8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars



The Conyngham family (sometimes 'Cunningham') were staunch Protestants living in the north of Ireland at the time James II (a Roman Catholic) was replaced by William of Orange (a Protestant) as King of England, Scotland and Ireland. The troubled times led the father, Sir Albert Conyngham, to raise a number of 'troops of horse', including the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. Sir Albert was murdered whilst a prisoner-of-war in 1691, and two years later his son, Henry Conyngham, was appointed Colonel of a new regiment formed in 1693. The new regiment assumed the title Conyngham's Regiment of Dragoons.

The Regiment was initially responsible for domestic policing duties, but when Britain became involved in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), they shipped to Portugal in 1704. The war in Portugal did not go well for the British - a number of the Regiment's Colonels, including Henry Conyngham, were killed in action, and the allies lost significant battles, notably the Battle of Brihuega where a number of regiments, including the (then) Pepper's Dragoons, were cut off and captured by the French.


On the conclusion of the war in 1714, the Regiment reformed in Ireland in time to face two new threats to the Crown, the First Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 and the Second Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. (On the death of Queen Anne in 1714, George I, a German, assumed the Crown which resulted in a resurgence of support for the former King James II. The term 'Jacobite' is derived from the Latin form of James, 'Jacobus').

Re-organisation of the Army in 1751 saw the Regiment designated the 8th Regiment of Dragoons, and in 1776 their services to the Crown were recognised by the title the 8th King's Royal Irish Light Dragoons. They remained on local policing duties in Ireland.

In 1794 the Regiment crossed the Channel to engage in the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802), where they fought with distinction during an engagement at Bousbecque. Suffering numerous casualties, the Regiment was repatriated in 1795.

Brought back to strength, the 8th Light Dragoons embarked for southern Africa in 1796, where Dutch immigrant farmers were taking advantage of disruptions in Europe to challenge British rule in states such as the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. In 1802, the Regiment sailed for India, again to meet a threat from the French. The Second Maratha War (1803-05) erupted when the independent Maratha States, aided and abetted by the French, contested the rule of the East India Company, whose army at that time was commanded by Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. The war saw bitter fighting and included a number of major battles, most notably Assaye and Leswarre (sometimes 'Lasware').

After the pacification of the Maratha States, the Regiment moved to the North West Frontier, always a troublesome area for British India. There they were engaged against the Pindari tribesmen in what was to develop into the Third Maratha War (1817-18). For their efforts, the Regiment was awarded the battle honour 'Hisdoostan'.

In 1822, whilst still in India, the Regiment was designated one of the earliest 'hussar' regiments in the British army, being named the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars with new uniforms in the European fashion. The following year they were repatriated to the UK.

Alternating between England and Ireland, the Regiment escorted Queen Victoria on her first visit to Ireland in 1849. On the outbreak of the Crimean War (1853-56), the 8th Hussars shipped to the Black Sea where, in common with the rest of the British Army, they suffered heavily from sickness.

After fighting successfully at the Battle of Alma, the Regiment formed part of the Light Brigade at Balaclava where, as a result of confusion in the transfer of orders, they were active in the disastrous charge against Russian cannon. The war correspondent William Howard Russell, an eye witness, states that of a total of 104 men of the 8th Hussars committed to the charge, 66 were lost - either killed, wounded or captured by the Russians, although some stragglers rejoined the Regiment later in the day.

As soon as the Regiment returned to England from the Crimea, they were transported to India in 1857 to help suppress factions of the East India Companies troops who had mutinied and massacred British families. Immediately in action, at the battle of Gwalior a squadron of the Regiment (Captain Heneage) engaged a large Indian force in circumstances which led to the award of four Victoria Cross medals, the citation for the recipients reading:

'Selected for the Victoria Cross by their companions in the gallant charge made by a squadron of the Regiment at Gwalior, on 17 June 1858.'

There followed a brutal subjugation of the mutineers over two years. In 1863 the Regiment returned to England, handing over their 500 horses to the 5th Lancers.

After fifteen years of comparative peace, the Regiment was sent back to India in 1879 to engage in the Second Afghan War (1878-80). Remaining ten years in India, the 8th Hussars returned to England in 1889 (remaining three years at Norwich).

The outbreak of the (Second) Boer War (1899-1902) saw the Regiment shipped to South Africa, where - together with the 7th Dragoon Guards and the 14th Hussars - they joined the 4th Cavalry Brigade (Brigadier Dickson). They were, in particular, involved in the Relief of Mafeking. During the course of the war the Regiment sacrificed 54 officers and men killed in action or died of wounds.

The 8th Hussars returned to the UK in 1902. There is reference to officers of the 8th Hussars drinking 'claret for breakfast' - therein lies a tale, no doubt!