeanee Barracks, formerly occupied by 1DLI. The 3rd Battalion (3LI) was based at Terendak Camp near Malacca in Malaysia as part of 28 Commonwealth Brigade, with companies detached on internal security duties in Mauritius; an operation for which the Battalion was subsequently awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace. The last elements of 3LI left Mauritius in November 1968 and 3LI moved to Seaton Barracks, Plymouth. The 4th Battalion (4LI) was in Cyprus as part of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and returned to Meeanee Barracks, Colchester in October 1968. The Colours of 1DLI were laid up in Durham Cathedral in a very moving ceremony in December 1968 and 4LI was progressively run down until, on 31st March 1969, it disbanded.

The early years of the Regiment were to witness a constant conflict between the primary role of battalions and the short notice demands of a rapidly deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, periods as 'Spearhead Battalion', the infantry element of a short notice rapid reaction force, were regularly imposed on all battalions, often disrupting long planned periods of special to role training or leave. The late summer and autumn of 1968 saw a series of increasingly violent marches and demonstrations in Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Norther Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).

By April 1969 the situation required the deployment of 1LI to guard key facilities in the Province. Nevertheless, a brief period of calm allowed the Battalion to exercise in Kenya from May to August 1969; returning to find the Province in turmoil. As part of the Strategic Reserve 2LI exercised in Malaysia in mid-1969 and by the autumn all three regular battalions were on operations in Northern Ireland, with elements of each being involved in the so-called 'Battle of the Shankill' in Belfast in October 1969.

A very brief stay in Plymouth between tours in Northern Ireland gave 3LI the opportunity to lay up the Colours of 1 KSLI in Bridgnorth on 16th April 1970, after which the Battalion moved to Cyprus for a six month UNFICYP tour, returning in October 1970. In May 1970 1LI moved from Northern Ireland to Lemgo in West Germany to join 20 Armoured Brigade as a mechanized infantry battalion. After one brief season of mechanized training 1LI returned to Northern Ireland in March 1971 to take over the notorious West Belfast area from 3LI. In July 1971 1LI returned to Lemgo to pick up the threads of regimental life and mechanized warfare. In April 1971 2LI, setting aside the demands of Northern Ireland, emplaned for Malaysia on Exercise 'BERSATU PADU', a three month Strategic Reserve reinforcement exercise.

On return from the Far East 2LI enjoyed a period of Public Duties in London in October and November. On 7th May 1971 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the Colonel-in-Chief, presented new Colours to 2LI, 3LI and LI(V) at Colchester. In June 1971 3LI had the task of organising the parade and other ceremonies associated with the departure of the Army from Plymouth and move of Headquarters 24 Airportable Brigade to Barnard Castle. This was followed in November 1971 by the move of 3LI to Clifton Barracks in Minden, West Germany to become a mechanized infantry battalion. Meanwhile 2LI had deployed to East Tyrone for what was to prove an extremely active tour and included the mass internment of IRA suspects on 9th August 1971, an event which provoked widespread rioting and which was to be marked every year thereafter with IRA inspired riots throughout the Province.

In early 1972 2LI deployed at short notice to Northern Ireland in anticipation of unrest following the events that came to known as 'Bloody Sunday' incident in Londonderry on 30th January 1972. In the event there was little disturbance and the Battalion remained to cover the threatened 'Day of Disruption' on 9th February before returning to Colchester. In Lemgo Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, the Deputy Colonel-in-Chief, presented new Colours to 1LI on 25th May 1972. The Battalion deployed to West Belfast in July 1972, just in time to take part in Operation 'MOTORMAN' - the clearance of barricades and opening up of the so-called 'no go' areas. Operation 'CARCAN', which had a similar objective, took place in Londonderry on 31st July 1972, during 2LI's tour in the city from June to October 1972.

Two battalions of the Regiment spent most of 1973 in Northern Ireland, ILI in South Armagh from July until October, and 2LI from March to July in West Belfast - their fifth tour in the Province since the emergency began. For 3LI 1973 offered a valuable opportunity to develop the necessary mechanized warfare skills and to practise them at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Canada. In 1970 an expansion of the Territorial Army had been announced and many of the old Territorial Army and Yeomanry units which had been reduced to cadre form were expanded. By the summer of 1972 a new Light Infantry Volunteer battalion - 6LI(V) had been raised in the West Country, and LI(V) became 5LI(V).

