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Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
(43rd and 52nd Foot).


Though the 43rd and 52nd Regiments were independent of each other for some 140 years from their formation, their subsequent union into a single regiment and the way in which their fortunes were so often linked in the early years make it possible for their stories to be told as one.

The eighteenth century saw Great Britain and France intermittently at war, both on the continent of Europe and throughout their colonial territories, and the British Army was continually expanded and reduced to suit the needs of the moment. One such expansion, in 1741, included the raising of the 54th Regiment of infantry with its headquarters at Winchester. Disbandments at the end of the war in 1748 spared the regiment, by then in garrison at Minorca, but reductions amongst older regiments caused its renumbering as the 43rd. In 1755 another 54th Regiment was raised and based at Coventry, to be renumbered the 52nd a year later.

The Seven Years' War (1756-63)
Shortly after the start of the Seven Years' War with France, in 1757, the 43rd moved to North America. It was part of Wolfe's force which captured Quebec in 1759 and then defended the city against a French siege through the following winter, operations which led to the annexation of Canada by the British. Once North America was secured, the action moved to the West Indies, where the Regiment took part in the storming and capture of Martinique, Grenada, St. Vincent and St. Lucia from the French, and Havannah, Cuba, from the Spanish.

The American War of Independence (1774-82)
The 43rd returned to England after the peace of 1763 but crossed the Atlantic again eleven years later and was engaged throughout the American War of Independence. The 52nd, which had waited twenty years for its first taste of active service, joined them at Boston and the two regiments fought side-by-side at Lexington and Bunker Hill, both battles won at the cost of heavy casualties. There followed a series of successful actions around New York in which the Americans were regularly defeated and the 52nd returned home in 1778. But the intervention of France in support of the rebellion started the turn of the tide; the 43rd was sent to Virginia to reinforce Lord Cornwallis and was therefore present at the siege and final surrender at Yorktown in 1781 which brought the war to an end.

Southern India (1783-96)
The 52nd landed at Madras in 1783 and for nine years was involved in intermittent campaigning against Tippoo Sahib of Mysore. A succession of battles against a well-organised enemy culminated in the capture of Tippoo's capital at Seringapatam. European rivalries and alliances were the cause of two other shorter expeditions in the same theatre which seized Pondicherry from the French and the coastal towns of Ceylon from the Dutch.

The West Indies - Second Round (1794-1800)
In 1794 the 43rd, now with the extra title the Monmouthshire Regiment, was again engaged against French possessions in the West Indies, its first tasks, in which it played a distinguished part, being to capture, for the second time, Martinique and St. Lucia, which had been returned to France by the peace treaty of 1763. The 43rd also assisted at the capture of Guadeloupe, but were then left there as a garrison with too little strength to hold off the French counter-attack and, much reduced by disease, were overpowered after a resistance lasting some three months.

The Light Brigade
For some fifty years before 1800 it had been the practice for infantry battalions to include a light company of picked men for tasks needing rapid reactions when, in 1803, the 43rd and 52nd were chosen to form the first Corps of Light Infantry and joined with the 95th Rifles (later The Rifle Brigade) to constitute the Light Brigade at Shorncliffe in Kent under the command of Sir John Moore. Moore has been described as 'the very best trainer of troops that England has ever possessed'. His insistence on absolute professionalism and mutual respect between officers and men (new concepts at the time) was to create a formation whose contribution was crucial to Wellington's victories in the Peninsula and whose traditions survive in The Royal Green Jackets of today.

Copenhagen (1807)
In 1807, Denmark having allied itself with France, the 43rd, 52nd and 95th, led by Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, were part of a force which bombarded and captured Copenhagen and with it the entire Danish fleet. Disaster almost struck on the voyage home, when a ship carrying the 43rd ran aground in a storm. Sure that their last hour had come, an officer produced a flute and played the 'Death March in Saul', but ship and regiment in the end survived.

The Peninsular War (1808-14)
When Napoleon's armies invaded Spain and threatened Lisbon in 1808 the 43rd and 52nd were in Wellesley's force sent to oppose them and played a central role in the sharp engagement at Vimiera (where all four future Green Jacket regiments took part) which forced the French to evacuate Portugal. When Sir John Moore succeeded to the command and advanced into Spain, two battalions of each regiment were in his army and, with the 95th, played a distinguished part in forming the rearguard when the army was forced to retreat in mid-winter to Vigo and Corunna. Moore was killed in the final battle but his army was able to embark in good order and return to England. The following year the reconstituted Light Brigade returned to the Peninsula under Robert Craufurd, landing at Lisbon. Hearing that their support was urgently needed in Spain, they set out at once on a forced march of 250 miles, the last fifty-two in twenty-six hours, to join Wellington's army at Talavera, but arrived on the battlefield only to find that the battle was already won. Meanwhile the 2nd Battalions of each regiment were despatched on a disastrous expedition to Walcheren in the Low Countries where they were decimated by fever without achieving anything of value. With the addition of two battalions of Portuguese light infantry the Brigade grew into the Light Division and for the next four years was continuously the cutting edge of Wellington's force until the French were driven out of Spain. By that time it had fought another dozen great battles and sieges and as many lesser actions. At the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo Lieutenant Gurwood of the 52nd commanded the 'forlorn hope' and received the French Governor's sword in surrender.

North America (1814-15)
Napoleon's abdication in 1814 led to a temporary peace and the disbandment of the Light Division. An expeditionary force, including the 43rd, was despatched against the United States, which was allied to France and threatening British possessions in Canada. A series of sharp engagements culminated in the capture and burning of Washington, but the British force was later repulsed before New Orleans and the 43rd returned to Europe just too late to fight at Waterloo.

