History of the Scots Greys
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Early history of the Scots Greys by G F Bacon, published in the Navy and army Illustrated, The Glories and traditions of the British Army 1897.
|Excerpt from the Navy and Army Illustrated January 15th
1897 by G F Bacon
The origin of the word Dragoon has been in much dispute. It was the opinion of more than one ancient military writer that these troops received their name from a supposed resemblance to that fabulous monster the dragon, because, says one, "they fought in air on the ground, mounted or on foot." While another likens a Dragoon to the same beast because of his riding at a gallop on horseback with his burning match in his hand. But there is no doubt really that this class of troop derived its title from the weapon with which it was armed, and which was known as "a faire dragon." It was a wheel-lock firearm with a barrel sixteen inches long, the muzzle being cast in the form of a monster's head.
In olden days the names of serpents, birds of prey, rapacious animals, etc., were generally used for firearms, which usually had a representation of a reptile, bird or animal either carved or cast upon some part of the weapon. Thus: "Culverin" (a cannon which carried an 18 pound round shot) was derived from the old French couleuvrine (Latin colubrinus), meaning snake-like, serpents being formed upon it to constitute handles; "falcon" and "falconet" (also cannons carrying a shot weighing about 2 pounds), the derivation of these terms is obvious; "musket" - the male of the sparrow hawk; "basilisk," so called from the supposed fear caused by its 160 pound ball; "saker" from Sagr, Arabic for sparrow hawk.
Dragoons originally were simply what we call mounted infantry. They were foot soldier who used horses only as a means of rapid locomotion. There were at one time, previous to and in 1632, two kinds of Dragoons, pikemen and musketeers. These troops are of French origin, and were introduce by Marèchal de Brissac in 1554, when they were mounted arquebusiers.
The particular regiment which is the subject of the present article has a long and distinguished record. It owed its origin to the opposition offered by the people of Scotland to the establishment of prelacy, which was sought to be imposed upon them by Charles II. The subversion of the Presbyterian religion was enforced by the presence in Scotland of strong military contingents. The intolerable persecution of the Scottish people culminated at last in open rebellion on their part, which was promptly dealt with by the King's forces. Still discontent smouldered, and occasionally broke into open flame. In consequence of continued resistance against the law, three troops of Dragoons were raised and added to the regular army. In 1678, then, the nucleus of the corps which bears as its motto the proud boast of "Second to None" was formed together with a regiment of Foot, the 21st, now known as the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
It was not until 1681 that Charles II placed the regular forces in Scotland upon a proper and more efficient establishment. Three more troops were raised, and the six troops were then embodied into a regiment under the title of the Royal Regiment of the Scots Dragoons, by no means to be confused, as it generally has been, with the Royal Regiment of Scots Horse, whose colonel was Graham of Claverhouse. This was not, however, the first regiment of Dragoons which was raised. In 1672, on the breaking out of war with Holland, a regiment was raised and armed in a similar manner to the infantry, except that some of the men carried halberds instead of pikes, and a few in each troop were armed with pistols. These troops were placed under the command of that dashing leader of cavalry, Prince Rupert, but were disbanded after the peace two years later. The earliest mention made of this description of soldier in England occurs in a letter written by Charles I in 1642, in which he complained of the want of "dragooners" to oppose the rebels, whose strength laid in their horsemen.
The first colonel of the Greys was Lieutenant-General Dalziel, the then Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, whose grim, fierce, relentless nature had not suffered any repression by his early training in the Russian service. He was originally in the Scots forces, and was taken prisoner at Worcester and confined in the Tower, from which he escaped. He fled to Moscow, and like so many of his countrymen have done in later times, obtained a commission in the Russian army and served in many a fierce hand-to-hand fight against the Tartars.
At the Restoration, Dalziel returned to Scotland, and in the prosecution of his duties, was so harsh that his very name was execrated. He caused to be performed such cruelties on the unfortunate Presbyterians as had never before been heard of in Scotland, even in those rough times. He was an extraordinary looking man. He never wore boots, it is said, and his body was clothed in only one coat, winter and summer alike. He refused to wear a peruke, as did everybody else at the time, nor would he shave his beard after what he called the "murder" of Charles I. In consequence of his severities towards the wretched non-conformists, he was in high favour with the King, and at his death in 1685, was accorded a public funeral conducted with great pomp and solemnity.
