The South Wales Borderers was an infantry regiment of the British Army. It first came into existence, as the 24th Regiment of Foot, in 1689, but was not called the South Wales Borderers until 1881. The regiment served in a great many conflicts, including the American Revolutionary War, various conflicts in India, the Zulu War, Boer War, and World War I and II. The regiment was absorbed into the Royal Regiment of Wales in 1969. As its name suggests, the regiment recruited primarily from South Wales.
===24th Regiment of Foot===
The regiment was formed as Sir Edward Dering’s Regiment of Foot in 1689, becoming known, like other regiments, by the names of its subsequent colonels. It became the 24th Regiment of Foot in 1751, having been deemed 24th in the infantry order of precedence since 1747. In 1782 it became the 24th (The 2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot. The 1st Warwickshires were the 6th (1st Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot.
In 1741, during the War of Jenkin’s Ear, the regiment was part of the amphibious expedition to the Caribbean and participated in the disastrous British defeat at the battle of Cartagena de Indias.
In 1756, during the Seven Years War, the regiment was part of the garrison on Minorca and surrendered to the French on June 28.
In 1758, during the Seven Years War, the regiment was part of the amphibious expedition against, or descent on, the coast of France and participated in the disastrous British defeat at the battle of Saint Cast.
In 1776 the regiment was sent to Quebec where it subsequently fought American rebels who had invaded the province during their War of Independence. The regiment was part of the 5,000 British and Hessian force, under the command of Gen. John Burgoyne, that surrendered to the American rebels in the 1777 Saratoga Campaign and remained imprisoned until 1783.
In 1804 a 2nd Battalion was raised but its life was relatively short when it was disbanded in 1814, having seen service in the Peninsular War.
In 1810 the vast majority of the 1st Battalion was captured at sea by the French; they were released the following year. They had been on the East Indiamen Astell, Ceylon and Windham when a French frigate squadron captured the last two at the Action of 3 July 1810 near the Comoros Islands.
In 1814 the 1st Battalion took part in The Gurkha War, which saw the British and the Gurkhas gain mutual respect. After the war, the British began recruiting Gurkhas,who became part of the British Indian Army. When India became independent in 1947, four Gurkha regiments transferred to the British Army.
On 23 July 1829, after a brief period in Lancashire preparing for their third trip to North America, the 1st Battalion departed Manchester by canal boat arriving at Paddington four days later. During the tedious nine weeks crossing the Atlantic, the Regiment’s Colonel, Sir David Baird died.
In October 1829 the Regiment began a twelve year sojourn in Upper and Lower Canada. It participated in the suppression of an insurgency in the valley of the Richelieu River at the end of 1837 and the suppression of the Rebellion of 1838 in the Montreal area.
When ordered home to Britain in June 1841 it left almost 200 men behind as voluntary reinforcements for other regiments in Canada. This was in addition to hundreds of men who had deserted in the previous twelve years… 111 deserters in the years 1837 and 1838 alone.
===Second Sikh War and Indian Mutiny===
The regiment was back on the Indian subcontinent in 1846 where it took part in the Second Sikh War. At the Battle of Chillianwala, due to mismanagement by senior officers, the regiment suffered over 50 per cent casualties. The Queen’s colours were lost (although the Sikhs never claimed to have captured them, so they were probably destroyed, or buried with those who had carried them.)
The regiment remained in India. In 1857, on the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, it was part of the garrison of the Punjab. On 7 July that year, thirty-five soldiers of the regiment were killed by mutineers at their garrison in Jhelum. Among the dead was Captain Francis Spring, the eldest son of Colonel William Spring. The regiment subsequently took part in the disarming of several units of the Bengal Army of the British East India Company and the pursuit of escaped mutineers, but was not involved in the major engagements of the subsequent war.
In 1858 the 2nd Battalion was re-formed at Sheffield.
In 1860 the 2nd Battalion was sent to the Mauritius where it spent 5 years, after which it left for Burma and then to the Andaman Islands in 1867. Two years later it was based on the Indian mainland. It returned home in 1872 and would remain there until war broke out in Southern Africa in 1878.
In 1866 the 1st Battalion was sent to Malta and then, remaining in the Mediterranean, moved to Gibraltar in 1872.
In 1875 the 1st Battalion arrived in Southern Africa and subsequently saw service, along with the 2nd Battalion, in the 9th Xhosa War in 1878.
In 1879 both battalions took part in the Zulu War, begun after a British invasion of Zululand, ruled by Cetshwayo. The 24th Foot took part in the crossing of the Buffalo River on 11 January, entering Zululand. The first engagement (and the most disastrous for the British) came at Isandhlwana. The British had pitched camp at Isandhlwana and not established any fortifications due to the sheer size of the force, the hard ground and a shortage of entrenching tools. The 24th Foot provided most of the British force and when the overall commander, Lord Chelmsford, split his forces on 22 January to search for the Zulus, the 1st Battalion (5 companies) and a company of the 2nd Battalion were left behind to guard the camp, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine (CO of the 1/24th Foot).
