West Somerset Yeomanry
The West Somerset Yeomanry was a Yeomanry regiment of the British Army. First raised in 1794, it participated in the Second Boer War and World War I before being converted to an artillery regiment. It served in World War II (as two field artillery regiments). Post-war it was gradually reduced in strength until the yeomanry lineage of the successor unit was discontinued on 9 November 1988.
|West Somerset Yeomanry|
|Active||June 1794 – 9 November 1988|
|Part of||Boer War|
World War I
World War II
World War I
World War II
Formation and early history
Under threat of invasion by the French Revolutionary government from 1793, and with insufficient military forces to repulse such an attack, the British government under William Pitt the Younger decided in 1794 to increase the Militia and to form corps of volunteers for the defence of the country. The mounted arm of the volunteers became known as the "Gentlemen and Yeomanry Cavalry". The West Somerset Yeomanry was first raised in June 1794 as an independent troop at Bridgwater. George IV commissioned Lieutenant William Bellett (c. 1754–1831) of the 22nd Regiment of Foot to form the militia. Bellett was awarded captaincy of the regiment by brevet by the king upon its formation. Three more troops followed in 1794 before being regimented in 1798 as the West Somersetshire Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry.
Despite the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the Yeomanry was retained by the government "for Military Service in aid of the Civil Power" in the absence of organised police forces. The establishment of police forces (in London in 1829 and in the counties in 1855) reduced the need for Yeomanry to be called out. The last occasion was during the food riots in Devon in 1867 when 112 members of the 1st Devonshire Yeomanry Cavalry mustered in Exeter.
The unwillingness of the government to pay for the Yeomanry led to many corps being disbanded in 1827–28. Twenty-two corps were authorised to continue officially, and another sixteen were allowed to continue to serve without pay. Serving without pay from 1828 to 1831, the Regiment was never disbanded.
Sometime in the 19th century, the regiment was renamed as the West Somerset Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry, with Headquarters at Taunton. On 1 April 1893, the troops were reorganised into squadrons.
Second Boer War
On 13 December 1899, it was decided to allow volunteer forces to serve in the Second Boer War. Due to the string of defeats during Black Week in December 1899, the British government realised that more troops, in addition to the regular army, were needed. A Royal Warrant was issued on 24 December 1899, officially creating the Imperial Yeomanry. The Royal Warrant asked standing Yeomanry regiments to provide service companies of about 115 men each. In addition, many British citizens (usually mid-upper class) volunteered to join the new regiment. The first contingent of recruits contained 550 officers and 10,371 men, in 20 battalions and 4 companies, which arrived in South Africa between February and April 1900.
The inscription "South Africa" on the Regimental crest commemorates service in the Boer War. The regiment provided troops for the 25th (West Somerset) Company, 7th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry, and sailed for the Cape in March 1900.
On 17 April 1901, the regiment was renamed as the West Somerset Imperial Yeomanry and reorganised in four squadrons and a machine gun section. On 1 April 1908, the regiment was renamed for the final time as the West Somerset Yeomanry and transferred to the Territorial Force, trained and equipped as hussars. The regiment was based at Upper High Street in Taunton at this time (since demolished).
|West Somerset Yeomanry|
|A Squadron||Wellington |
(detachments at Minehead, Wiveliscombe, Washford, Dulverton, Williton)
|B Squadron||Taunton |
(detachments at Churchinford, Buckland St. Mary, Bishops Lydeard, Churchstanton, Hatch Beauchamp)
|C Squadron||Bridgwater |
(detachments at Highbridge, Glastonbury, Langport, Nether Stowey, North Petherton)
|D Squadron||Yeovil |
(detachments at Crewkerne, Chard, Ilminster, South Petherton, Martock)
It was ranked as 33rd (of 55) in the order of precedence of the Yeomanry Regiments in the Army List of 1914. When the order of precedence was being established, inaccuracies in tracing its history led to a loss of precedence despite apparently serving continuously from 1794.
World War I
|2nd South Western Mounted Brigade|
Organisation on 4 August 1914|
In accordance with the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 (7 Edw. 7, c.9) which brought the Territorial Force into being, the TF was intended to be a home defence force for service during wartime and members could not be compelled to serve outside the country. However, on the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, many members volunteered for Imperial Service. Therefore, TF units were split in August and September 1914 into 1st Line (liable for overseas service) and 2nd Line (home service) units. Later, a 3rd Line was formed to act as a reserve, providing trained replacements for the 1st and 2nd Line regiments.
