The 7th Hussars

a brief history of the 7th queen’s own hussars

Undeniably The 7th Hussars were the embodiment of dash and panache for which every Cavalry Regiment strives. Nicknamed “The Saucy Seventh” they were rivalled as a fashionable Regiment only by The 10th Hussars and The 7th attracted most of their officers from the nobility, including two Princes.

The 7th were an exclusively Scottish Regiment for some years after their inception, and a few of the Celtic links remaining today, especially in the music. The Queen’s Royal Hussars still uses the famous Cypher of The Queen’s Own as part of the Cap Badge and Rank Badges and proudly wears the “Maid of Warsaw” earned by The 7th in World War II.

Owing to The 7th Hussars, losing their earliest documents twice within their first fifty years, their beginnings are something of a mystery. It is certain that a commission was delivered to Colonel Richard Cunningham in 1690 ordering him to relinquish his Foot Command and take over a Regiment of Dragoons, formed from Eglintoun’s Horse and Cardross’s Dragoons to be six Troops strong. By February 1691 Cunningham’s Dragoons were an established unit of King William’s Army in Scotland. The 7th could always boast of being one of the only two surviving Regiments of Cavalry raised in Scotland.

The first years of Cunningham’s Dragoon’s service north of the border were without noteworthy event, all the Troops being dispersed among the Highlands. In March 1692 the Regiment was brought to Edinburgh to assist in law and order duties but it was not until 1694 that it was sent to Flanders to join The King’s Army marching and counter-marching for the next three years and subjected to the odd review. They were present at the capture of Namur in 1695 and fought alongside The 3rd and The 4th periodically. Two years later the Regiment came home to Scotland for a dozen peaceful years policing the Lowlands during which in 1709 The Hon William Ker took over the Colonelcy and led the Regiment onto the continent for the final year before the Treaty of Utrecht in which there were only minor skirmishes, from where they were ordered to Ireland. In August 1713 Parliament shortsightedly reduced the Army, The King’s Jacobite-minded political adviser Bolingbroke weeding out the Protestant Regiments. Ker’s Dragoons, despite their seniority, were one of the first to go, alongside Pepper’s Dragoons, later the 8th Hussars. Within 18 months George I, the new King, had re-raised the Regiment to help him deal with The Old Pretender and the Jacobite Army, adding, a few  months later the first title of The Regiment, which was the excessively cumbersome “Our Dear Daughter Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales’ Own Royal Regiment of Dragoons.

At the end of October Ker’s Dragoons marched up to Scotland billeted alongside the future 3rd and 4th Hussars. They fought the rebels in November at Sheriffmuir. The battle was indecisive and apart from Ker himself having three horses shot under him, The Regiment did nothing exemplary. The “fifteen” died out and for 27 years Ker’s Dragoons did no fighting. When George II took the throne in 1727 there was no Princess of Wales so the Regiment was retitled “The Queen’s Own Royal Regiment of Dragoons”, a merciful improvement, while the six troops were split up around England engaged in nothing more serious than smuggling control at sundry seaside towns.

In 1742, the Queen’s Own mobilised for the War of the Austrian Succession and by June 1743 they were formed up in a disadvantageous position near the village of Dettingen in the valley of the River Maine. They spent the morning of 27 June standing next to The 3rd Hussars, exposed to devastating fire from the French guns, but in the afternoon, stationed with The 4th and 3rd Hussars they charged, pushing the French Cavalry back and eventually with the support of the Foot, broke the enemy’s ranks. Both sides withdrew to lick their wounds until the battle of Fonteroy in 1745. The infantry performed well but were beaten back by superior numbers at which stage the British Generals threw in their mounted arm to cover the retreat and the Queen’s Own charged again and again, sustain fifty casualties but achieving their task. In 1746 the regiment was caught in the action at Roucoux, which developed as Fonteroy had done and Lauffeldt in which the Cavalry saved the British from a major defeat. By 1748 the impetus for war had petered out and The Queen’s Own Dragoons landed back in England in 1749.

Two years later King George signed a warrant numbering Regiments, thus The 7th Queen’s Own Regiment of Dragoons, who were also given the right to bear the Queen’s cipher, still used today. In 1756 The 7th moved back up to Scotland and had a Light Troop added to the establishment, who distinguished themselves in 1758 with raids on St Malo, where they destroyed over one hundred French ships, and at Cherbourg. During the Seven Years War the Queen’s Own were sent in 1760 to the continent, fighting at Warburg and then tediously marching and skirmishing for three years before coming home.