Throughout the 1970s the Infantry and the Regiment were heavily committed to operations in Northern Ireland, either on planned tours or as emergency reinforcements. It was not unusual for a battalion's next tour in the Province to be announced before a tour was completed. The frequent separation arising from these tours and the intensity of operations placed a great burden on the families and underlined the importance of the regimental and battalion 'family' in times of hardship. In January 1974 the Colours of 1 KOYLI were laid up in York Minster.

In March 1974 1LI and 2LI exchanged barracks and roles, 1LI hardly firm in Colchester before being sent to Northern Ireland in May to assist with the maintenance of essential services during industrial action by the Ulster Workers Council. In August 1974 1LI moved to Belize to form the core of the force held there to deter Guatemalan aggression. However, almost as the Battalion arrived a hurricane caused extensive damage and elements of the battalion were temporarily deployed to Honduras on relief work.

Fortunately 2LI were to have the bulk of their first training season in Germany free of Northern Ireland commitments, and only moved to Londonderry in March 1975. Virtually the whole of 1974 was spent by 3LI in West Belfast, although the Battalion did return to Germany for the main field training period in the autumn. On retum from Belize in February 1975 1LI found themselves collecting refuse from the streets of Glasgow during a prolonged strike by dustmen, Battalion Tactical Headquarters being located at the Govan incinerator.

Exercise 'Pond Jump West' held during the summer in Wainwright, Alberta offered the chance to work and play with members of the North Saskatchewan Regiment, and this was followed by an emergency tour in Northern Ireland in September and October before the Battalion and its families could leave for Hong Kong in December 1975. Having had a full fourteen months away from Northern Ireland 3LI moved to Londonderry in November 1975. In April 1975 a new Territorial Army battalion of the Regiment, 7LI(V) was formed in the North East, most of its companies being in County Durham.

During 1976 and 1977 1LI in Hong Kong undertook duties on the Sino-Hong Kong border to prevent illegal immigration, found guards of honour for UN duties in Korea and exercised all over the Far East and in New Zealand. For 2LI life was less exotic but just as stimulating, the Battalion completing its seventh tour, this time in West Belfast, between August and December 1976.

On 7th July 1977 2LI was privileged to take part in a magnificent parade staged by the British Army of the Rhine to mark the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen. In March 1976 3LI returned to Minden and, after a flurry of exercises , moved to Alma Barracks, Catterick in August 1976 as a home defence battalion. In September 3LI was tasked to find the guard at Edinburgh Castle, a duty which was much enjoyed and which lasted until early January 1977.

In June 1977 3LI returned to the now very familiar streets of West Belfast for another four month tour at the end of which, almost without drawing breath, the Battalion deployed in a fire-fighting role in Tyne and Wear. The Battalion provided a skeleton fire service for the area for nine weeks until industrial action by the firemen was resolved. In February 1978 1LI assembled at Lucknow Barracks, Tidworth and prepared themselves for a return to West Belfast for four months starting in June. In January 1978, 2LI moved from Germany to Abercorn Barracks, Ballykinler at the start of a two year tour as a resident battalion. After an exciting and interesting exercise in Kenya, during which links were renewed with the Kenya Rifles, 3LI moved to Cyprus in November 1978 for a six month tour with UNFICYP. On 14th July 1978 Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra presented new Colours to 7LI(V) at that most spectacular of settings, Palace Green, Durham. An Infantry Demonstration Battalion, to which the Regiment contributed a number of Light Infantrymen, was raised at the School of Infantry, Warminster in 1978.

Given its ancestry it is perhaps not surprising that, in the first ten years of its existence, the Light Infantry established a wide reputation for the quality of its operations. This reputation had not been easily earned and the Regiment had suffered a number of casualties; but the courage and professionalism of Light Infantrymen was now widely recognised by both friend and foe. The links with the counties from which the Regiment springs had been enhanced by the expansion of the Territorial Army and there was now a regimental presence in each county.

The Years of Consolidation 1979-1989

Over the next ten years the Regiment was to consolidate both its structure and its reputation. Headquarters The Light Division was to play an increasingly important part in manpower and training matters, and the Light Division ethos was to develop rapidly as cross-posting between the two regiments increased. Although Northern Ireland continued to place a heavy burden on the Infantry, the initial impact and the knock-on effect on postings, training and leave had been largely contained.

