A Short History of The Royal Leicestershire Regiment

PART I - ORIGIN UNTIL 1914

The troublous days that marked the closing period of the reign of King James II saw the birth of The Royal Leicestershire Regiment.  Colonel Solomon Richards was commissioned to raise the Regiment on 27 September 1688, and it deployed to Londonderry the following year.

After a brief period of service as marines, the Regiment joined the British Expeditionary Force which was sent to France in 1694.  In 1695 it won special distinction and its first Battle Honour for the gallant part all ranks played in the siege of Namur, a strongly fortified town which was deemed impregnable.

The Regiment continued to serve with credit in Flanders and took part in Marlborough’s campaigns, fighting with great valour at Huy, Liege, Venloo and elsewhere.  It was then sent to join the army of Lord Peterborough, and at Almanza in Spain in 1707 the Regiment fought until hardly a man was left standing.

Entirely re-organised, the Regiment was employed in the defence of Catalonia, and in 1709 returned home.  In 1725 the Regiment was sent to Minorca and remained there for twenty-three years.  From 1748-1757 it served in Ireland, and in 1751 the Regiment became the 17th Regiment of Foot.

At the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in 1756, the Regiment was sent to Nova Scotia, and played a prominent part in the famous siege and capture of Louisburg, Cape Breton, in 1758.  It then formed a part of the British force which defeated the French at Crown Point and Ticonderoga, and was present at the capture of Montreal in 1760, which transferred the sovereignty of Canada from France to England.

From 1761 the Regiment served with distinction in the West Indies, in 1762 being present at the capture of Martinique, and subsequently at the capture of Havannah, both of which became Battle Honours.  It then returned to North America, moving to Britain in 1767.

At the beginning of the American War of Independence the Regiment was again sent across the Atlantic, landing at Boston on New Year’s Day 1776.  It was actively engaged in all the battles of this campaign.  Most notable was the Battle of Princeton in 1777 where the Regiment found itself alone and surrounded by the army of General Washington, only extricating itself by the most vigorous hand to hand fighting. 

The Regiment was then stationed in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland until 1788. In 1782 it received a county title as well – becoming 17th (the Leicestershire) Regiment of Foot and being ordered to cultivate a connection with that county and to recruit from there.  It continued to be known largely by its number until 1881.

The French Revolution brought further unrest to Europe, and the Regiment was brought up to strength by hasty drafts from the Militia and formed into two battalions, which fought under the Duke of York in North Holland against the French Revolutionary Army in 1799, and afterwards went to Minorca.  The 2nd Battalion disbanded in 1802.

In 1804 the Regiment embarked for India.   For over eighteen years it played a noble part in the arduous work of rescuing India from the dominion of cruel despots, and laying the foundation of the great Indian Empire.  In that period the Regiment saw much arduous service in the remote parts of India, fighting at Bundelkund in 1807, on the Sutlej in 1808, on the difficult frontier of Nepal against the fierce Gurkhas 1813-14, and in the trying operations for the relief of Nagpore in 1817.

So valuable was the service rendered by the Regiment and so marked was the courage and endurance of all ranks that, after leaving India in 1823, in 1825  the “Royal Tiger” badge superscribed “Hindoostan” was awarded as a lasting testimony to the exemplary conduct of the Regiment during its service in India.   

After a brief spell at home and in Australia, the Regiment returned to India in 1837.  It joined the Bombay column of Sir John Keane’s force for the Scinde campaign of 1838, the cities of Hyderabad and Kuarrachee being captured.  Proceeding to Afghanistan, the Regiment took part in the famous storming and capture of the fortress of Ghuznee in 1839.  The Regiment formed part of the force that fought the subsequent campaign in Afghanistan under Sir Thomas Wiltshire and was present at the assault and capture of Khelat.  Afghanistan, Ghuznee 1839 and Khelat on the Colours are Battle Honours nobly won and proudly borne.

In 1841 the Regiment was at Aden, where brief but very strenuous operations were carried out against the hordes of Arabs who were giving much trouble.

After seven years in England and Ireland, the Regiment was sent to Gibraltar in 1854 and, when war with Russia broke out, it formed part of the army which landed in the Crimea.  There it experienced all the rigours and privations of the siege of Sevastopol, taking part in the fierce assaults on the Redan, and the bombardment and capture of Kinburn.  In the assault on the Redan on 18 June 1855 Sergeant Philip Smith won the first Victoria Cross for the Regiment.

The 2nd Battalion was raised in 1858.  It went in 1861 to Ireland and in 1862 to Canada, where it served alongside the 1st Battalion which had gone there in 1856, and left in 1865.

The 1st Battalion saw more active service in the Afghan War of 1878-1879, being employed in the capture of the famous fortress of Ali Masjid which guarded the Khyber Pass, and in the two expeditions into the Bazar Valley.

The 2nd Battalion also had a very strenuous period of service in India and Burma from 1874, being engaged in the many punitive expeditions and skirmishes against the Burmese.  It returned home in 1890.  Meanwhile, in 1881 the 17th Regiment became The Leicestershire Regiment, comprising two Regular battalions, two Militia battalions, and the Headquarters of the Regimental District at Glen Parva Barracks, South Wigston, Leicester.

The South African War in 1899 took the 1st Battalion on another long spell of active service which won further renown for the regiment.  It was embodied in the force led by the gallant General, Sir William Penn Symons, which attacked the Boer position at Talana Hill on 20 October.  Then came the hurried retirement on Ladysmith.  For four months the Battalion fought splendidly throughout the stubborn defence of Ladysmith, during which the garrison was reduced to almost starvation rations.  Before the town was relieved one tenth of the defenders had laid down their lives.

Restored by a brief rest, the Battalion took part in the operations that carried the war into the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal, and was present at the storming of Laing’s Nek and the capture of Amersfort, Ermelo and Belfast, and in the operations around Lyndenberg.

The 3rd (Militia) Battalion volunteered for service in this campaign and gave an excellent account of itself in the Burghersdorp and Knapdaar fighting.

In 1908 on the creation of the Territorial Force the Regiment’s two Volunteer battalions became the 4th and 5th Battalions.