Waterloo (1815)
When Napoleon escaped from exile on the island of Elba to lead his army to the decisive battle of the war at Waterloo the 52nd found itself brigaded with the 95th and 71st and started the day in reserve. They were moved forward to resist successive attacks by French cavalry and their position was crucial when Napoleon launched his Imperial Guard in a final stroke against the centre of the British line. The French were halted by the fire of Maitland's Brigade of Guards and, as they faltered, Sir John Colborne led the 52nd in a charge against their flank which turned their advance into disorderly retreat and swept the rest of the French army away with it.

The Kaffir Wars and the Birkenhead (1851-53)
The defeat of Napoleon was followed by thirty years of peace, but the remainder of the century was punctuated by campaigns to secure the Empire. In the 1850s the 43rd fought in the Kaffir War in South Africa; their discipline and self-sacrifice in the ship-wreck of the Birkenhead off Natal, when the troops paraded on deck as the women and children took to the boats, stirred the imagination of Victorian England and caused Frederick of Prussia to have the story read out at the head of every regiment of his army as an example of devotion to duty.

The Indian Mutiny (1857-59)
During the Mutiny campaign the 43rd marched some 1300 miles in seven months, fighting innumerable small actions on the way, developing the concept of mounted infantry by the use of camels and winning its first VC. The 52nd set out from Bengal to, join the British force besieging Delhi, where they led the assault on the Kashmir Gate. Bugler Hawthorne won one of the regiment's two VCs for coolly sounding the advance under intense fire from the walls as the explosive charges to blow in the gate were detonated and then rescuing a wounded Engineer officer of the firing party.

Campaigns from 1863-1902
In 1863 the 43rd was called on to fight a tragic and bloody but ultimately successful war against the Maoris in New Zealand, in which their opponents were not only courageous but showed exceptional humanity to the wounded. In the next thirty years the 43rd and 52nd were involved in sporadic operations in India, Burma and the Sudan.

This Officer's name was William Ashby born approximately 1870 his family were based in Derbyshire while he was away fighting in the Boer War. (Janet Stafford - Great Grand-daughter)

The 43rd fought throughout the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), notably at the relief of Kimberley and the decisive battle of Paardeburg, which resulted in the surrender of the Boer General Cronje. Their mounted infantry company was active throughout the war.

The Cardwell reorganisation of the Army in 1881 recognised the historical links between the 43rd and 52nd and decreed that they should become the 1st and 2nd Battalions of The Oxfordshire Light Infantry, though the old regimental numbers continued in unofficial use. The combined regiment was based at a new Depot at Cowley, Oxford. In 1908 'Buckinghamshire' was added to the title.

World War 1(1914-19)
The 1st Battalion (43rd) fought the Turks in Mesopotamia, where they suffered very heavy casualties, were besieged at Kut and eventually starved into surrender. Of 300 men who were taken prisoner only ninety survived the war. In 1919 the reconstituted battalion took part in the inconclusive campaign against the Bolsheviks in North Russia. The 52nd and most of the affiliated Territorial Force battalions fought on the Western Front. In 1914 they achieved fame at Nonne Boschen by routing the Prussian Potsdam Guards, almost 100 years after they had defeated the French Imperial Guard at Waterloo. From then on, however their experiences of appalling casualties for little apparent gain mirrored those of the rest of the Army. Other battalions fought in Italy and Salonika.

World War II (1939-45)
The 43rd and 1st Bucks Battalion (TA) were in the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940 and escaped through Dunkirk after suffering heavy casualties. Another TA battalion (4th Oxf Bucks) was encircled by the Germans and overrun. The regiment was represented by the 7th Battalion in Tunisia and Italy (at the Anzio and Salerno landings), the 43rd in North-West Europe (in the advanée from Normandy to Hamburg) and by the 6th in Burma (from Arakan down the west coast to Tamandu). The 52nd was chosen to pioneer the new role of airlanding by glider. At midnight before the D-Day landings in Normandy coup de main parties from the battalion siezed and held the bridges over the Caen Canal (Pegasus Bridge) and River Orne (Horsa Bridge).

'Flight to Pegasus'---by Jim Wallwork DFM

'The Action at Pegasus Bridge'---by Harry Nobby Clark

A Time to be Born, A Time to Live and a Time to Die --by Denis Edwards

What D'Ya Do In The War Dad? by Barry Parr

The story of an 'ordinary' D-Day Cockney soldier who somehow reached 'extraordinary' heights - like so many others, it is a story of laughter and tears, of triumph and tragedy.

In March 1945 the battalion carried out a costly assault landing as part of the operation to cross the Rhine before fighting its way across Germany to meet up with the Russians on the Baltic.

The Post-War Years (1945-1958)
After the war the 43rd were engaged in peace-keeping in Trieste and Yugoslavia while the 52nd faced the Jewish uprising against the British mandate in Palestine. In 1948 the two Battalions amalgamated to form the 1st Battalion The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 43rd and 52nd, which was in Greece during the Civil War, in Egypt and in Cyprus confronting the Enosis insurgents demanding union with Greece. There in 1958 it once more changed its title to the 1st Green Jackets (43rd and 52nd) and in 1962 was the first battalion to take part in the Borneo Campaign.

The Royal Green Jackets - Website

Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry (43rd/52nd)
Contact: The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum on 01962 828549 or The Soldiers of Oxfordshire (SOFO) Museum on 01993 810210.


Monday, 19 September, 2016 12:57

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