For a number of years after the regiment was raised, it was employed in what must have been, and must always be, a most distasteful task to officers and men alike - civil war. This particular series of conflicts was carried on with much needless severity on both sides, and it was therefore, a most welcome change when the regiment went on active service abroad for the first time in 1694.
As soon as Charles II died and James II ascended the throne, the Earl of Argyle landed with about 300 men from Holland with the view of raising a rebellion and of dethroning the King, whose Papistical views were much disliked. The Royal Scots Dragoons were among the troops ordered to oppose the rebels. A Fight ensued at Stone-dyke Park, where the Dragoons were dismounted, formed up as infantry and stormed the rebel's position.
The Monmouth rising was meanwhile rapidly gaining headway in England, and the Scots Dragoons were ordered to cross the Tweed; but hardly had they done so when news of the decisive battle of Sedgemoor was brought, and so they returned to Scotland. Again they had to harry the non-conformists, when the sturdy Scots refused to subscribe to the oath that would make them disown their beloved religion. But better times were in store for them, for in 1687 the King removed many of the restrictions put upon them, and the Dragoons were therefore, relieved of their distasteful duty of man hunting. They took part, however, in an expedition into the Highlands, the object of which was to punish the Macdonalds, who belonged to the Laird of Keppoch, and to burn his houses and corn. This drastic proceeding was called forth by a dispute, followed, naturally, by a fight, over an estate between the Macdonalds and the Mackintoshes.
When James II abdicated and fled to France, the Scots Dragoons were well disposed to serve under a Protestant monarch, and soon after the succession of William and Mary they became part and parcel of the army, and occupied the same establishment as the English Dragoons. But when the regiment resumed its quarters in Edinburgh, great dissatisfaction was manifested by a number of officers, who found that all their friends were removed from power, and that men whom they had formerly known as rebels, were now given commissions in the army and posts under Government. These officers then began a treasonable intercourse with Viscount Dundee, John Graham of Claverhouse, who earned his nickname of "Bloody Clavers" by his merciless severity against the Presbyterians, whom he slew and spared not, old, men, women and children alike. He was enraged against the Prince of Orange, because the latter once gave the command of a Scots regiment serving under the Dutch flag to another officer over Claverhouse's head. He refused to serve under him, left the service and took to the mountains and induced, by specious arguments and promises, several of the Dragoon officers to join him, in many incidents against their better judgement. He managed to get together quite a formidable force of deserters from his old regiment, the Scots Horse, and several of the clans, including the Macdonalds of Keppoch, burning with revenge for the outrage before alluded to, rallied around him. There then ensued a sort of Guerilla warfare all among the hills and highland passes between a part of the Scots Dragoons who were loyal, and a large force of royalist troops, and Dundee and his rebels of '89.
On June 27th 1689, the hostile forces met and engaged in the pass of Killiecrankie, when the King's troops were badly beaten. Dundee, was however, killed in the action. The rebellion lingered on for another two years, when the Jacobites tendered their submission to King William. In 1692, there occurred the shameful massacre of the Macdonalds of Glencoe. The then colonel of the Scots Dragoons was Commander-in-Chief in Scotland at the time, but he was absolved from blame by Parliament.
To give anything like a complete account of the exact services of the Greys during the war in Flanders would be to describe all the sieges, battles, skirmishes, and manoeuvres of the campaign between 1694 and 1711. This period covers one of the most glorious in the annals of the British Army, for there were fought during it the historic battles of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, Dettingen and Fontenoy, besides other and minor operations.
At the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century the regiment was known as the Grey Dragoons and the Scots Regiment of White Horses. It has long been supposed that the regiment took its name from the fact that it has always been mounted on grey horses. It was, without doubt, a custom in foreign armies, as well as in our own, to mount cavalry corps d'elite upon horses of one colour exclusively. The Life Guards for instance have always had black horses. But the Scots Greys were not always mounted on grey chargers. The Dutch troop of Life Guards which William brought with him from Holland, had grey horses, and when they were sent home because of their unpopularity with in England, their mounts were taken over by the 2nd Dragoons. It may safely be accepted, however, as the true reason for its name, that before it possessed hoses of a distinctive colour the regiment was uniformed in stone grey cloth. In 1683 General Dalziel obtained a license from the Privy Council to import material of that colour from England to enable him to clothe his regiment of Dragoons, the Scottish mills not being able to supply him with enough for the purpose. Whenever the regiment obtained its grey horses, they are only first referred to in 1702.
