19th Hussars (Prince of Wales' Own)



The Regiment is unusual in that it was raised in 1781 specifically for service in India. In this respect, they were the first British cavalry regiment shipped to the sub-continent (as opposed to troops raised locally by the East India Company). Based initially at the English city of Bedford, the Regiment embarked from Portsmouth in January 1782, with no horses and an establishment of 28 officers and 384 other ranks. King George II himself issued strict instructions that the officers of the Regiment were to co-operate with their counterparts in the service of the East India Company.



Designated initially the 23rd Regiment of Light Dragoons and with Colonel Sir John Burgoyne (1739–1785, not to be confused with John Burgoyne of 16th Light Dragoons) as patron, for fourteen years they were the only totally British cavalry regiment in India, under the practical command of Lt. Col. John Floyd.

In October, 1782, the Regiment disembarked at Madras, where famine and civil war were rampant, and a constant threat was posed by a French fleet. Horses which had previously been requested had not arrived, and it was not until June 1783 that the Regiment was mounted (horses brought from Bengal, presumably the fine Marwari breed).

In April, 1784, a change of uniform ordered for all British 'light dragoon' regiments saw the scarlet jackets replaced by blue jackets, with leather breeches (buckskin). For 'Royal' regiments, collars and cuffs were to be red, and other regiments were to have collars and cuffs in their traditional colour. Having no 'traditional colour', the 23rd Light Dragoons were allocated primrose yellow collars and cuffs.

Administrative changes in 1786 saw the name of the Regiment changed from 23rd Regiment of Light dragoons to 19th Regiment of Light Dragoons. Records show that NCOs from the Regiment were in constant demand by the East India Company to During this time (with the Moghul Empire in turmoil), they fought the Anglo-Mysore Wars and Anglo-Maratha Wars, campaigning against Tipu (sometimes 'Tippoo'), Sultan of Mysore, from 1790 to 1792. (Tipu had a powerful army with 900 European mercenaries, 2,000 French-trained local sepoys and many thousands of his own followers. After attempting to negotiate an alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte's army invading Egypt, after bitter fighting he was finally defeated at Srirangapatna in 1799.)

In 1802, the uniforms for 'light dragoons' serving in India were changed (again) from blue jackets to grey jackets. There seems to be no apparent reason for this change.

Thereafter, the Regiment was again in action during the Second Maratha War, and in 1803, led by Major-General Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington), they participated in the Battle of Assaye, a battle honour born by no other British cavalry regiment. The Battle of Assaye was particularly bloody, and the 19th Dragoons lost 2 officers killed, including their Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Patrick Maxwell, 15 other ranks and 87 horses killed with 4 officers, 36 other ranks and 36 horses wounded. The battle was followed by more intense skirmishing and another major engagement at Argaum. Thereafter the 19th Light Dragoons were stationed in various garrison towns in India.

In 1806 they took part in the suppression of a mutiny at Vellore (a foreboding of unrest within the East India Company's local troops which was to reach its climax in 1857). At this incident, which in itself is a remarkable story, a squadron of the Regiment was led by one Colonel Robert Gillespie, an officer with a colourful past who had travelled overland through Europe and then the Middle East to join the Regiment in India.

Three months after the incident at Vellore, the Regiment embarked for Ireland. After twenty-four years in India, the Regiment's service was recognised by the award of the distinctive 'elephant' cap badge:

"His Majesty has in consequence thereof been most graciously pleased to approve of the 'Elephant' being used in colours and appointments of the 19th Light dragoons with the word 'Assaye' superscribed."

The Regiment, with an establishment of 245 other ranks, reached Tilbury in April 1807 and at once recruited from areas as diverse as Birmingham, Glasgow and Dublin. After brief accommodation in various English towns, the Regiment crossed the Bristol Channel to Ireland in December 1809. With Britain at war with the French in Spain, the establishment of the 19th Light Dragoons was increased to 685 (all ranks).

