There is a popular myth about the British Cavalry of the Great War. That they were a hangover from the Nineteenth Century, that horses had no place in modern warfare. That the majority of Generals were cavalrymen, but that they played little part in the fighting. The Hussars, Lancers and Dragoons carried dramatic sounding names from a bygone age.
In reality there was little chance for the horsemen to fight on horseback. While every ‘big push’ was planned with a heroic cavalry exploitation in mind, the largely static warfare on the western front gave no chance for romantic gallops at a fleeing enemy. As a result, the Cavalry often fought dismounted as infantry, and took their turns in the trenches. Cavalry recruited regionally in a similar manner to the infantry, although – like the infantry – the needs of war led to a relaxing in usual peacetime recruiting boundaries.
The 10th (Prince of Wales Own Royal) Hussars began the war in South Africa. They were recalled to England, a became part of the 6th Cavalry Brigade in the 3rd Cavalry Division. Landing at Ostend on 8 October 1914, they fought on throughout the war. Sergeant Ernest Bradley was killed at the Battle of Arras on 12 April 1917, and is remembered on the Arras Memorial. Sergeant W.G. Edney died in the last days of the war, on 9 October 1918. He is buried at Busigny in France.
The 20th Hussars began the war based in the Garrison town of Colchester. Part of the 5th Cavalry Brigade, they moved to France at the outbreak of war. Private Percy Greenslade was killed at the Battle of Loos on 25 January 1916. He is remembered on the Loos Memorial.
The 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers began the war in Dublin. They became part of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade and moved to France in August 1914. Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant A.H. Hepworth, of Gains Road, Southsea, died after the Armistice on 4 December 1918. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth.
The 12th (Prince of Wales) Lancers were based in Norwich when the war began. They too moved to France in August 1914. Private Fred Forsey, 34 and from Chapel Street, Buckland, was killed on 18 May 1915 during the second Battle of Ypres. He is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial.
The 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards were based in Tidworth, as part of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade. They moved to France on 16 August 1914. Private Victor Cassidy, 21 and from Arthur Street, Buckland, was killed on 28 January 1916. He is buried in Quarry Cemetery, France.
The 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales) Dragoon Guards began the war based in Aldershot. They also moved to France on 16 August 1914. Lance Corporal Leslie Henley, 24 and from Dorset, died shortly after the Armistice on 2 November 1918. He is buried in Caudry Cemetery, France.
The 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) began the war at Canterbury. They too moved to France in August 1914. Private Reginald Henning, 26 and from West Street, Southsea, was killed on 1 April 1918 during the German’s final Kaiser offensive. He is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial, France
The Yeomanry was the mounted arm of the territorial force. The local Yeomanry regiments had strong links with their recruiting area. Many men of the Hampshire Yeomanry were transferred to the Hampshire Regiment as Infantry when manpower began to dry up later in the war. In addition, one man – Private J.G. Grant – died whilst serving with the North Somerset Yeomanry.
Compared to the thousands of Portsmouth men who died fighting in the infantry, Artillery, Engineers and other services, the losses of Cavalry were relatively the small. This is partly down the the fact that few Portsmouth men seem to have joined the Cavalry, the Cavalry in the Great War was comparativey small, and the Cavalry did not find themself in harms way quite as often as the infantry.
Despite the clear evidence that the role of the Cavalry was changing, at the outset of the Second World War over twenty years after the Armistice the British Army was suffering the growing pains of the mechanisation of the Cavalry.