There is no description nor drawing of the uniform when the regiment was first formed, but it was practically the same as that of the English Dragoons of that period, except that it was made of the famous grey cloth, presumably a tweed. The head was covered by an iron helmet, furnished with a nose-piece, and kept on the head by a wide metal-mounted chin-strap; a white linen collar fell over the loose, ample skirted coat, the boots came up to the middle of the thigh, with straight large-rowelled spurs.
The arms were an immense pistol, cased in a cumbrous looking holster, and a musket; swords were not worn until much later. But when they went to war under Marlborough, the uniform was not unlike that of the general body of cavalry. Let us take a look at the regiment as of July 2nd 1704, it was drawn up, awaiting the opening of the British infantry attack, on the heights of Schellenberg on the Danube. They are all stout broad-shouldered fellows, each wearing a long square-skirted scarlet coat (the grey having by this time been discarded), fastened at the throat and falling away on either side, turned back with blue, over a blue undercoat or waistcoat, the cuffs being ornamented with buttons. Around each man's neck is a linen cravat tied in a neat bow, which has lace at the ends. The hair is worn long; and two broad brown leather belts cross the chest. The saddle cloths and pistol holders are blue, with Queen Anne's cipher embroidered in white on the latter. The men carry their muskets with the butt or stock resting in a "bucket", the barrel projecting under the soldier's right arm.
The attack is delivered, the charge sounded, and away go the stormers, the cavalry moving up in support. The troopers, mounted on their strongly built grey horses, swing slowly along. Orders are suddenly shouted. The regiment dismounts, musket in hand, and with a cheer the gallant Greys, led by their colonel Lord John Hay, charge the French entrenchments. They leap over, an irresistible living flood; the enemy's ranks waver and finally break; they fly in every direction. The Irish Dragoons, who have been brigaded with the Scots, gallop off in pursuit. The Greys hastily remount and dash away to participate in the general rout. The day is decided, and the heights of Schellenberg are won.
After this brilliant victory the army went through several manoeuvres and marches which eventually brought on the decisive battle of Blenheim, when 24 battalions of French infantry and 12 squadrons of cavalry were captured. The village of Blenheim covered the right of the enemy's line, and the Greys were ordered to attack and drive out the enemy. Meanwhile the action became general along the whole line. The French and Bavarian allies were driven from their position and routed with immense slaughter. Marshal Tallard, the chief in command, was taken prisoner. The Greys and their comrades in arms dashed at the village, stormed position after position, charged and scattered its defenders. It was a glorious sight, one eminently calculated to stir the blood to madness and to nerve the army of the weakest. 8,000 allied cavalry, in tow long lines, charged the opposing horsemen, 10,000 strong. The artillery played so fiercely on the advance that they were at first forced to retire. Then the enemy's gun fire slackened. Marlborough put himself at the head of the Cavalry and with irresistible vehemence the line dashed forward. The French horsemen wavered and then fled pell-mell. The action was long and arduous, but British pluck and dash prevailed. The enemy gave way, then rallied and attempted to force the cordon which was being drawn tightly round them. Each successive attempt was repulsed, until surrounded on every side they made on last desperate wild cat rush to secure their retreat. They took advantage of one loophole. But in vain! The Greys were too quick for them. They charged out, swooped down upon them and headed them off. The French were caged like rats in a trap, and sullenly threw down their arms. It was estimated at the time that our loss was about 12,000 killed and wounded, while that of the enemy was at least 40,000.
Although the regiment took a very prominent part in the struggle, they had wonderful luck, and lost not a single officer or man. By this great victory the French and Bavarian Forces were hopelessly shattered. The prestige of the former received such a tremendous shock that it never once recovered during the remainder of the war. The great English General very nearly met his death at Blenheim. A cannonball smashed into the ground so near him that he was quite covered with earth and dust, greatly to the consternation of his staff. By this wonderfully narrow escape Marlborough became convinced that it was an evident sign that a special Providence was taking care of him on that eventful day.