For the next thirty years The Regiment soldiered quietly at home, north and south of the border. Another title change took place in 1783 when The 7th were converted to (Queen’s Own) Light Dragoons. A decade later, after the French Revolution, Britain was at war with her old enemy again in the Netherlands. April 1794 brought the battle of Beaumont which was a Cavalry victory glowingly reported by Fortescue as “the greatest day in the annals of the British horse” because the British Mounted Regiments routed 25,000 French Troops with their flanking attacks. A fortnight later the British repeated their success in much the same manner at Willems, charging the French squares nine times until they broke and then massacring the fleeting enemy. It was the same story at Mouvaux some days later when The 7th rescued their Colonel who had been captured during the fray by the enemy. The campaign ended a year later and The Regiment went home for four peaceful years, during which their most celebrated patrons joined, Lord Henry Paget, later The Marquis of Anglesey and John Gaspard Le Marchant, the founder of the Royal Military College in Sandhurst. There was a minor campaign on the continent in 1795 to rescue Holland and thus closed the eighteenth century.

Back in England George, the Prince of Wales, was the arbiter of all fashion and as such he decided to bestow first on his own Regiment, The 10th, the distinction of being Hussars in 1806, Lord Paget, now colonel of The 7th, was a friend of the Prince and thus The 7th were the second Regiment to be granted the magnificent uniforms in the same year. In October 1808 The 7th Hussars embarked for Corunna to reinforce Sir John Moore’s army. A bleaker campaign could not have been foreseen, Moore had started the retreat before The 7th Hussars had reached the army. Two minor conflicts brought the Cavalry some renown during the retreat, the first at Sahagun in which two Regiments of French Cavalry were overwhelmed, the second at Benavente when the over-enthusiastic leading elements of the French advance were pushed back into the river they had just crossed.

During the Peninsula War, the Regiment fought with great distinction and shares many of the same Battle Honours as The 3rd and 4th Hussars. After this campaign, Napoleon was forced into excile and peace returned to Europe, however, The 7th Hussars found themselves at war again when he escaped from Elba. It was only on the field of Waterloo that Napoleon was finally defeated. The 7th Hussars charged time after time to protect the British Infantry and routed The French Imperial Guard – the flower of the French Army. Wellington singled out The 7th Hussars for special commendation after this famous and closely contested battle.

The 7th Hussars were then sent to Canada, first helping to eject an American invasion and then staying on in a protective role. In 1900 the Regiment was sent, along with The 3rd and 8th Hussars, to the Boer War.

When the Great War broke out, The 7th Hussars were in India but quickly moved to Mesopotamia to fight the Turkish forces there. During a long and arduous campaign, The Regiment achieved major successes and was awarded the Battle Honours of Sharquat and Khan Baghdadi.

The Regiment exchanged its horses for light tanks and found itself in the Middle East again at the outbreak of the Second World War. As part of the famous 7th Armoured Brigade Desert Rats, The 7th Hussars fought in the important battle of Fort Capuzzo and Beda Fomm. At the bitter struggle of Sidi Rezegh, The Regiment was ordered to stop the advance of 200 German tanks. It succeeded in this herculean task, though all but three of its fifty-one tanks had been destroyed at the end of this battle.

In 1942, The Regiment was sent to Burma where it covered the long retreat to India. Fierce fighting along the jungle tracks took a terrible toll, but The Regiment never failed to do all that was asked of it, and fought tooth and nail to save the Army. General Alexander said of The 7th Hussars – “Without them we should never have got the Army out of Burma; no praise can be too high for them”.

The Regiment was not involved in major operations in 1943 or during the first few months of 1944.  Still in 7 Armoured Brigade with whom they had first gone into battle against the Germans, they spent a year in Iraq and Syria  before returning to a peaceful Egypt, where they were issued with American Sherman tanks, reputed to be the best allied fighting vehicle of the war.

In the wake of the invasion of Sicily, the Regiment landed at Taranto on the west coast of the heel of mainland Italy in early May 1944.  They had fought with 7 Armoured Brigade until the fall of Rome in June, after which they were drafted to the 2nd Polish Corps under their formidable commander Lieutenant General Wladyslaw Anders. With the Poles, the regiment advanced north for a month, ending with the capture of Ancona, a vital east coast port which would considerably shorten the Allies’ supply line, and then joined the pursuit of the enemy to the Gothic Line. In September the regiment said goodbye to their Polish friends, but not until General Anders had introduced the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Jayne, to King George VI on his Majesty’s visit to Allied forces in Italy. General Anders in a later communication to the regiment in which he said, ‘I once more thank you fervently for the magnificent work of your Regiment in the battlers on the Adriatic Coast, true to the highest transitions of your Regiment and the British Army‘, also granted the 7th Hussars permission to wear on their sleeves the Polish Maid of Warsaw badge – a tradition carried on by the Queen’s Own Hussars and the Queen’s Royal Hussars.

The 7th stayed in Italy for a while then marched north ending up in June 1946 at Soltau, in northern Germany, as part of the occupying Army,  where they spent a year before sailing back to Yorkshire after twelve years abroad in December 1947.  Two years of sorting out in England, with a large change in personnel, renewed the 7th for a five year tour in Fallingbostel near Soltau, before they were sent as the first Armoured Regiment in Hong Kong in 1954.

It was a quiet tour and on the boat home in August 1957 the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars found that they were to be amalgamated the following year with 3rd The King’s Own Hussars to form The Queen’s Own Hussars.