From October 1979 to May 1980 1LI undertook a six month tour in Cyprus as part of UNFICYP, returning to Lucknow Barracks, Tidworth just in time to take part in a major home defence exercise. As a resident battalion in Northern Ireland 2LI was fully stretched, and it was with some relief that the Battalion moved to Gibraltar in July 1979. Training facilities on 'The Rock' were somewhat limited, but there were excellent opportunities for adventure training, and a battalion exercise was held annually on Salisbury Plain.

In May 1979 3LI returned to Catterick from Cyprus and, by November, was heavily involved in a reciprocal exercise with the Jamaica Defence Force before moving to Cyprus for a two year tour in the spring of 1980. On 26th October 1979 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother presented new Colours to 6LI(V) in Bath; a marvellous regency setting for the parade and a very memorable occasion. During 1978 a formal association was established between the Regiment and the carrier HMS INVINCIBLE which was to prove an enduring and rewarding friendship.

In March 1981 1LI moved to Buller Barracks, Munster to join 5 Field Force which had responsibility for rear area defence. In Gibraltar 2LI, having taken part in Exercise 'WINTEX' in the Spring, moved to Weeton Camp near Blackpool. Against a background of 'Spearhead' duty the Battalion became heavily involved in preparations to meet a strike by tanker drivers and the provision of an ambulance service following flooding. For 3LI in Cyprus the increased threat of terrorism was adding significantly to the burden of garrison duties. In any event thoughts were already turning to the return to England and the forthcoming tour in Northern Ireland.

In Germany 1LI were experiencing a busy training season in the newly redesignated 24 Infantry Brigade, and companies went in turn to train in the Santa Margarida area of Portugal. In November the Battalion was subjected to the NATO 'Operational Readiness Test' procedure, emerging with great credit.

In 1982 2LI saw very little of their camp at Weeton, having to prepare for and undertake a tour in South Armagh from April to September. Northern Ireland operations also dominated life in 3LI, now stationed in Tidworth as part of the United Kingdom Mobile Force (UKMF), but deployed to Fermanagh in October 1982 for four months. January 1983 was important for 1LI and the Regiment because the Battalion joined 6 Airmobile Brigade and so began the Regiment's long association with airmobility - a role for which the Light Infantry is particularly suited. However, airmobility was soon set aside for a tour in West Belfast from May to September 1982. There was also a change of role for 2LI in Weeton, which became a BAOR reinforcement battalion under the command of 24 Infantry Brigade. One company was detached to join the garrison on the Falkland Islands the balance of the Battalion taking part in Exercise 'GRAND PRIX'.

On return from Fermanagh in early 1983 3LI concentrated on their primary role in the UKMF, taking part in major exercises in Denmark during the late summer and autumn and, in the latter part of the year, being deployed to RAF Greenham Common where the 'Greenham Women' had established a camp. In January 1983 training of the junior entry for the Light Division was concentrated at the Light Infantry Depot Division Depot (Shrewsbury)'; adult training was concentrated at the Rifle Depot, now retitled the 'Light Division Depot (Winchester)'.

It had long been planned that 1984 would feature a major reinforcement and field training exercise in Germany, Exercise 'LIONHEART'. This exercise took place in September and October with elements of 1LI, 2LI, 5LI(V) and 7LI(V) involved. A period of Public Duties in London, the second in the history of the Regiment, was undertaken by 3LI, in January and February 1984. However, ceremonial was not confined to 3LI and 1LI had the honour of finding the ceremonial guard of honour for Her Majesty The Queen at a ceremony held at Utah Beach, Normandy, to mark the anniversary of D Day.