1/1st West Somerset Yeomanry
At the outbreak of the First World War, the regiment was part of the 2nd South Western Mounted Brigade. It mobilised on 4 August 1914 and moved to Winchester. On 15 August it moved with its brigade to the Colchester area. In September 1915 it was at Thorpe-le-Soken where it was dismounted.
Still with the 2nd South Western Mounted Brigade, in September 1915 the regiment left Thorpe-le-Soken for Liverpool. On 24 September it boarded RMS Olympic and sailed the next day. It arrived at Mudros on 1 October and on to Suvla Bay. The regiment landed in Gallipoli on 9 October and was attached to the 11th (Northern) Division (digging trenches). In November it was in the firing line, attached to the 2nd Mounted Division and 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division. On 19 December it was evacuated to Imbros.
In December 1915 the regiment landed in Alexandria to help defend Egypt. In February 1916, 2nd South Western Mounted Brigade was absorbed into the 2nd Dismounted Brigade (along with elements of the Highland and Lowland Mounted Brigades). It served on Suez Canal defences and part of the Western Frontier Force. On 4 January 1917, the regiment was converted at Ismaïlia, Egypt to form the 12th (West Somerset Yeomanry) Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry and 2nd Dismounted Brigade became 229th Brigade in the 74th (Yeomanry) Division.
With the 74th Division, it took part in the invasion of Palestine in 1917 and 1918. It fought in the Second and Third Battles of Gaza (including the capture of Beersheba and the Sheria Position). At the end of 1917, it took part in the capture and defence of Jerusalem and in March 1918 in the Battle of Tell 'Asur. On 3 April 1918, the Division was warned that it would move to France and by 30 April 1918 had completed embarkation at Alexandria.
France and Flanders 1918
On 7 May 1918, 12th (West Somerset Yeomanry) Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry landed at Marseilles, France with 74th (Yeomanry) Division. It served in France and Flanders with the division for the rest of the war. From September 1918, as part of III Corps of Fourth Army, it took part in the Hundred Days Offensive, including the Second Battle of the Somme (Second Battle of Bapaume) and the Battles of the Hindenburg Line (Battle of Épehy). In October and November 1918 it took part in the Final Advance in Artois and Flanders. By the Armistice it was still with 229th Brigade, 74th (Yeomanry) Division, moving from Havinnes to Escalette, east of Tournai.
2/1st West Somerset Yeomanry
The 2nd Line regiment was formed at Taunton in 1914. In January 1915 it joined 2/2nd South Western Mounted Brigade at Woodbury and in September 1915 it moved to Essex. On 31 March 1916, the remaining Mounted Brigades were ordered to be numbered in a single sequence; the brigade was numbered as 2nd Mounted Brigade and joined 1st Mounted Division. In May 1916 it went to Norfolk with its brigade.
In July 1916 it became a cyclist unit in the 1st Cyclist Brigade of the 1st Cyclist Division in the Beccles, Suffolk area. In November 1916, the 1st Cyclist Division was broken up and the regiment was amalgamated with the 2/1st City of London Yeomanry (Rough Riders) to form the 5th (West Somerset and City of London) Yeomanry Cyclist Regiment in the 2nd Cyclist Brigade, in Norfolk. In February 1917, the City of London Yeomanry was replaced by 2/1st Hampshire Yeomanry and the unit was now 5th (Hampshire and West Somerset) Yeomanry Cyclist Regiment. In March 1917 it resumed its identity as 2/1st West Somerset Yeomanry, still with the 2nd Cyclist Brigade, at Elmham near East Dereham. It remained in Norfolk until May 1918 when it went to Ireland with the 2nd Cyclist Brigade and was stationed at Athlone until the end of the war.
3/1st West Somerset Yeomanry
The 3rd Line regiment was formed in 1915. In the summer it was affiliated to a Reserve Cavalry Regiment at Tidworth. In July 1916 it was dismounted and attached to the 3rd Line Groups of the Wessex Division at Winchester as its 1st Line was serving as infantry. Disbanded in early 1917 with personnel transferring to the 2nd Line regiment or to the 4th (Reserve) Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry at Bournemouth.
Between the wars
On 7 February 1920, the Regiment was reconstituted in the Territorial Army with HQ still at Taunton. After the experience of the war, it was decided that only the 14 most senior yeomanry regiments would be retained as cavalry; the rest were transferred to other roles. Thus on 1 June 1920 the Regiment was transferred to the Royal Artillery to form the 1st (Somerset) Army Brigade, RFA. In 1921 this became the 94th (Somerset Yeomanry) Brigade, RFA with just two batteries: 373 (West Somerset Yeomanry) Battery at Taunton and 374 (West Somerset Yeomanry) Battery at Glastonbury.
