21st (Empress of India's) Lancers



By the time of the Seven Years War (1754-63), the advent of gunpowder and increasingly sophisticated firearms had rendered the use of personal armour, such as the cuirass, redundant. A new form of highly mobile 'light cavalry' proved successful on the battlefield, and where, initially, the new 'light dragoons' had been formed as sub-units within conventional British (heavy) cavalry regiments, in the late 1760's the British government, encouraged by King George II, made the decision to raise new 'light cavalry' regiments from scratch. Military success in Europe and profound patriotism at home meant that recruiting for the new regiments was comparatively easy.

Throughout 1759 and 1760, seven new regiments of 'light dragoons' were commissioned. Recruiting for these new regiments was encouraged by Lt. Gen. John Manners, Marquis of Granby, himself an experienced cavalry officer and Honorary Colonel of The Blues. One of these new regiments was allocated the name the 21st Regiment of Light Dragoons. Employed on home duties, this Regiment, together with several others, was disbanded when peace returned to Europe in 1763.

The outbreak of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), however, saw British military resources stretched once more as a number of regular units were sent overseas. To serve at home, primarily for coast watch duties to prevent smuggling and the threat of French invasion, in 1778 the 21st Light Dragoons were reformed under command of Colonel John Douglas. Once again, however, the Regiment was disbanded when peace was declared in the Americas in 1783.

Peace was short-lived. The French revolution of 1789 saw the whole of Europe thrown into turmoil as the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802) erupted. Once again, the size of Britain's regular army was expanded and the 21st Light Dragoons were formed for a third time. After a period of home duties in the North (Manchester), the Regiment joined a British force sent to the West Indies (San Domingo) in 1795. After suffering more from disease and sickness than enemy action, the British troops were repatriated in 1798.

After another period of home duties, in 1806 the Regiment embarked for South Africa where they were to remain some years. Curiously, after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo, a troop from the 21st Light Dragoons was delegated as escort and guards for the former Emperor on the island of St. Helena. When troop reductions were made in the UK in 1820, the Regiment was once again disbanded.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857 obliged the British Government to re-assess their troop requirements for India (at that time governed by Britain through the auspices of the East India Company, whose maladministration was largely responsible for the mutiny of its native Indian troops).

The East India Company had itself recruited a number of regiments in the UK for service in India, amongst which were three cavalry regiments designated the 1st, 2nd and 3rd European Light Cavalry regiments. Although officered by experienced soldiers from the East India Company's own (now disbanded) native regiments, the recruits from Europe were generally inexperienced. Furthermore, there was considerable resentment between these new 'Company men' and the British regular troops, although the latter provided experienced NCOs to help train the new regiments.

In 1858, the British government assumed control of administration in India, and the East India Company ceased to exist. Troops which had formerly served as East India Company soldiers were then assimilated into the British army and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd European Light Cavalry regiments became cadres for new regiments named the 19th, 20th and 21st Hussars respectively.

A detachment from the Regiment joined Wolseley' Egyptian Expedition in 1884 riding camels.

In 1897, for reasons not entirely clear, the Regiment was redesignated as 'lancers', with an impressive dress-uniform including the Polish style cap (or 'czapka') and 'French grey' facings.

In one of the last cavalry charges in modern history, the 21st Lancers charged the dervish army (literally, the dervish army) at Omdurman in 1898. Kitchener commanded the British forces and a youthful Winston Churchill was attached to the 21st Lancers for the campaign.

Like the light cavalry charge at Balaclava some forty years before, the charge was a mistake, a consequence of poor reconnaissance, which resulted in the deaths of 5 officers, 66 troopers and 119 horses for no gain or benefit whatsoever. Churchill describes the scene thus: "Riderless horses galloped across the plain. Men clinging to saddles lurched helplessly about, covered in blood from perhaps a dozen wounds. Horses streaming blood from tremendous gashes, limped and staggered with their riders." (Churchill, The River War 1899).

In recognition of its service to the Crown, the Regiment was given Royal patronage in 1898 when it was designated the 21st (Empress of India's) Lancers.

In 1899, the Regiment was stationed in Ireland (Dublin), where they were remain for several years.