Trying to trace the lineage of British Army Regiments is like trying to untangle a particularly knotted plate of spaghetti. But equally, the most unique aspect of the British Army is the tribal aspect of its Regiments. At times, the Army has resembled a loose collection of Regiments. And also, for the researcher attempting to work on their family history, for instance, the frequent name changes can be horribly confusing. Thereore this book comes as a godsend.
Broadly speaking, the modern British Army can trace much of its lineage back to the late 17th Century. Most Regiment’s were formed by a patron, and hence were known as ‘Joe Bloggs Regiment of Foot’. By the 1750′s Infantry Regiments were numbered, but still retained a strong local identity. This situation remained until the far-reaching Cardwell reforms of 1881, when Infantry Regiments were grouped together in what were largely County units. This bred a strong tribal spirit, with recruiting areas and Regimental Depots. After 1945, however, when the Army needed to contract, there were more individual Regiments than the Army could sustain. Gradually over the course of 60 years Country Regiments were replaced by larger Regional Regiments.
For example, my local infantry Regiment, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, can trace its origins back to 1702, with the formation of Meredith’s Regiment of Foot in 1702. In 1751 this became the 37th Regiment of Foot, and then in 1782 the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot. In Army-wide reforms in 1881 it merged with the 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment of Foot to form the Hampshire Regiment (37th and 67th Foot). In 1946 this became the Royal Hampshire Regiment. And finally, in 1992, the Hampshires merged with the Queens Regiment to form the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (Queens and Royal Hampshires). This large Regiment was formed out of units tha coud trace their history back to the 2nd, 3rd, 31st, 35th, 37th, 50th, 57th, 67th, 70th, 77th, 97th and 107th Regiments of Foot. And this is just one modern Regiment -multiply this for every current Regiment in the Army, then we have a very complicated picture.
Not only does this book chart the linear development of Regiments. Iain Gordon has included information about Regimental Museums, Regimenta Headquarters, Regimental Marches, Alliances with other military units, and the Colonel-in-Chief. Information such as this gives us an idea of the unique tribal colour of a regiment. Another very useful inclusion is a comprehensive list of every Regiment’s battle honours. And not only does this book cover the infantry – Guards, line infantry, Paras, Rifles and Gurkhas – but also the Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and the range of other Corps in the British Army.
I know of no other resource that contains such a wealth of information about the History of the Regiments of the British Army. This will be a very useful addition to my shelf of military reference books.