The Zulus, 22,000 strong, attacked the camp and their sheer numbers overwhelmed the British. During the battle Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine ordered Lieutenants Coghill and Melvill to save the Queen’s Colour—the Regimental Colour was located at Helpmakaar with G Company. The two Lieutenants attempted to escape by crossing the Buffalo River where the Colour fell and was lost downstream, later being recovered. Both officers were killed. At this time the Victoria Cross (VC) was not awarded posthumously. This changed in the early 1900s when both Lieutenants were awarded posthumous Victoria Crosses for their bravery. The 2nd Battalion lost both its Colours at Isandhlwana though parts of the Colours—the crown, the pike and a colour case—were retrieved and trooped when the battalion was presented with new Colours in 1880.
The 24th had performed with distinction during the battle. The last survivors made their way to the foot of a mountain where they fought until they expended all their ammunition and were killed. The 24th Foot suffered 540 dead, including the 1st Battalion’s commanding officer.
The Battle of Isandlwana was dramatized in the 1979 movie Zulu Dawn.
After the battle, some 4,000 to 5,000 Zulus headed for Rorke’s Drift, a small missionary post garrisoned by a company of the 2/24th Foot, native levies and others under the command of Lieutenant Chard, Royal Engineers, the most senior officer of the 24th present being Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead. Two Boer cavalry officers, Lieutenants Adendorff and Vane, arrived to inform the garrison of the defeat at Isandhlwana. The Acting Assistant Commissary James Langley Dalton persuaded Bromhead and Chard to stay and the small garrison frantically prepared rudimentary fortifications.
The Zulus first attacked at 4:30 pm. Throughout the day the garrison was attacked from all sides, including rifle fire from the heights above the garrison, and bitter hand-to-hand fighting often ensued. At one point the Zulus entered the hospital, which was stoutly defended by the wounded inside until it was set alight and eventually burnt down. The battle raged on into the early hours of 23 January but by dawn the Zulu Army had withdrawn. Lord Chelmsford and a column of British troops arrived soon afterwards. The garrison had suffered 15 killed during the battle (two died later) and 11 defenders were awarded the Victoria Cross for their distinguished defence of the post, 7 going to soldiers of the 24th Foot.
The stand at Rorke’s Drift was immortalised in the 1964 movie Zulu.
===Garrison Duties and Boer War===
After the Cardwell-Childers Reforms of the British Armed Forces, the 24th Foot became the South Wales Borderers on 1 July 1881. The regiment’s regimental depot had been moved to Brecon in Wales in 1873 and this, understandably, led to the regiment having close links with South Wales. The South Wales Borderers became the county regiment of Brecknockshire, Cardiganshire, Monmouthshire, Montgomeryshire, and Radnorshire.
1st Battalion In 1893 the 1st Battalion arrived in Egypt and after a two-year stay there moved to Gibraltar. The battalion moved back to the east when it joined the British garrison in India in 1897. As with most British battalions posted to India, it was a lengthy stay, not leaving until 1910. It was based in Britain when the First World War began.
2nd Battalion In 1880 the 2nd Battalion, after a brief stay in Gibraltar where they were presented with new Colours, arrived in India.
In 1886 the 2nd Battalion took part in the Third Burmese War that culminated in the annexation of Upper Burma by the British Empire, formally ending Burmese independence. It returned home in 1892.
The 2nd Battalion arrived in Cape Colony in 1900 to take part in the Boer War that had begun in 1899. The Regiment, additionally, had a number of companies from its Volunteer battalions sent to South Africa. The Boer War ended in 1902.
In 1910 the 2nd Battalion returned to a more peaceful South Africa. It was sent to the Far East in 1912, based in the British-controlled part of Tientsin in China where it remained until the outbreak of World War I.
===First World War===
The 1st Battalion was part of the original British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that was sent to France shortly after war was declared.
In March 1916 the 2nd Battalion arrived into the carnage of the Western Front in France.
Welsh poet and language activist Saunders Lewis served in the South Wales Borderers during World War I.
====Middle East and Other Theatres====
The 2nd Battalion provided the only British contribution, a symbolic one, to the Japanese invasion of Tsingtao—a German naval base in China that was the base of the East Asiatic Squadron. Shortly after the capture of Tsingtao, the battalion arrived in Hong Kong and then back home in January 1915.
As part of the 29th Division, the battalion took part in the Dardanelles Campaign, landing at S Beach, Cape Helles on 25 April 1915. Unlike other beaches, the 2nd South Wales Borderers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel H.G. Casson, met little opposition and the landing, supported by the battleship HMS Cornwallis, was completed by 7:30am. The 4th (Service) Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel F M Gillespie, landed at Anzac on the night of 3/4 August 1915, meeting heavy fire on the beach and suffering serious casualties, including their commanding officer, as they pushed forward on the left of the line.