In consequence of his brilliant victory he was made a Prince of the Roman Empire, which caused him to assume quite a considerable amount of state. He used to eat his meals alone, and made his son-in-law, the Duke of Montague, stand in attendance upon him. But this exhibition of personal vanity occurred only when he was abroad, where he was invariably recognised and saluted by the title of Highness.
After the battle the regiment was marched into Holland to winter quarters. Before doing so, however, the King of the Romans visited the English Camp, the Greys with Marlborough at their head, formed a guard of honour to receive him.
The next affair of any importance in which the regiment engaged was the battle which took place around and about a small village situated about 24 miles from Brussels. This village, the name of which has become historic, was destined to be the scene of a sanguinary encounter with the flower of the French Army. The Greys advanced through a thick fog, which presently lifting, discovered the French Army in position at Ramillies. The success of the fight which ensued was largely influenced by the intrepid and glorious charges made by the Scots Greys. Seizing the exact moment, Marlborough advanced them against the enemy's left. Descending the heights of Foulz, they dashed through a difficult bit of marsh ground, put the French cavalry to flight, and cut up the infantry. Continuing their charge the Greys went clattering over the cobblestoned street of a little village called Autreglise, hacking right and left at the enemy in such dashing style that soon settled the fate of a quantity of infantry which had taken cover there, and still continuing their triumphal ride, they attacked the famous Regiment du Roi, surrounded it and captured its colours and arms. The task of securing nearly an entire regiment proved very great, for, after putting a guard over the prisoners and preparing to set forth again in pursuit, the French made a wild dash for liberty and very nearly succeeded in their desperate attempt. But the commanding officer of the Greys seeing what was the matter, promptly wheeled his squadrons and shouting: "Cut down the treacherous rascals!" led his men against the escaping prisoners, sabred numbers of them, and re-took the remainder. It is in commemoration of this exploit that the Greys wear the bearskin caps, the French regiment being Grenadiers. Then the Greys, free to continue their victorious career, again joined in the general pursuit. About 6,000 prisoners were made, while 52 guns and all the French baggage and pontoons and 80 standards were captured.
No account of the regiment would be complete without a mention of the celebrated Mrs. Christian Davies, who served for some four years in the regiment without her sex being discovered, and who was wounded at Ramillies. This woman had a remarkable career. Born at Dublin in 1667, the daughter of a Dublin brewer, and being left an orphan and destitute, she went to live with an aunt who kept a public house. After this relative's death she inherited the property, managed it herself, and eventually married a man called Welch, who acted as waiter. Her husband one day disappeared, and after several fruitless attempts to discover his whereabouts, his wife found he had enlisted in the army and gone abroad. Mrs. Welch thereupon conceived the extraordinary notion of assuming male attire and going in search of her husband. She inlisted in some regiment and went to Holland. At the battle of Lander, she was wounded in the legs, and was shortly afterwards taken prisoner by the French, but eventually she was exchanged. She then fought a duel with a sergeant and severely wounded him. This fearless amazon, whose duel was the outcome of a quarrel in which another woman figured, got into trouble about the affair, but procured her discharge and immediately re-enlisted, this time in the Scots Greys. At Schellenberg she was again wounded, this time in the thigh, but she somehow managed to preserve the secret of her sex. After the battle of Hochstedt, she came across her husband in an unfortunate moment for him. He was a private in the 1st regiment of Foot, and at the time his wife recognised him, he was paying ardent attentions to a Dutch woman. Quite naturally, the irate wife made herself known to her errant spouse, and no doubt gave him to understand what she thought of him, and absolutely refused to return to him so long as the war lasted. At Ramillies the indomitable woman had her skull fractured, and her sex was at last discovered by the surgeon who attended her. That of course ended her fighting career; and the colonel of the Greys sent for her husband and induced the couple to become reconciliated and to re-marry. Mrs Welch then became a sort of vivandiere in the regiment, and drove a thriving trade. Her husband was soon after killed, and she was befriended by a Captain Ross, who sympathised so greatly with her that she was nicknamed "Mother Ross". Nothing daunted by the loss of her husband, she married another soldier, who was killed at St Venant during the siege. When she returned to England she received a bounty of £50 and a pension from Queen Anne of a I/- a day. She subsequently married yet a third, another soldier named Davies, and followed his regiment until he was admitted as a pensioner into Chelsea Hospital. After a most adventurous life the woman died in 1739, and was accorded a military funeral with full honours in Chelsea Hospital Cemetery.
