A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NORTHUMBERLAND (HUSSARS)
YEOMANRY CAVALRY, 1819-1918
by David Thompson
The definitive work on the Northumberland (Hussars) Yeomanry Cavalry is a book entitled ‘The History of the Northumberland (Hussars) Yeomanry, 1819-1923’, written by Howard Pease and published in 1924 by Constable and Company Ltd (London). The Hussars were affiliated with the 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars as recently as 1947, when headquarters of that regiment moved to Newcastle, possibly because of a long-standing, unofficial affiliation with the Northumberland (Hussars), which can certainly be traced back to the 1880s, if not before. From 1872, in common with all Auxiliary forces, the Adjutant and instructors of the Hussars had to be regular army personnel seconded for, perhaps, three years. One such person who was to become extremely influential in later years was Captain John Denton Pinkstone French, later BEF Commander-in-Chief, then Field-Marshal Earl of Ypres, KP, OM, GCB, GCVO, KCMG. French joined the Hussars in 1881, leaving it during the third quarter of 1884 to rejoin the 19th Hussars, which was about to leave for Egypt. French also wrote the ‘Foreword’ to Howard Pease’s book. 15th Hussars was, in fact, a London regiment, while 19th Hussars was, by tradition, an Irish regiment.
There were two distinctions for which the Northumberland (Hussars) were especially proud. The first was that the regiment was the sole ‘Imperial Service’ Yeomanry regiment before the Great War, during which the second distinction was that the First Line was the first Territorial Force unit in action. ‘Line’ can best be described as equating, perhaps, to an infantry battalion, although numerically much smaller, the strength of which was possibly not much more than an infantry company (250 men)
The Northumberland (Hussars) could trace its origins to December 1819 when the Northumberland and Newcastle Volunteer Corps of Cavalry formed, under the command of Charles John Brandling, of Gosforth House. Justification for its formation was attributed to the revolutionary spirit then especially prevalent in the North of England. The regiment’s first assembly, for training and duty, was in March 1820, at which time Brandling suggested that twenty men be held dismounted, armed with carbines and trained as light infantry. He had in mind their possible deployment on the River Tyne, in the event of disturbances from keelboat men, for example. Throughout its existence, the Hussars were periodically called upon to maintain public order, although very few occasions for this arose after 1868. Only twice between 1819 and the Boer War (1899-1902) was the annual assembly on the Town Moor, often referred to as Permanent Duty, allowed to lapse. In 1853 a cholera outbreak precluded an assembly, and difficulties attendant upon changes in command and adjutancy in 1877, was the other occasion. The regiment’s sporting spirit was noteworthy and, for a time, the Hussars held their own race meetings, initially on the Town Moor then at Gosforth Park.
The Hussars always enjoyed a strong contingent of Durham men. Both Northumberland and County Durham could claim a long history of Voluntary Cavalry formations, for example the South Tyne Yeomanry, the Durham and Gibside Yeomanry Cavalry, and the Cheviot Legion, but there were no direct links, or ancestry, between these formations and the Hussars. The name of the regiment was changed to ‘The Northumberland (Hussars) Yeomanry Cavalry’ in 1876. Pease did not make a connection with the army reforms of Edward Cardwell, but it might be reasonable to assume that there was a link and that Cardwell’s reforms acted as the catalyst for the change. At the same time, the dismounted squadron was formally disbanded following a War Office directive that Yeomanry should be used exclusively as light cavalry.
The Northumberland (Hussars) Yeomanry Cavalry archives include all regimental orders from 1880 to 1914, in three boxes covering 1880-1896, 1897-1904 and 1905-1914. However, the author has examined only the first and third boxes. In ‘New NH 0413 (1880-1896)’, orders were written every few days, although the frequency varied ranging from daily during, and just before, the Annual Camp to several weeks between orders. Invariably, Annual Camps lasted eight days and the regiment was made up of four squadrons, each of one and a half troops. In the 1880s, there were usually six troops, each of which met at least weekly for training purposes. The location of troops varied from time to time, but the following is typical of where they were based:
‘A’, ‘D’, and ‘F’ Troops – Headquarters, at Newcastle
‘B’ Troop – Hexham, with detachments at Bishop Auckland and
‘C’ Troop – Morpeth, with detachments at Rothbury and
Bedlington. On occasions, Alnwick and Berwick
detachments were also mentioned
‘E’ Troop – County Durham, often with detachments in Durham,
Sunderland and Darlington and, sometimes, South
At the 1885 Camp, for example, six troops numbered between twenty-five and forty-two troopers each, so that there were, in all, two hundred and six troopers. With officers, this meant that the regiment was then probably no more than 220-225 strong (all ranks).
