16th (Queen's) Lancers

The Seven Years War (1754-63) saw a change in the way the armies of Europe, and especially the cavalry, were armed and equipped. George II of England and his military advisers sought to augment their mounted troops, which already incorporated within the heavy cavalry some lightly mounted men, with light cavalry regiments raised from scratch.

One such light cavalry regiment was raised by Lt. Col. John Burgoyne, an officer of proven ability who had previously served with the Second Foot Guards and then the 11th Dragoons. In 1759, Burgoyne incorporated four troops assembled by Captain The Hon. William Gordon, Edward Walpole, Henry Lutterell and Sir William Williams in the Midlands, with their head-quarters in Northampton. Recruiting from further afield, two additional troops were formed, public interest in the new regiments being such that recruiting was fairly easy. By 1760, Burgoyne's Regiment of Light Dragoons was fully functional.

In 1761, two troops from the Regiment joined a small expedition to capture Belle Isle, a small island off the Bretagne coast of France. In 1792, the Regiment embarked for Portugal which was allied with Britain in the war against Spain and France. Crossing the River Tagus at night, Burgoyne's Dragoons made a forced march during which the troopers dismounted on occasions to enable the infantry to ride, thus making good speed. At dawn, they reached Valencia de Ancantara where the Spanish garrison was taken totally by surprise and the town captured. In his report to Viscount Ligonier, Burgoyne (now a brigadier) wrote: "Believe me, my Lord, this is no exaggeration, but real fact!"

Notwithstanding this success, the British and Portuguese armies were forced to fall back in the face of a large Spanish army. Raiding behind enemy lines, Burgoyne's Dragoons contributed to the subsequent peace treaty, signed at Fontainebleau in 1962.

Returning to England in 1763, the Regiment was reviewed on Wimbledon Common by King George III in June, 1764. The new regiments of 'light cavalry', both Eliott's (15th) and Burgoyne's (16th), attracted considerable public interest, especially in view of their respective successes in Germany and Portugal. King George subsequently ordered, in 1766, that the Eliott's Light Dragoons be styled The King's and Burgoyne's Regiment be styled The Queen's.

A Royal Warrant of 1768 specifies the uniform of the Sixteenth, or The Queen's, Light Dragoons as having helmets with horse-hair crests, scarlet coats with blue facings, white breeches and boots to the knee. Horse furniture was white. King George's interest in his light cavalry regiments was such that he reviewed them, on Wimbledon Common, in April 1770, May 1771 and May 1774.

When the American War of Independence started in 1775, the Regiment embarked from Portsmouth and sailed to New York. Under the practical command of Lt. Col. the Hon. William Harcourt, they at first patrolled the countryside inland from New York in late 1776, during which time they captured the American General Lee (himself a former British officer) and a French officer. Moving south (by ship to Chesapeake Bay), the Regiment fought a major engagement it Brandywine Creek in September, 1777, and thereafter they occupied Philadelphia. An American counter-attack was engaged at Germantown, where the Regiment charged effectively, losing 1 man and 3 horses killed and 4 men wounded.

The 16th Light Dragoons fought a number of engagements in Pennsylvania, but when the French signed an alliance with the Americans in 1778, the British troops returned to New York. Crossing the Delaware River in June, the British were pursued by the Americans and the light cavalry covered the retreat. But the long march took its toll on the Regiment, and (after transferring their horses to other regiments) they embarked for England in1779. (John Burgoyne, now a Lieutenant General, had meanwhile commanded a British force on the Hudson River and was censured by Parliament for surrendering to the American General Horatio Gates after the Battle of Saratoga. Burgoyne was removed from the Colonelcy of the 16th Light Dragoons, which passed to Col. the Hon. William Harcourt).

Refurbished and brought back to strength, 1781 saw the Regiment stationed at Lenham in Kent. In 1784, the colour of all light cavalry uniform jackets was changed from scarlet to blue. The 16th Light Dragoons adopted scarlet facings.