In 1707 the Act of Union was passed, whereby the kingdoms of England and Scotland were united, and the regiment was thereupon renamed the Royal Regiment of North British Dragoons, but no change was made in the uniform. At Oudenarde the following year, the Greys again greatly distinguished themselves; and at Malplaquet, in 1709, although unprovided with any sort of defensive armour, they 3 times charged and finally overcame the French cavalry, the King's household mail-clad troops. The Greys still brigaded with the Irish Dragoons, protected the artillery in the centre of the line, and for their splendid conduct were thanked in person by the Commander-in-Chief. The French were about this time thoroughly reduced to the sorest straits. Their armies were completely overawed, their revenue was decreased; their strong places were captured by the indomitable energy of Marlborough and his splendid troops; and their Provinces were occupied by a hostile enemy. All these were urgent reasons why they should sue for peace, and accordingly the campaign was concluded by the Peace of Utrecht in 1713.
On their return home that year the Greys obtained rank as the 2nd Dragoons; they had previously been known as the 4th. Shortly afterwards the regiment was reorganised. It consisted then of 9 troops. Three of these and two of the Royal Dragoons were combined to form a newly raised troop to form a regiment now known as the 7th Hussars, "The Black Horse". The Greys took part in repressing the rebellion stirred up by the Earl of Mar on behalf of the Pretender in Scotland, and engaged the rebels in the pitched battle of Dunblain.
Their next tour of active service came in 1742, when they were ordered abroad. George II was assisting Austria against Bavaria, France and Prussia. Lord Stair upon whom the mantle of Marlborough had certainly not descended, managed to get himself shut up in a regular trap. The army was closed in on nearly every side in a narrow valley, a sort of gut between the river Maine and the hills, cut off from forage and supplies of all sorts by the French Marshal, Noailles. It was at this critical juncture that George himself, with his son the Duke of Cumberland, who was soon to gain unenviable notoriety as the "Butcher of Culloden", joined his army. Nothing could be done except to retreat to Hanau, in order to join hands with the Hanovarians and Hessians who were there. Accordingly the army moved away, silently and stealthily. But the French received notice of the movement, and a large force was drawn up directly in their path, with orders to engage the English until the main body of the French could cross the river and fall upon them. The French tactics were simple - tremendous volleys musketry fire followed by cavalry charges. The Greys, now wearing the high-pointed grenadier caps, supported the infantry for a time, but chafing at their restraint, the colonel, James Campbell, a splendid leader let them loose at the enemy. Uttering a tremendous yell, the Greys charged like a whirlwind, and so admirably was the distance calculated, that they fell at just the right moment upon the French and Prussian armour-clad horsemen, whom they hurled back and chased to the very rear of their line. The blood of officers and men alike was at fever heat. Nothing could withstand their onslaught. With renewed impetus they dashed at the French Household mailed warriors, utterly swept them off the field, and captured their standard - a magnificent affair, made of white damask, richly embroidered with gold and silver - and the field of Dettingen was won. The most amazing circumstance in connection with the prominent part which the regiment took in the battle was the extremely slight casualty list. One officer and a few troopers were wounded, and only four horses were killed, and two wounded.
"The Greys have escaped best," wrote a field officer shortly after the battle, "though they took most pains to be demolished". This good luck was more than balanced later on. At Fontenoy their colonel, Sir James Campbell, and 15 men were killed; while at the battle of Val they suffered much more severely. They charged the French and in their enthusiasm continued the pursuit too far, and were shot down at close quarters by some French infantry concealed behind hedges. This so infuriated the cavalry that they turned from the flying horsemen of the enemy, and cleared the hedges effectually until the order to retire was given - an order but reluctantly obeyed by the Dragoons, smarting as they were under their losses. Over 100 were killed and about half that number disabled. Two officers were taken prisoners and 131 horses were killed.