In 1812, America declared war against Britain, and in April 1813 the 19th Light Dragoons were shipped from Ireland to Canada, handing over their horses to the 11th Hussars who had recently returned from the Spanish peninsula. The exploits of the small British force in Canada at that time have been somewhat eclipsed by the war against Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe, and the Regiment is the only British cavalry regiment to bear the battle honour 'Niagara'.

The Canadian terrain, mainly forest and swamp at the time, was generally unsuitable for cavalry, and there was little forage for horses. With the few horses available, small detachments of the 19th Light Dragoons were employed mainly on reconnaissance duties. Engagements with the (American revolutionary) enemy - some 2,500 men under command of General William Hull - tended to have something of a 'Daniel Boone' character, and included both local Canadian volunteers and the native Indians. A separate American army, totaling some 6,300 men (General Van Resselaar), was invading Canada further north. Meanwhile, a third army of some 7,000 men (General Champlain) threatened Montreal. In August 1813, elements of the 19th Light Dragoons joined the fighting on the Niagara River, and after a number of bloody and brutal campaigns, peace was finally declared in December 1814 (Treaty of Ghent).

The Regiment remained in Canada until 1816, at which time they were repatriated to Ireland. For a brief time (and consequent upon the success of French lancers at Waterloo) they were equipped as 'lancers' but there appears to be no formal change in the Regiment's name. In 1818, they returned to England and performed Royal Escort duties at Hounslow and Hampton Court. Thereafter, they were stationed in numerous towns all over England in a very short space of time.

When peace returned both to the Americas and to Europe, the Regiment was one of those chosen to be disbanded by the Government, and this occurred in 1821.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857-59 caused the British Government to re-assess their troop requirements on the sub-continent, and in consequence the Regiment was reformed as the 19th Hussars with a cadre formed from the East India Company's Bengal 1st European Light Cavalry previously raised to meet the emergency of 1857.

A number of East India Company cavalry regiments were raised in England at the outset of the mutiny in Indian. Recruits readily volunteered to defend the realm and avenge atrocities committed against European women and children on the sub-continent. These poorly trained recruits, with no horses and little equipment, were shipped to Calcutta, and thence to Allahabad, in June 1858, with Maj. Gen. Sir Hope Grant writing: "Not a man has ever been on a horse, and the men are at present armed only with muskets." The new recruits were organised into four regiments of Bengal European Light Cavalry and their officers came from the Indian cavalry regiments which had been disbanded.

Incredibly, the inexperienced British recruits were provided with untrained, often unbroken horses hastily imported from South Africa and Australia.

The disastrous state of affairs in India - the East India Company itself was to blame for many of the causes which led to the mutiny - led to the British Government assuming governance of the sub-continent in November 1858, at which time the East India Company ceased to exist. Surprisingly, this change in administration caused resentment on the part of former East India Company soldiers (including the recently recruited Bengal European Light Cavalry) who now found themselves in service to the Crown.

In these troubled circumstances, in May 1861 officers and other ranks of the Bengal 1st European Light Cavalry were given the option of discharge from the service, or alternatively remaining in service as the 19th Light Dragoons. (Similar offers were made to the 2nd and 3rd European Light Cavalry Regiments to be designated the 20th and 21st Light Dragoons respectively). The establishment of the new regiments was to be brought into line with British convention at the time, some 690 officers and men with a depot squadron in England. Almost immediately, in August 1861, the 19th Light Dragoons were redesignated, and equipped as, the 19th Hussars.



1862 saw the Regiment moved to Lucknow, with Gen. William Pattle as (honorary) Colonel and Lt. Col. Charles Jenkins in command. (General Pattle had entered the service of the East India Company in 1800! He served with distinction as a cavalry officer throughout the subsequent wars with local rulers). In 1863, the Regiment moved to Meerut, and from there to Cawnpore in 1867. In 1870, the Regiment left India for England.

