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The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry

Glorious Glosters - Introduction

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The Glosters famous Sphinx back badge-won so hard and thenworn so proudly after a victory over Napolean's troops at the Battle of the Nile in 1801 -would live on, at least on ceremonial occasions. [Source Gerry Brooke, BEP]

THE 300 year old "Glosters" were a proud county regiment, with many of its soldiers traditionally coming from the Bristol area.

By the early 1950s it carried more Battle Honours on its Regimental Colour than any other regiment in the British Army.

But Saturday, March 26,1994 was a day of mixed emotions as the men went on parade -for this was to be the very last occasion that they would march together as the "Glorious Glosters".

Just a month later the old 28th and 61st of Foot - the "Old Buffs" - was amalgamated with the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment to become the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment.

Currently on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, in 18 months time they will be amalgamated yet again - this time with the Devon and Dorset's and the Royal Green Jackets. They're to be renamed The Rifles and be based at Chepstow.

It might seem a strange concept today but in the 17th century regiments were the personal property of the men who formed them, and in 1694 the Lieutenant Governor of Portsmouth, Colonel John Gibson, raised a new Regiment of Foot.

Ten years later he sold the Regiment and it then passed through several hands - each time taking the new Colonel's name. Then, in 1742, it became known as the 28th Regiment of Foot, distinguished by its bright yellow facings.

The 28th was later joined by the 2nd Battalion of the Buffs, the 61st of Foot and, in 1782, the two regiments amalgamated under the name of the Gloucestershire Regiment -the "Glosters"

Their first overseas posting, in 1697, was to Newfoundland to protect English settlers from the French.

Eight years later, in 1705, the regiment was in the Netherlands - again fighting the French: It took part in Marlborough's victory at Remillies and it was here that it won its first battle honour.

In 1734 Colonel Philip Bragg took command. A popular leader, he remained in charge for 25 years until his death in 1759. Such was his stamp on the regiment that it became known by the much cherished nickname of "Old Braggs".

By 1759, the 28th sailed to Canada - again to fight those old foes, the French. They helped take Quebec, fighting under General Wolfe. Ever since they have honoured his memory - Wolfe was to die there - by wearing a black line in their tie.

In 1801 the Glosters found themselves in Egypt as part of a force sent to halt Napoleon's seemingly unstoppable march towards British-held India - the jewel in the Empire's crown.

The French navy which had landed Napolean's troops in Egypt had been already been defeated by Nelson's fleet - but a large army remained - and still posed a threat.

On the morning of March 21a vastly superior French army, which easily outnumbered the British, attacked near

Alexandria. By those times muzzle-loading rifles were in common use and the infantry fought in two ranks - one row kneeling and the rear rank firing over their shoulders.

At one point during the fierce fighting -when it looked as though the Glosters would be surrounded - the rear rank was commanded to "about face". This meant turning and fighting back-to-back against enemy soldiers coming from the rear. After much savage hand-to-hand combat the French were stopped and by mid-morning their entire army was in retreat.

As a reward for their vital contribution to the victory - and in memory of that back-to-back fighting - the Glosters were given the right to wear a badge at the back, as well as the front, of their caps - the famous sphinx Back Badge.

Napoleon's army in Egypt may have been defeated but on the European mainland his forces remained a serious threat. By 1810 both the 28th and 61st were in Spain with the task of clearing French troops from the entire Peninsular.

But it took another four years of difficult fighting - in which the Glosters lost 1,200 men - before the British, under the command of the "Iron" Duke of Wellington, finally expelled them.

In 1814, Napoleon, having escaped from Elba, once more rallied troops to his cause and the European allies - under the command of the Duke - were sent to face him.

In the summer of 1815, Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo and exiled to the island of St Helena. The Glosters were in the forefront of the fighting - and were the only regiment specifically mentioned by name in Wellington's famous despatch.

But the Glosters were kept busy, particularly in India. In 1854 the regiment found itself fighting against Russian imperial expansion in the Crimea where the men were decimated by cholera. At the end of the century they were shipped to South Africa to fight in the Boer War.

The Glosters were involved in the First World War - the Great War of 1914-18 - right from the very start. Within a week of war having been declared - following the German invasion of Belgium - they were in France.

By the time that terrible war ended the Glosters had raised no fewer than 24 battalions and more than 8,000 regimental soldiers had died.

In 1939, at the start of the Second World

War, the Glosters were once more back in France. But it was a very different scenario now - forces moved fast and England was threatened by immediate invasion.

In the spring of 1940 - after holding the German advance for four vital days and thus giving much-needed breathing space for 350,000 soldiers to be evacuated from the Dunkirk beaches - almost the entire 2nd Battalion was captured. But four years later, after D-day, they were back in Europe and on the way to the final defeat of Nazi Germany.

The 1st Battalion, at the same time, was in Burma fighting the Japanese - who had forced them to retreat almost to the Indian frontier. Later, the 10th Battalion played a prominent role in the recapture of the country But, by the end of hostilities, in 1945, nearly 1,000 men had been lost.

The Korean War began with the invasion of South Korea by North Korea - their Communist neighbours. The United Nations decided that this aggression must be resisted and, in 1950, the Glosters were despatched as part of the UN forces.

The regiment played a crucial role in the now legendary Battle of the Imjin River. As the North Koreans, aided by the communist Chinese, were advancing rapidly towards the South Korean capital of Seoul, the Glosters were given the task of holding them back while the American troops regrouped.

These brave men held out for four days against a Chinese force 10 times their size. Finally - having run out of food, water and ammunition and completely surrounded -they were ordered to break out.

Only 63 men made it back to the allied positions. Those still left alive were captured and incarcerated in prisoner of war camps for the next two years. But this heroic stand against overwhelming odds did not go unrecognised and the regiment was soon being lauded as "The Glorious Glosters". Later President Truman awarded them his Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation -the blue insignia still worn by members of the regiment to this day.

Only one other British regiment has recieved this honour. The Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel James Carne, who was captured, later received the Victoria Cross, the regiment's eighth, to add to his DSO.

Since those glory days the Glosters have been posted overseas on numerous occasions and been involved in a variety of peace-keeping roles.


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Thursday, 27 April, 2017 10:24

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