The Berkshire Yeomanry 1794-2000
by Simon Frost
During the French wars of 1793-1815 auxiliary troops were raised for home defence, known as yeomanry, volunteers, or fencible infantry and cavalry. Of these only fencibles were regular troops. Most of the forces were volunteers, but some were paid. By 1800 there were about 100,000 men in these units and by 1805 330,000.
In the spring of 1794 the first troop of Berkshire Yeomanry, styled the Abingdon Independent Cavalry, was formed, and by 1804 eleven independent troops had been raised in Berkshire. In 1804 four of these troops were united to form 'The First Regiment of Berkshire Gentlemen and Yeomanry Cavalry'.
As a result of Government cutbacks in 1827 all yeomanry cavalry troops in Berkshire were disbanded. But following riots by agricultural workers in 1830, four troops were re-established and actively deployed in dealing with civil unrest. Further Government economies in 1838 forced the disbandment of three troops leaving the Hungerford Yeomanry Cavalry as the sole troop in Berkshire. In 1852, following yet further fears of a French invasion, troops were again raised at Reading and Newbury, and some years later at Wantage, Wokingham and Windsor. By this time the Regiment had become styled 'The Royal Berkshire Yeomanry Cavalry'.
The Boer War 1899-1901 and after
Volunteers from the Regiment saw service in the Boer War in the two volunteer Berkshire Yeomanry companies in the Imperial Yeomanry. The lessons of the Boer War led to a more recognised role for the Yeomanry as a whole which encompassed in the reforms of 1908 when the Regiment changed its title to the Berkshire Yeomanry.
The Great War
Mobilised in August 1914 the Berkshire Yeomanry trained at Churn on the Berkshire Downs for three months and then proceeded to the East Coast to guard against a possible German invasion. In April 1915 the Regiment sailed for Egypt and from there a few months later they were shipped, this time without their horses, to the Gallipoli peninsular where, against the Turks, they first saw action. In a bloody battle on August 21, 1915, Private Fred Potts earned the first yeomanry VC for 'most conspicuous bravery in rescuing a comrade under heavy fire'. After three months in the trenches, the Regiment was withdrawn, their strength reduced by casualties and sickness to a mere 50 men.
Returning to Egypt and brought up to strength, the Regiment campaigned during the spring of 1916 in the Western Desert. In 1917 the Berkshire Yeomanry joined the British advance on Jerusalem. After two unsuccessful baffles in March and April to evict the Turkish Army from Gaza, the British forces were reorganised under their new commander General Allenby and the third Battle of Gaza was a notable success culminating in the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917. During this campaign the Berkshire Yeomanry were involved in two successful cavalry charges against the Turks.
In April 1918 the Regiment was amalgamated into 101 (Bucks & Berks Yeomanry) Battalion, Machine Gun Corps. They reached France in July and saw action in support of 51st Highland Division and in the final baffles in Belgium in the Second Army.
The Second World War 1939-1945
In 1922 the Berkshire Yeomanry were re-established as part of the 99th (Bucks and Berks) Field Brigade RFA. With the doubling of the Territorial Army in 1939, the unit was split into two county regiments and 145 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment HA (TA) was born. Embodied at Newbury in September 1939 the Berkshire Yeomanry remained there until moving to Kingston Bagpuize in February 1940. The Regiment was deployed on airfield defence until July 1940 when it was moved to Northern Ireland until returning to England in July 1943. The Regiment was earmarked as one of the units to join the spearhead of the second front. Shortly before D Day, however, they were held back in order to serve as part of the breakthrough that was to follow the initial landings on the Normandy beaches.
Following better than anticipated progress with the invasion, and fewer casualties, it became War Office policy to make up units in France with individual reinforcements and within a few weeks the Berkshire Yeomanry provided more than fifty fully trained reinforcements. Late in 1944 many of those posted to France were returned to the Regiment and in January 1945 the Regiment sailed to India.
In July 1945 the Berkshire Yeomanry sailed with the invasionary force on Operation Zipper aimed at the recapture of Malaya. Landing on Morib beaches the Regiment was very soon occupied with wholesale rounding up and disarming of the Japanese, who had by then surrendered. After some time in Malaya the Regiment took ship once more for Java to help deal with the native Indonesian uprising against the Colonial Dutch. For a period of several months the Regiment was in the centre of bitter fighting almost daily in close support of Indian and Gurkha infantry brigades. Fighting continued into 1946 and it was not until May 1946 that most of the Regiment were en route back to England.
By May 1947 the Berkshire Yeomanry was reconstituted as two artillery regiments, later combined into 345th (Berkshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment RA (TA) and in 1957 they became part of 299th Field Regiment HA (TA). In 1967 the Territorial Army was reorganised and the unit at Windsor was re-roled to infantry and became 'A' (Berkshire Yeomanry) Company, Royal Berkshire Territorials.
In January 1969 with the further reorganisation of all TAVR units, the Berkshire Yeomanry were again re-roled and renamed 94 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Signal Squadron with troops at Reading, Windsor, and Southampton. In 1977 a detachment was formed at Chertsey and in 1991, further Government cuts led to the loss of the Troop location at Southampton.
The Regiment has its own dedicated museum in Windsor. Founded in 1974 the museum contains a modest collect of regimental artefacts covering the roles, arms and uniforms adopted since its foundation in 1794. The collection also covers the Regiment's activities during the Boer War and the First and Second World Wars. The museum is gradually building up a database of information on those who have served in the past 200 years. Because it is staffed entirely by volunteers such research can be very time-consuming, but museum staff are always ready to help those seeking information on their ancestors.
The museum is currently researching the names of all those who died in service with the Berkshire Yeomanry in order to create a memorial in their honour in the form of a Book of Remembrance. This should be completed by the end of this year.
Copies of William Spencer, Records of the Militia and Volunteer Forces 1757-1945, published by the PRO, is available from the Society Bookshop.