In consequence of the treaty of Aix la Chapelle the regiment returned home in 1748, when George II took stock, so to speak, of his army, and issued several warrants with respect to clothing, arms and standards of the different regiments. Those with regard to the Greys may be briefly set down. The regiment still had its grey horses, and each man was picturesquely uniformed as follows: Scarlet double breasted coats without lapels, lined with blue, cuffs turned back with blue, the button holes ornamented with narrow white lace, flat white metal buttons, set two and two, and a white worsted aiguillete on the right shoulder. The breeches and waistcoat were blue. The high-pointed, sugar-loaf grenadier caps were of blue cloth, with red flaps, and with the badges of the regiment on back and front. "Jack" boots, scarlet cloth cloaks lined with blue, and a blue collar. Horse furniture was blue. The officers were distinguished by silver lace and crimson silk sashes round the waist; and Corporals white silk aiguilletes.
It was at a review about this time, that George II asked the French Ambassador who was present, what he thought of the Scots Greys. The Ambassador made a guarded and diplomatic reply. The King then added : - "I can only tell your Excellency that they are the best troops in the world."
"Has your Majesty ever seen the French Royal Guards?"
"No"; answered the King, drily, "but my Greys have!" He was referring to the splendid achievements of the regiment at Dettingen.
A few years after the dawn of the 19th century, came the culminating battle of the long series of hard fought struggles with the once dominant power of France. In common with the rest of the troops, the Scots Greys suffered all the discomforts of mud, rain, soaked clothing and sodden provisions, before the battle of Waterloo. They took up their position on that eventful day behind the left centre of the line, and they were obliged to wait for a long time in chafing inactivity. A multitude of glittering bayonets and streaming colours came sweeping along in cold phalanxes, preceded by clouds of skirmishers. A division of French infantry outstripping their fellows, charged up into the centre of Wellington's position, and forced the summit of the hill upon which was the Duke. The Greys were moved up to support the infantry who were opposing the French advance. Some of the troops composing the attacking force were Napoleon's Foot Guards, great, big, strapping fellows, hardy old campaigners most of them, who had been with their hitherto invincible leader in numberless battles. The troops that prepared to bar the way were also war-scarred veterans who had fought under the Iron Duke in Spain and Portugal, but who were weaker in numbers than the Frenchmen. To the left of the English regiments was a brigade of German cavalry and light horsemen. When the French Guards came up, they charged these, and made frightful havoc of them, men and horses alike. So shaken were the Prussians that they were broken up and forced to retire. The French then turned their attention to the sturdy English regiments who had formed from square into line in order to receive them.
On came the victorious Guards, flushed with the easy triumph of our allies. This was only one of the many critical moments of the day. Uttering fierce cries of " A bas les Anglais!" they swept along. Our brave fellows were not behind hand in their reply, and a fierce bayonet to bayonet, knee to knee struggle commenced. Sheer weight began to tell - the infantry were shaken- the fight broke up into a series of more or less isolated combats. Suddenly the bugles rang out. Orders were shouted. Some semblance of a line was evolved out of the struggling mass. The psychological moment had arrived. The foot soldiers opened ranks, the squadrons passing through the intervals.
Then their turn came. The gallant Uxbridge gave his orders, which were instantaneously given through the throats of the cavalry trumpets - "Tort! Gallop! Charge!"
Down they charged straight at the face of the opposing columns. The foremost ranks of the enemy were absolutely broken up. Away plunged the Greys into the thickest of the fight. Like a huge grey wave topped with crimson and white, the regiment pierced there way through rank after rank of the French. Load above the roar and din of the battle rose the cry "Scotland for ever!" Along they dashed, encountering masses of the enemy that wellnigh overlapped them. The French infantry broke. The firing ceased; and as the smoke slowly curled away on the damp air, the huge white plumes on the towering bearskins were seen like flashes of foam on a troubled sea of struggling, fighting, ensanguined mobs of men. Numberless deeds of daring and valour during that wonderful ride went unnoticed and unrecorded. A man on foot armed with a rifle and bayonet, is generally accounted a match for any cavalry soldier. But at Waterloo when the big heavy men, knee to knee, on the big heavy grey horses, came tearing down upon the French infantry, they carried all before them. Their opponents, stalwart seasoned old soldiers, scattered and were cut down, ridden over, decimated.