From 20 June 1881, regimental orders were often printed. Interestingly, those that gave notice of forthcoming Permanent Duty always included an order to the effect that ‘The Officers will give their usual Ball to the Non-Commissioned Officers and Troopers of the Regiment and their friends, during the Training’. The officers were expected to give the Ball at their own expense. Each year, around the end of November or in December, another regular order listed the NCOs and troopers owing fines for various misdemeanours, the most common of which were loss of or damage to equipment during Permanent Duty, and non-attendance of weekly training. The regimental order of 30 November 1889 listed thirty-four fines due, which number reduced in the following three years to, respectively, thirty-five, thirty-one and, on 31 December 1892, twenty-one.
During the Boer War, the people of Northumberland and Durham subscribed £50,185 to raise 2,254 men for the South African Field Force. Sir Henry Scott, of Hipsburn, initiated this effort and he was instrumental in persuading seventeen prominent men of the two counties, including the officers of the Hussars, to contribute up to £1,000 each. He suggested to the War Office that a Yeomanry force should be sent to South Africa, which suggestion might have been coincidental with similar War Office thinking as there was an almost immediate national call from for volunteers, or it might simply have been that the War Office liked the idea and decided to adopt it. Either way, the ‘Imperial Yeomanry’ was formed for the duration of the Boer War, from volunteer formations of which those from Northumberland and Durham were prominent. The 2,254 ‘picked men’ represented less than one sixth of those who had volunteered. According to Pease, on a pro rata basis Northumberland and Durham sent more volunteers to South Africa than any other district. Ninety-seven officers and men of the contingents from the two counties gave their lives for their country in the South African campaign. Although a strict comparison cannot really be made, this is a higher figure than the Hussars lost in the First World War. As a result of the Boer War, the character and duration of annual training changed. Training was extended from eight to sixteen days, and manoeuvres became larger affairs, involving several units, such that the Town Moor was no longer big enough. The Annual Training Camp moved several times, initially to Rothbury (1900-1904), then on several occasions to Walwick Grange (near Fourstones, Hexham) and later to such places as the Ingram Valley, Haltwhistle, and York.
When the Territorial Force was inaugurated in 1908, the Northumberland (Hussars) Yeomanry Cavalry formed part of the Northumbrian Division, under the command of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, although he only commanded until 31 March 1910 when he relinquished his position. Reverting to archival material, in ‘NEW NH 0415 (1905-1914)’ two requirements of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act, 1907 were noted, namely that dismounted men of the Territorial Force were required to train for the full period of fifteen days, while the mounted branch was required to train for eighteen days in each year. The 1910 Annual Camp, held at Richmond, was also interesting in that squadron training was split, with ‘C’ and ‘D’ Squadrons attending camp between 11 and 25 June, while ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons trained between 2 and 16 July. The 1912 Programme of Training included: March into camp, and inspection of horses; Church parade, followed by a medical inspection; Section and troop drill, including a saddlery inspection; Troop and squadron drill, including dismounted action and musketry; Various other squadron drills, including outpost duty; Advance and rear guards; Manoeuvring; Night outpost schemes; Colonel’s inspection; And an attack on a convoy.