During the years 1781 to 1791 the Regiment was occasionally deployed on Royal Escort duties, but more often spent the months on coast watch and custom duties. The French Revolution of 1789 led to prospect of war and the Regiment's establishment was increased to 9 troops, of which 4 were shipped to France in 1793, where they were brigaded with 7th, 11th and 15th regiments. They were immediately in action and took part in the siege of Valenciennes, then marching to Cambray and on to Dunkirk with constant skirmishing towards the end of the year. From the spring of 1794, the Regiment was again in constant action. The battle of Tournay was fought in May, where the Regiment charged and captured 8 French guns. Thereafter the Duke of York's army campaigned in Germany for twelve months with little positive outcome, returning to England in the first months of 1796.

The 16th Light Dragoons were quartered in Southern England and were reviewed by King George III in 1797, 1798 and 1799. Thereafter they moved to Canterbury and then Brighton. In 1802 the Regiment moved to southern Ireland, and in 1803 they lost several men and horses killed during riots in Dublin. They remained in Ireland for three years, returning to England (Guildford) in 1805, and taking up Royal Escort duties, based at Hounslow, in 1806.

When Napoleon drove Sir John Moore's army from the Spanish Peninsular in 1809, the Regiment (under the practical command of Col. George Anson) embarked for Lisbon, where they were brigaded with the 14th Light Dragoons in the army commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington). Their first major engagement was at Albergaria Nova in May, and then Grijon, Oporto and Salamonde in quick succession as the French army withdrew. A French counter-attack at Talevera was soundly defeated, at which time the Regiment lost 6 men killed and I officer and 5 men wounded (there is no record of horses killed or wounded).

Camped on the banks of the Guadiana River in Autumn 1809, the British troops were struck by fever which killed many officer and men. Shortly thereafter, reinforcements arrived to boost the French army in Spain which once again assumed the initiative, forcing Wellington back into Portugal and fighting a major battle at Almeida in July 1810. There followed intense skirmishing as the British fell back, with the 16th Light Dragoons in constant action covering the withdrawal to the defensive lines of Torres Vedras. The French commander, Marshall Massena, fearing that his lines of communication were over-extended, withdrew, and once again Wellington assumed the offensive. (At this time the 16th Light Dragoons received 985 Spanish dollars as their share of the sale of horses captured from the French!). January, 1811, saw the British harassing the French as they again withdrew from Portugal. A major battle was fought at Fuentes d'Onor in May, and thereafter the British forced the French back to Badajoz, which was besieged in January 1812. The Regiment engaged in constant skirmishing and many charges as the French fell back to Salamanca, where a major engagement was fought in July.

The 16th Light Dragoons were in the forefront of Wellesley's army, constantly charging, as the French were driven back to the Pyrenees. The major battle of Vittoria was fought in June, 1813 (where the Regiment suffered significant losses) and shortly thereafter the French were driven across the mountains into France. After four years of almost constant action, and having sustained losses of 309 officers and men and 1,416 horses, the Regiment finally embarked from Calais for England in July, 1814.

The introduction of the Corn Laws in England in 1815 caused rioting around the country, and in February the 16th Light Dragoons were called to restore peace in London. Thereafter the Regiment was stationed at Canterbury Cavalry Barracks until Napoleon's resurrection in May. Three squadrons of the Regiment were immediately embarked for France, where they were brigaded with the 11th and 12th Light Dragoons.

When Napoleon attacked Quartre Bras on 16th June, the Brigade moved to that region and engaged French cavalry on the evening of 16th and during the British withdrawal on 17th before bivouacking in the open whilst a thunder storm raged overnight.

On the morning of the 18th, the Regiment was positioned on the left of the British line. Following the dramatic charge of the Heavy Brigade, the Regiment charged French lancers who were counter-attacking. Towards evening, the Regiment was moved to the right of the British line where, amongst a number of charges, they charged a square of the Imperial Guard which they broke, taking many prisoners. Overall, the Brigade took some 3,000 prisoners. The loss to the Regiment at Waterloo was 2 officers, 8 other ranks and 35 horses killed, and 4 officers, 18 other ranks and 20 horses wounded. The Regiment was amongst those occupying Paris in July, returning home to England in December.