The end of war gave the 1st South Wales Borderers no respite. The battalion moved to Dunshaughlin in 1919 where it was part of the British Army during the Irish War of Independence. They were involved in operations against Michael Collins and the Irish Republican Army. After the Anglo-Irish Treaty established the Irish Free State, the Battalion was evacuated.
In 1928 the 1st Battalion arrived in Egypt where they remained until they were posted to Hong Kong in 1930. In 1934 the 1st Battalion was, once more, posted to India, based in Rawalpindi.
The battalion was sent, for a brief time, to Iraq in 1937, a rare deployment for a British Army unit, Iraq being under Royal Air Force administration. It returned to India the following year where it took part in operations against hostile tribes in the volatile North-West Frontier. It was still in India when World War II began in 1939.
In 1919 the 2nd Battalion arrived at Barrackpore, India. It remained there, based in a variety of places, for many years, until it was posted to Aden (now part of the Yemen) in 1927 where it remained until returning to Britain in 1929.
The battalion was back in the Middle East in 1936 when it was sent to Palestine to assist in quelling a rebellion by Arabs. The battalion left in December, moving Northern Ireland. It was still based in the UK when World War II began.
===Second World War===
The 2nd Battalion, as part of 24th Guards Brigade (Rupertforce), took part in the Norwegian campaign, fighting the Nazi German invaders.
In 1944 the 2nd Battalion had the distinction of being the only Welsh battalion to take part in the Normandy Landings landing under command of 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division. It was under command of 7th Armoured Division for a few days in June 1944, reverting to 50th (Northumbrian Division). In August 1944 it was briefly under command of 59th (Staffordshire) Division and on August 20 joined 49th Infantry Division. It ended its war in Germany, and remained there, as part of the occupation forces, until 1948 when it returned home.
====Africa and the Middle East====
The 1st Battalion, as part of the Indian 10th Infantry Division, was sent to Iraq to quell a German-inspired uprising in Iraq. The battalion saw subsequent service in Iran.
The 1st Battalion sustained enormous casualties in Libya near Tobruk when they lost around 500 officers and men captured or killed during a general retreat. The battalion found itself cut off when the German forces outflanked them, the commanding officer, Lt. Col. F.R.G. Matthews, decided to attempt to escape around the enemy and break through to British lines. It turned into a disaster with only four officers and around one hundred men reaching Sollum. To the surprise of the survivors the battalion was ordered to disband in Cyprus and the remnants of the battalion were transferred, with the exception of a cadre that returned to the UK, to the 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster). A few months later the battalion was re-formed from the cadre and the 4th Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment though it would remain in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war.
In 1945 the 1st Battalion was embroiled in the volatile uprising in Palestine, as well as undertaking operations to assist in the prevention of Jewish immigration into the territory, then considered by the British to be illegal.
The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1948—every other second battalion of the Line Infantry was also disbanded as a consequence of defence cuts implemented shortly after the Second World War.
In 1946 the 1st Battalion arrived in Cyprus where it remained until 1949 when it deployed to the Sudan. The following year the regiment became part of the occupation force in Eritrea—a former Italian colony that was ruled by a British military administration after World War II. The regiment left after Eritrea joined its larger neighbour Ethiopia in 1952 after the United Nations ratified a resolution creating a federation between the two countries.
In 1948 a State of Emergency was declared in Malaya shortly after Communist insurgents, mostly from the large ethnic Chinese community, began a campaign against the British presence in Malaya as they did not believe Malaya’s eventual independence would lead to the installation of a Communist regime. This situation was what the South Wales Borderers entered in October 1955, in a conflict known as the Malayan Emergency. It was a vicious, brutal campaign, one of claustrophobia when they sent patrols deep into the Malayan jungle to search for the elusive guerillas—they were known as Communist Terrorist (CT) in British parlance. The regiment returned to the UK in 1958.
The regiment’s conduct during the war compelled Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer—a distinguished British officer during World War II and a man instrumental in the defeat of the CTs during the Emergency—to state that, “there has been no better regiment in Malaya during the ten years of the emergency and very few as good”.
In 1953 the regiment arrived in Brunswick, West Germany as part of the British Army of the Rhine.
In 1960 the regiment was posted to Minden, Germany and returned home two years later. In 1963 the regiment arrived in Hong Kong,[Stanley Fort], performing internal security duties until it returned home in 1966 to Lydd in Kent. During this time in the UK the Regiment was given the honour of performing ceremonial duties at Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. (Normally a Regiment of Guards duty). In January 1967 the regiment arrived in Aden—a British territory in the Middle East, in what is now the Yemen, that was experiencing turbulent times shortly before it achieved independence from the British—where it performed internal security duties until it returned home later that year
In 1969 the regiment was amalgamated with the Welch Regiment to form the Royal Regiment of Wales (24th/41st Foot)