When war was declared in 1914, the Hussars were to be found at their Annual Training Camp, which that year was held at Farnley Park, Otley. Mobilisation orders were received on 6 August 1914, at which time the regiment was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Viscount Ridley. While there was an increase in activity immediately after 4 August 1914, orders issued related to such mundane things as care of horses, spies, patrols, sentries, and sanitary arrangements. However, an order on 15 August gave notice of an imminent move from billets to a camp then to be selected, at about which time the four peacetime squadrons were reduced to three, with ‘A’ squadron then based at Gosforth Park, ‘B’ Squadron at Castle Eden, and ‘C’ squadron at Bedlington. On 30 August 1914, the regiment was accepted for service with the BEF, and on 11 September it moved to Lyndhurst, Hampshire in readiness for embarkation. However, by then Colonel Lord Ridley’s health was a cause for grave concern and he was compelled to remain in England, so Major (later, Lieutenant-Colonel) P. Blencowe Cookson, CMG, OBE assumed command, which position he held until 1917.
The First Line sailed for Belgium on 5 October 1914, where it acted as Divisional Cavalry for 7th Division. As such, it took part in the First Battle of Ypres, which was such a desperate affair that there were occasions when the regiment acted as dismounted infantry and occupied trenches. During this battle, the Hussars undertook reconnaissance patrols in advance of the infantry. The first casualties were sustained on 17 October 1914. After the battle, the regiment spent a fortnight at Meteren, which time appears to have been a period devoted to prodigious eating and sleeping. Of course, from the beginning of November 1914 the nature of warfare on the Western Front changed to that of trench warfare. To the end of the year, the Hussars appear to have been held in general reserve, as a result of which the regiment was used for all manner of duties, including trench building and maintenance. Apart from regular patrolling and supplying such as bridge guards, training continued and numerous changes of billet were recorded. The regiment was still in the Ypres area at the end of 1914.
A Second Line formation came into being on departure of the First Line, in October 1914. Again, to the end of 1914 the main focus was on training, this at Gosforth Park. Later, the Second Line was used for coastal defence duties before it, too, moved overseas. However, the unit did not survive to the end of the war. Early in the autumn of 1917, as happened to many Yeomanry regiments at that time, the Second Line was disbanded and its personnel were transferred to a local regiment, in the Hussars case to the Northumberland Fusiliers, there to form the nucleus of the 9th (Northumberland Hussars) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. Before its disbandment, the Second Line saw service in many parts of the UK and France, and achieved the unique distinction of being the only Second Line Yeomanry unit to be dispatched as a cavalry regiment for service in any theatre of war. Before leaving the Second Line, it is worth recording that it, too, formed under Lieutenant-Colonel Viscount Ridley. Unfortunately, Lord Ridley’s poor health deteriorated still further, to the point that, in February 1915, he had to give up his duties with the Second Line.
Shortage of material and rifles, and of trained officers and NCOs, was a far more serious problem than a shortage of men. Indeed, at no time was there a shortage of willing volunteers, so much as that the regiment was one of very few Yeomanry regiments able to recruit a Third Line up to full strength. Formation of the Third Line began in January 1915, and it is worth recording that an offer was then made to the War Office to raise a Fourth Line, but this was politely declined.
Pease quoted Great War casualties as numbering fifty-two men killed in action or died of wounds received, while a further fifteen died as a result of sickness, disease or natural causes. There is a small discrepancy with the totals taken from Officers Died… and Soldiers Died…, which together indicate sixty-five fatalities, but the difference is too small to make an issue of. In one of his Appendices, Pease also listed twenty-four prisoners of war and two hundred and ninety other battle casualties (wounded), including those who were subject to the effects of poison gas. Another Appendix lists prestigious awards won or granted, including nine DSOs, thirteen MCs (with one bar), twelve DCMs, forty-two MMs, and seventy-three Mentions in Dispatches. This last figure includes several officers mentioned more than once, one of who received four mentions.
Although the Northumberland (Hussars) Yeomanry Cavalry no longer exists, a link with the past survives in the form of ‘D’ Squadron (Northumberland Hussars) of the Queen’s Own Yeomanry, which is based at Fenham Barracks along with the Regimental Headquarters of 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars. The latter’s Regimental Museum is to be found in the Discovery complex in Blandford House, Blandford Square, Newcastle, where the story of the Northumberland (Hussars) is also told and its regimental archives are held.