Disembarking at Dover in March, 1871, the 19th Hussars were stationed at Canterbury. After some uncertainty, the establishment was set at 540 officers and men with 350 horses. From Canterbury they moved to Brighton, and then to Aldershot. In June 1875 they were stationed at Hounslow with a Troop at Hampton Court and another Troop at Kensington, an indication of the high esteem in which the Regiment was held.

In 1876 the 19th Hussars crossed the Bristol Channel to Ireland and in the space of five years they were stationed at an amazing variety of locations in Southern Ireland, from Limerick in the West to Dublin in the East. (As was often the case, the political situation in Ireland was particularly volatile at the time.)

In 1882, the 19th Hussars embarked for the Middle East (Alexandria) to join a British expedition led by Lt. Gen. Sir Garnet Wolseley with the purpose of suppressing an uprising led by Arabi Pasha (the Urabi Revolt of 1879-82). Wolseley had some 25,000 British troops at his disposal, whilst Arabia Pasha was able to raise an army of 100,000 men. The strength of the Regiment sent to Egypt was 33 officers, 553 other ranks and 464 horses, (one Troop was detailed as Sir Garnet Wolseley's personal escort throughout the campaign). After some minor skirmishing, the first major engagement was at Tel-el-Kebir and whilst this battle effectively ended Arabia Pasha's ambitions, it was followed by more local unrest, especially in the Sudan.

In 1884 the Regiment was shipped down the Red Sea from Egypt to the Sudan to fight the Mahdi War. Brigaded with the 10th Hussars, they were immediately involved in the first battle for the village of El Teb, where the Regiment lost 1 officer and 13 other ranks killed, and 2 officers and 20 other ranks wounded. Very many horses had to be shot where they were targeted by tribesmen who would lie concealed and then hamstring the horses as they passed, a tactic which proved very effective. A Victoria Cross was awarded to Quarter Master Sergeant William Marshall for gallantry during the battle.

There followed a long and intense campaign on the Nile. Whilst the 19th Hussars were the only regiment of General Wolseley's force to be mounted on horses (interestingly, a decision was made to mount the Regiment on small, hardy Arabian horses, 350 of which were purchased for the campaign, the British horses being left behind in Egypt), four 'Camel Corps' were formed with volunteers provided by both heavy and light cavalry regiments. In January, 1885, the city of Khartoum fell to the Mahdi and the garrison troops, including General Charles Gordon, were massacred.

In 1885, the Regiment received word from England that in recognition of their service in Egypt they were to received Royal patronage and they became the 19th (Princess of Wales's Own) Hussars. There followed two years of hard campaigning in the Sudan, and they were finally repatriated in 1887, being stationed at Norwich, Colchester and Birmingham.

The year 1888 saw the Regiment stationed at Hounslow, Hampton Court and Kensington - a more stark contrast to the deserts of Arabia can hardly be imagined. The establishment at this time was 707 officers and men and 424 horses. But the brief respite of home service ended in 1891, when the Regiment returned to (what might be termed its native) India.

In September 1891, the Regiment disembarked at Bombay (Mumbai), relieved the 7th Hussarsand marched to Bangalore, where they were to remain for five years. The Regiment was repatriated to England in 1896, but almost immediately sent to South Africa in 1898.

With unrest growing amongst the Boer settlers, the 19th Hussars were already stationed at Ladysmith when the Second Boer War (1899-1902) formally commenced. They subsequently fought in the defence of Ladysmith, and after the town was relieved they joined the 5th Lancers and 18th Hussars under Maj. Gen. Brocklehurst (General Sir Redvers Buller), fighting constant skirmishes in the Eastern Transvaal. One particular charge, made at night at Lydenberg, was particularly noteworthy. On the declaration of peace in 1902, the 19th Hussars remained in South Africa until 1904, at which time they were repatriated to the UK (England and then Ireland).