In January 1985 3LI moved to Omagh for a two year tour as a resident battalion; a busy and very successful tour. The techniques of airmobility were being developed by 1LI; a role which was taken up by 2LI when, at the end of 1984, there was a straight swap - 1LI moving to Weeton Camp and 2LI moving to Peninsula Barracks, Deilinghofen. Having returned to England 1LI spent most of 1985 as garrison battalion in the Falkland Islands. In the summer of 1986 1LI exercised in Canada before relieving 3LI as the Omagh resident battalion in November 1986. In April 1985theLight Division was reduced from six to four regular bands. This resulted in the formation of two 'large bands' in each regiment - the Light Infantry forming the 'Corunna' and 'Salamanca' Bands. On 28th June 1985 the Regiment celebrated its tercentenary, marking the three hundred years since the founding of the Earl of Huntingdon's Regiment. Festivities were centred largely on the West Country, Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra attending a parade and service of thanksgiving at Wells.

In January 1986 the 8th Battalion The Light Infantry (Volunteers) (8LI(V)) was formed in Yorkshire - the final link in the re-establishment of the Regiment in the counties. The regimental flag was finally lowered at Sir John Moore Barracks, Shrewsbury on 3rd October 1986, to be raised again at the new Sir John Moore Barracks, the newly built Light Division Depot at Winchester. The new Depot, which included the Regimental Headquarters of both regiments, was opened formally by Her Majesty The Queen and Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra on 27th November 1986, and was to be the centre for the training of all Light Division recruits.

In Omagh 1LI found that, in addition to the demands of the security situation, the Battalion was to be heavily engaged on flood relief duties following severe flooding in the winter. Following a period of training in Portugal for each of the rifle companies in turn, 2LI moved to Northern Ireland for its tenth tour since the emergency began and was deployed in West Belfast from July to December 1987. For 3LI, an intensive period of training with the 'SAXON' wheeled troop carrying vehicle was necessary before the Battalion could take its place on brigade exercises. This training was interrupted in February by a deployment to Salisbury Plain to cover an exercise by the Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMS) of the US Air Force. A strong detachment from 3LI was required to support the Cardiff Tattoo in July and August, but by October the Battalion was ready to move to Germany with its 'SAXONs' for Exercise 'KEYSTONE'.

On 20th August 1988 a coach carrying a party from A Company 1LI from Aldergrove to Omagh was blown up by a roadside bomb near Ballygawley. Eight men were killed and a further 27 wounded. In Germany 2LI rapidly assembled Salamanca Platoon, a reinforcement platoon of volunteers, to join 1LI in order that, in spite of the losses, the pace and scale of operations could be sustained. In Germany 2LI had become the leading airmobile battalion, having been fundamental in the development of airmobile tactics and procedures.

In March 1988 one company from 3LI was deployed to the Falkland Islands to join the garrison; the balance of the Battalion followed shortly thereafter on a reinforcement exercise, Exercise 'FIRE FOCUS'. In July 3LI was task to provide security for the newly opened temporary prison at Rollestone Camp on Salisbury Plain and subsequently, with some relief, moved to Kenya for the long awaited Exercise 'GRAND PRIX'.

In February 1989 1LI moved to Berlin and had nearly a full year of duties in the allied garrison before the Berlin wall was breached on 9th November 1989. This momentous event was to signal the subsequent collapse of communism and end of the Warsaw Pact as an effective military alliance. In January 1989 2LI moved to Lucknow Barracks, Tidworth and joined the UKMF as a 'SAXON' battalion, exercising in Canada in July and August. For 3LI the early part of 1989 was filled with a host of commitments arising from the Regular Army Assistance Table, but the Battalion did escape to take part in Exercise 'KEY FLIGHT' in Germany in September. All the Volunteer battalions had been engaged in a series of exercises known as 'EXECUTIVE STRETCH' designed to stimulate leadership and interest in the Army among young executives from commerce and industry.

'Options' and After

The dramatic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe provoked a search for a rapid and conspicuous 'peace dividend'. In February 1990 the Secretary of State for Defence, former Somerset Light Infantry Officer and Member of Parliament for Bridgwater, Tom King, announced he had set in hand 'Options for Change' studies to address the size, shape and role of Britain's post-Cold War defence forces. The outcome of these studies was a significant reduction in the Infantry, and both regiments of the Light Division were required to reduce by one regular battalion. This unwelcome decision, which undermined the whole concept of the 'large regiment', was followed by the news that the Volunteers were to be subjected to similar scrutiny. During the 'Options' process massive campaigns were mounted in the counties from which the Regiment springs to prevent the loss or amalgamation of any of the Volunteer battalions. It was with some relief that, on 10th December 1991, it was announced that all four Volunteer battalions would remain, albeit reduced to three companies and, in the case of 5LI(V), one of the companies being from the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment (29th/45th).