On 25 January 1922, the Brigade incorporated two Batteries (375 and 376) of the Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry to form 94th (Somerset and Dorset Yeomanry) Brigade, RFA, soon being renamed as 94th (Dorset and Somerset Yeomanry) Brigade, RFA. This was a short-lived marriage: the Somerset Yeomanry batteries were moved to 55th (Wessex) Army Field Brigade, RA in July 1929. They joined two Wiltshire batteries (217 and 220) based in Swindon. Some time in the 1930s, 374 Battery moved to Shepton Mallet. The final change in title came on 1 November 1938 as artillery brigades became regiments, hence 55th (Wessex) Field Regiment, RA.
In 1939, the Territorial Army was "duplicated" – existing units formed a second unit. On 22 July 1939, 217 and 220 Batteries transferred to the duplicate 112th Field Regiment, RA. 55th Field Regiment was now purely "West Somerset Yeomanry".
World War II
Field regiments were organised in 1938 into two 12-gun batteries. The experience of the BEF in 1940 showed the problem with this organisation: field regiments were intended to support an infantry brigade of three battalions. This could not be managed without severe disruption to the regiment. As a result, field regiments were reorganised into three 8-gun batteries.
55th (Wessex) Field Regiment, RA
55th (Wessex) Field Regiment served in the Home Forces for most of the war, taking part in the North West Europe Campaign from June 1944.
At the outbreak of the war, 55th Field Regiment was part of 45th Division. Initially commanding two batteries – 373 (West Somerset Yeomanry) from Taunton and 374 (West Somerset Yeomanry) from Shepton Mallet – the third battery (439) was formed in the regiment at Barnsley on 15 November 1940.
In June 1942, it transferred to the Guards Armoured Division, landing with the division in Normandy on D-Day plus 21. It fought throughout the North West Europe Campaign with the division until the end of the war.
112th (Wessex) Field Regiment, RA
112th (Wessex) Field Regiment served in the Home Forces for most of the war, also moving to North West Europe in June 1944.
At the outbreak of the war, 112th Field Regiment was part of 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division. Initially commanding two batteries – 217 (Wiltshire) and 220 (Wiltshire), both from Swindon – the third battery (477) was formed in the regiment at Sarre on 25 March 1941. It was authorised to use the "Wessex" designation from 17 February 1942.
It remained in the United Kingdom until June 1944 when it was deployed to France, still with the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division. It remained with 43rd Division until the end of the war.
In 1947, the Regiment was reformed as the 255th (Wessex) Medium Regiment, RA with headquarters now in Yeovil. On 1 July 1950 it amalgamed with the 633rd (Surrey) Super Heavy Regiment, RA. On 31 October 1956 it amalgamated with 421st (Dorset) Coast Regiment, RA to become 255th (West Somerset Yeomanry and Dorset Garrison) Medium Regiment, RA. In May 1961 it amalgamated with 294th (Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry) Field Regiment and was reduced to battery strength in the resulting 250th (Queen's Own Dorset and West Somerset Yeomanry) Medium Regt, RA. In April 1967, this battery became B Company (West Somerset Yeomanry), The Somerset Yeomanry and Light Infantry (Territorials), an infantry unit. In April 1969, the company was reduced to cadre at Keynsham.
In April 1971, two companies were reconstituted from the cadre as A (Somerset Yeomanry Light Infantry) Company, 6th (V) Battalion, The Light Infantry at Bath Co -located with Battalion HQ (with a detachment at Midsomer Norton) and B (Somerset Yeomanry Light Infantry) Company, 6th (V) Battalion, The Light Infantry at Yeovil (with a detachment at Taunton). Finally, on 9 November 1988, company subtitles were omitted and the yeomanry lineage was discontinued.
In 2013 it was announced as part of Future Reserves 2020, that the Forward Air Control Troop, Royal Signals based at Bath would re-subordinate from the Royal Signals to become the Forward Air Control Battery within the Royal Artillery and be designated 255 (Somerset Yeomanry) Battery Royal Artillery. The battery was formed in September 2014 and, although it does not normally use the Somerset Yeomanry lineage, it is fully operational and forms part of the National Reserve Headquarters Royal Artillery.
The West Somerset Yeomanry has been awarded the following battle honours:
- Second Boer War
- World War I
- World War II
The Royal Artillery was present in nearly all battles and would have earned most of the honours awarded to cavalry and infantry regiments. In 1833, William IV awarded the motto Ubique (meaning "everywhere") in place of all battle honours.
- Corps in this context means either an independent troop or a number of troops under a single command.
- As successor of the North Somerset Yeomanry.
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