2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys)



The 2nd Dragoons should not be confused with the 2nd Dragoon Guards. (Curiously, each of these regiments had distinctive coloured horses by Royal Warrant, being grey and bay respectively).

The Scots Greys (sometimes 'Grays') have origins dating from the 17th Century, when Sir Thomas Dalzell (sometimes 'Dalyell') fought with the Royalist forces at the Battle of Worcester (1651), the final, decisive battle of the English Civil War (1642-51). After some adventures as a cavalry officer (including service in Russia), in 1666 Sir Thomas was commissioned by Charles II to raise a Regiment of Horse in Scotland.

Dalzell was instrumental in combining number of independent troops of cavalry into Regiments of Horse and Regiments of Dragoons, and their first major trial of strength occurred at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (1679), although Dalzell himself remained in Edinburgh. The cavalry was subsequently re-organised in 1681, when a Royal Scottish Regiment of Dragoons was formed under the Colonelcy of Lt. Gen. Dalzell and the practical command of Lt.Col. Lord Charles Murray. The establishment was set at 24 officers and 372 other ranks mustering as 6 troops. (Muster roles showing the name of every man in the Regiment exist).

When James II assumed the throne in 1685, confusion arose within the army. James'sRoman Catholic religion was becoming increasingly significant, and William of Orange was gaining popularity as an alternative, Protestant king. Officers of the Regiment were required to choose, literally, whether to transfer their allegiance to William, or resign their commissions. In 1688, Sir Thomas Levingston was appointed Colonel the Regiment which became Levingston's Regiment of Dragoons until, in 1692, William III proclaimed the Regiment The Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons. Unofficially, the Regiment attracted nicknames the Grey Dragoons and the Scots Greys.

In 1694 the Regiment fought in Belgium during the Nine Years' War (1688-97). The Regiment returned to Scotland in 1698, only to be sent across the Channel again in 1702 to fight the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14). (A woman, Christian Davies, fought with the Regiment at this time, her sex undiscovered until she was wounded at the Battle of Ramilies in 1705).



In 1707 the Regiment was renamed The Royal North British Dragoons, although they were still commonly referred to as The Greys, and a re-organisation of 1713 saw the title changed to the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons.

After eleven years constant campaigning on the continent, the Regiment returned to Scotland in 1713, where they were soon involved in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. There followed twenty-five years of civil policing and customs work in both Scotland and England until the Regiment crossed the Channel for the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48).

The Regiment returned to England in 1748 and were soon employed on customs and revenue duties in Kent, Sussex, Devon and Dorsetshire. In 1758 they joined the Duke of Marlborough's army in Germany for the Seven Years' War (1754-63). On conclusion of the war, the Regiment returned to England in 1763, where they remained for thirty years.

By Royal Warrant dated 19th December 1768, the Regiment was directed to wear black bear-skin caps, and these became a feature of the uniform from that time on. In 1779, elements of the Regiment were detached to form the 21st Light Dragoons.

In 1793, the Regiment crossed the Channel to fight the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802), returning to England in 1795. They remained in Southern England in anticipation of an invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1806, the regiment provided an escort for the state funeral of Admiral Horatio Nelson in London. Between 1806 and 1814 the Regiment travelled from England to Scotland, to Ireland, and back to England.

On the resurgence of Napoleon in 1815, The Greys formed one of the core units of Wellington's army. The Regiment reached Ostend on 19th April 1815. On 16th June, they covered Wellington's retreat to Mont St. Jean, at which time they were engaged with French light cavalry. Late in the afternoon of 17th, a torrential thunderstorm struck, turning the ground into a quagmire and continuing throughout the night.

"We arose with the break of day. A miserable looking set of creatures we all were - covered with mud from head to foot - our white belts died with the red from our jackets as if we had already completed the sanguinary work, which we were about to begin."
Lt. Archibald Hamilton, Scots Greys 1815

Throughout the day of the 18th the British heavy cavalry were in constant action with frequent charges against French infantry. At 9pm the French retreated and the British advanced, although only 33 officers and men remained from Ponsonby's Second Cavalry Brigade of 1,500. In killed or wounded, The Greys lost three-quarters of their officers (including the Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. James Hamilton), 200 men and 800 horses. During the battle, Sgt. Charles Ewart of the Regiment captured a French eagle of the 45th Regiment. The Regiment returned to England in January 1816.

Once home, the Regiment moved frequently within England, Scotland and Ireland and provided an escort for the coronation of George IV in 1821. Apart from a brief expedition to India in 1843, the Regiment remained on Britain for the next thirty years.

The outbreak of the Crimean War (1854-56) saw the Regiment shipped to the Black Sea, where they were immediately involved in the Battle of Balaclava (under command of Lt Col Darby Griffith) as part of General Scarlett's Heavy Brigade.

Returning to the UK in 1855, the Regiment served throughout England, Scotland and Ireland for forty years, and in 1877, their nickname was given official recognition when they became the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys). Curiously, in 1894 His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia. was appointed Colonel of the Regiment.

On the outbreak of the Boer War, in November 1899, they shipped to South Africa and in 1900 the Regiment joined the 1st Cavalry Brigade under Lt Col W. Alexander. They were in continuous action and took part in the Relief of Kimberley. Subsequently, barely a day passed without contact with the enemy and the Regiment suffered heavy casualties in skirmishes until the cessation of hostilities in 1902.