Although naturally concerned about the likely outcome of the 'Options' studies, life in all battalions continued at the usual pace. A new Light Infantry Museum, in Peninsula Barracks, Winchester opened its doors to the public on 8th January 1990, and was formally opened by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra on 27th November 1991. For 1LI in Berlin, uncertainties about the size and duration of the allied garrison, the chance to meet both East German and Soviet units, and increasing restrictions on training were making life interesting. In January 1990 2LI deployed to South Armagh for an emergency tour; returning to Tidworth in May only to discover that the major UKMF exercise had been cancelled, to be replaced with a less exciting exercise on Salisbury Plain.

In February 1990 3LI moved from Weeton Camp to Paderborn to become a mechanized battalion with the new 'WARRIOR' infantry combat vehicle. However, any prospect of mechanized training was removed when the Battalion was tasked with the training of reinforcements for the Gulf War. In October 1990 the Salamanca Band deployed to the Gulf in their role as Medical Assistants. The Band remained in the Gulf throughout the war, three members being mentioned in dispatches for gallantry.

In January 1991 2LI moved to Washington State for Exercise 'TRUMPET DANCE', an exercise which was much enjoyed and an opportunity at last to conduct primary role training., All available 'WARRIOR' vehicles having been transferred to the Gulf, it was decided to bring forward the 3LI tour in Northern Ireland and the Battalion deployed to West Belfast in May 1991, returning in November to find that the full scale of 'WARRIOR' vehicles was still not available.

On 31st May 1991 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother presented new Colours to the three regular battalions at Tidworth. With the outcome of the 'Options' studies very much in mind, but yet to be announced, it was to be a particularly memorable regimental occasion, even though the 1LI presence was much reduced and 3LI could only spare a small party from operations in Northern Ireland. The much delayed return of 1LI finally took place in August 1991 when the Battalion moved into Kiwi Barracks, Bulford. As 1LI returned 2LI departed, having been sent to Northern Ireland for two months as short-term reinforcements.

It was decided that the reduction by one regular battalion should be achieved by the merger of the three existing battalions; 1LI would occupy the barracks currently occupied by 2LI and 3LI would renumber as 2LI and remain in Germany. The rundown to the revised manpower target continued throughout 1992 and hit 1LI, deployed in Belize from April to August 1992 and 2LI, on a six month tour in South Armagh, particularly hard. It was not to be until August 1992 that 3LI finally started their 'WARRIOR' training, two and a half years after arriving in Germany. On 25th February 1993 the three regular battalions merged to become two, a major reorganisation achieved with a smoothness and efficiency that does nothing but credit to the 'large regiment' concept.

The Light Infantry went to War in Iraq in 2003. It was the first time that the modern Regiment had been to war since it was formed in 1968.

During the war with the Regime of Saddam Hussain (in the Spring of 2003) 1 LI deployed two Armoured Infantry Companies to Iraq, as part of the Desert Rats and fought with the 2 RTR Battle Group. Between October 2003 and April 2004, 1 LI returned to Iraq on Operation TELIC 3.

Throughout the War, 2 LI was deployed in Cyprus, protecting the vital forward operating base for British Forces in the region. When in September 2003 the situation on the ground, in the aftermath of the war became tense, the Battalion was deployed (from Cyprus) into Iraq to support exisiting operations and in offering additional protection to the Coalition Provisional Authority. The Battalion returned to Cyprus in early November 2003. Since then, soldiers from our TA Companies have also deployed into the country.

1LI are now back in Iraq as part of the 20 Brigade deployment to the region.

Both Battalions and those who now join the Light Infantry family from the DD LI and RGBW LI, will continue to play a role in the deployment cycle as work in Iraq continues


The Rifles have been formed from four of the finest Infantry Regiments of the British Army. Their history is long and illustrious. The concept of British Light Infantry - a combination of Light Infantry and Rifle Regiments was the brain child of General Sir John Moore (1761-1809), who established the original regiments in Shorncliffe in the early 1800s. Since then, more regiments have been converted to Light Infantry and, in February 2007, they all joined and formed The Rifles. .


Monday, 19 September, 2016 21:55

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