During the fight, Sergeant Charles Ewart performed a glorious feat. As the Greys attacked the 45th regiment of French infantry, Ewart singled out the officer who was carrying the Eagle and rode for him. The Frenchman fought hard. He thrust at Ewart's groin; but the Scotsman parried and cut his opponent through the head. Then a French lancer rode up and attacked him by throwing his lance at him. This too, Ewart parried, and then getting furious, he charged the man, and with a strong sweep of his arm and a dexterous turn of the wrist, cut the lancer from his chin upwards right through his teeth. Another Frenchman then came up, this time a foot soldier, and engaged him with his bayonet. But Ewart soon disposed of him by nearly shearing off his head. After this, the gallant fellow went on, Eagle and all, to follow his comrades, but General Ponsonby stopped him.
"You brave fellow!" said the General. "Take that to the rear. You have done enough until you get quit of it." Ewart obeyed orders, but with the greatest reluctance.
Following up their unprecedented success, the Greys went on, charging everything they came across: Lancers, Cuirassiers, Artillery - little they cared -until they actually penetrated to the rear of the French position. Their glorious valour cost them dear, and it was only by hard, desperate fighting that they regained the British lines and resumed their post only just in time to give their mighty support to their gallant comrades of the 92nd Highlanders. This reckless handful - for there were barely 200 of the 92nd left - charged a column of French about 2,000 strong. With the odds of ten to one against them, these brave fellows never hesitated for a moment. They pierced right into the centre of the French, and when the Greys charged up, the Highlanders broke ranks, and clinging to the horsemen's stirrup leathers, went surging into the mass to the wild skirling of the pipes and the yells of "Scotland for ever!" Infantry and cavalry together destroyed or captured nearly every single man of the opposing force.
Small wonder is it that Napoleon, who was greatly impressed by the excellent manoeuvring and swordsmanship of the Greys, exclaimed: "Ces terribles chevaux gris! Comme il travaillent!"
Unfortunately, during the big charge, the Union Brigade - the Scots Greys, the Royals and the Inniskillings - encouraged and excited by their success which had attended their gallant efforts, followed up their advantage rather too far. They swept across the plain, making light of the ravine that crossed their path, and captured, but failed to bring off, several batteries. But when they had reached the rear of the enemy's position they were naturally much broken and disorganised. The French, smarting under the havoc caused by the serried ranks of the Heavy Dragoons, regained confidence and fell upon the regiments with a large force of Lancers and Cuirassiers. It was a case of fresh troops against spent ones. Yet our men, breathless and panting from their mighty exertions, with their horses covered with mud, fetlock-deep, proved equal to the occasion. They rallied, like the heroes they were, and though sadly cut up, they fought their way through, literally their path back towards their own lines, but not without heavy losses.
The gallant commander of the brigade, Major-General Sir William Ponsonby, was one of those who rode through the victorious charge, but who never returned. His horse was blown, and on the return hopelessly floundered about in the miry depths in a piece of ploughed land. Despite all the efforts of his men, he was set upon and killed by the French Lancers.
When what remained of the regiment came back in two's and three's in scattered groups, the men resumed their former position, exposed to a heavy fire from the French artillery. Great as the British losses had been, those of Napoleon's splendid army were greater, and the French leader sought to force the issue. Well might Wellington sigh for "Night or Blucher"; for in very truth victory was hanging in the balance. Desperate attempts were continually being made by the enemy's infantry as well as by his cavalry to force the stubborn English foot regiments, stretching across the field in isolated squares, to yield their ground. But with bull-dog tenacity they held on with iron grip. The Greys, in common with the Household Cavalry and the other Heavy Dragoons, were condemned to a time of motionless inactivity, until at length the Duke assumed the offensive. The whole army made a simultaneous advance. The Life Guards and the Blues charged, and then the whole line was ordered to move. The Greys, all that was left of them, with men and horses alike refreshed by the enforced bodily rest, joined in the pursuit. For Napoleon's army gave way; his troops were utterly and entirely broken up and pursued with dreadful effect by the English cavalry, were eventually driven from the field, and the glorious field of Waterloo was won!