Early in 1816, the Regiment was amongst the light dragoon regiments re-designated as 'lancers', and in March the 16th (The Queen's) Lancers embarked for Ireland (Dublin). Returning to England (Romford) in 1822, the Regiment received orders for embarkation to India, 325 officers and men leaving (without horses) in June and arriving in Cawnpore in January, 1823, after a river journey up the Ganges from Calcutta. At Cawnpore they received a draft of 650 horses from the 8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars who were returning to England, and also a draft of 229 men from the 8th Hussars and 175 men from the 17th Light Dragoons who opted to remain in India.

Apart from some minor policing actions, the Regiment's first serious engagement occurred in 1825 when the Rajah of Bhurtpore rebelled. After some serious fighting, Bhurtpore was captured by the British in January, 1826, and the rightful ruler restored (giving huge financial reward to each British soldier). Following the action, the Regiment were stationed at Meerut, where they were to remain for six years.

In 1831 the Regiment returned to Cawnpore, and in that year the jackets of all light cavalry regiments changed from blue to scarlet. The health of the men suffered at Cawnpore, some 60 soldiers dying of cholera, including a former senior officer of the Regiment, Brigadier G. Murray. In 1837, the Regiment returned to Meerut.

Extraordinary events in Afghanistan in 1838, and a perceived (but unfounded) threat from Russia, led to the First Afghan War (1839-41), an appalling venture conceived by the Governor General of India, George Eden, Earl of Auckland. The 16th Lancers joined what was termed the British 'Army of the Indus' commanded by Lt. Gen. Sir Willoughby Cotton. The Regiment marched to Delhi and then on through the inhospitable regions of the North West frontier. In February 1839, the army crossed the broad River Indus on a pontoon bridge, thereafter (marching at night and resting by day) crossing the hot desert towards the Bolan Pass. The 16th Lancers formed the vanguard of the army through the Pass, which stretches sixty-three miles through mountainous country infested with hostile tribesmen.

In April 1839, the British army reached the lush environment Kandahar, where they rested amongst "waving crops of wheat, barley and lucerne" for three months, procuring remounts for the 147 horses that had died in the Bolan Pass. As the British moved east in June, the first of what was to become continuous skirmishing occurred with local tribesmen. In August, the British entered Kabul and the Regiment camped in lush fields outside the city. Peace (apparently) restored, the Regiment left Kabul and returned to India in October. 1 officer, 10 men and 13 horses drowned during a river crossing, making a total of 3 officers, 83 men and 231 horses killed during the campaign. (The disastrous 'Retreat from Kabul' and the loss of Elphingstone's army was to occur two years later, in 1842).

By 1840, the Regiment had regained the safety of Meerut. During twenty-four years' service in India, from 1822 to 1846, the regiment fought in the First Afghan War (1839-1841), the Maharatta War (1843) and the First Sikh War (1845-46), where their charge at Aliwal is especially remembered.

Returning home to England in 1846, the Regiment enjoyed some twenty years of comparative peace. They successfully petitioned to retain their scarlet jackets when a Royal Warrant required other light cavalry regiments to return to the blue jacket in 1846. The 16th Lancers returned to India, and the North-West Frontier, for eleven years from 1865 to 1876. They served in South Africa from 1878-80, fighting the Zulu War, and then from 1890 to 1899 they returned to India. When war was declared in South Africa, the Regiment embarked from Bombay and arrived in South Africa in January, 1900.

During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the 16th Lancers formed the 3rd Cavalry Brigade with the 9th Lancers and 17th Lancers under Brigadier Gordon. They were immediately involved in the relief of Kimberley (February) and the occupation of Bloemfontein (March). Thereafter, the Regiment faced constant guerrilla warfare from the Boers until peace was declared in 1902.