For their conspicuous gallantry at Waterloo the Greys were allowed to display the Eagle on their guidons, and "Waterloo" on the plume socket of their bearskin caps. Every officer and man who was present at Waterloo received a silver medal, and was entitled to reckon the action as representing two years toward his pension.
In April 1854, when war was declared against the Emperor of Russia, the Scots Greys were quartered at Nottingham, whence they marched to Liverpool and proceeded to the Crimea. They arrived on Russian soil a few days after the battle of the Alma, and were attached to the Heavy Cavalry Brigade under General Scarlett, the other cavalry regiments in the command with them being the Royals, Inniskillings and the 4th and 5th Dragoons.
They engaged the enemy several times during the advance on Sebastopol, but it was not until the 25th October, that ever memorable day in the annals of British cavalry, that their one and only chance came. That they were prompt to take advantage of it is a matter of history, for of all the many glories and traditions of the British Army, the brilliant and dashing charge of the Heavies takes a foremost position.
The uniform of 1854 was not unlike that of the present day, except that overalls were worn instead of breeches and boots, and the officers wore sashes round the waist.
It is said that there was a feeling in the Crimea that our cavalry had not been handled by their commanders with a proper amount of skill, and that advantage had not been taken of many chances of utilising their services in many cases. However this may be, there certainly was a feeling of irritation and exasperation extant which no doubt caused the cavalry to burn for some occasion to arise so that they could prove to all the world that their tales of prowess at Waterloo, to go no further back, were not unwarranted. And so when their time came - when they flew at the throats of the stalwart horsemen of Holy Russia - the knowledge of heroic deeds done by their forefathers in the long ago, backed by their confidence in their long straight swords and strong right arms, caused the emptying of many Russian saddles, and the sound of lamentation to arise in many a far distant village away in the frozen north.
Across the valley of Balaclava there stretched a chain of hillocks four in number, upon which the Turks had constructed redoubts armed with a few heavy ship's guns. With the object of attacking our position, the Russians detached a strong body of horse, together with some guns and several battalions of infantry. These troops, at about seven in the morning, attacked the redoubts, and in spite of the efforts of some of our artillery and cavalry, succeeded in storming and carrying one after the other, the Turks bolting like hares towards the Highlanders' position. A little later a strong body of Russian infantry moved down to the valley, preparatory to an attack in force, their front covered by a line of artillery. The second redoubt fell; again was seen the spectacle of Cossack chasing Moslem; and then the third little fort was attacked.
The Highlanders, meanwhile, were drawn up at a distance of about half a mile from the Russians, who halting to enable the rear squadrons to close up, prepared to charge and annihilate the gallant 93rd. Brave old Colin Campbell never altered their formation, but received that tremendous onslaught in line, to use the world famous phrase "with that thin red line tipped with steel". The Russians were simply mown down, and the survivors fled. Another body of Russian cavalry, pursuing the flying Turks, surged up to the ridge which concealed our cavalry. The Heavy Brigade was drawn up in two lines. The first consisted of the Scots Greys with the Inniskillings; the second was composed of the 4th Royal Irish, 5th Dragoon Guards, and 1st Dragoons. As the Heavies were moving from their position in order to cover the approaches, the enemy's cavalry came after them over the ridge. Lord Lucan saw the danger, galloped after his men, wheeled them round, and ordered them to advance. The first Russian line was composed evidently of some corps d'elite, clothed in a gorgeous light blue uniform glistening with silver. A large body of Lancers came up behind them, and the rear was brought up by a body of Dragoons in grey.
The trumpets of the Heavies rang out successively the advance, the trot, and the charge. Like a thunderbolt the Greys and Inniskillings went straight at the centre of the enemy. Wheeling slightly to the left the Greys swept on with a tremendous force and loud shouts. On they went, gathering force and pace at every stride. There came a terrific crash as the opposing forces met. Through and through their ranks the gallant Heavies charged. By sheer weight and strength and indomitable courage the stalwart troops and their weighty grey horses pierced rank after rank, until they were again seen far among the rearmost squadrons of the Russians. The rest of the Heavies followed on in no less gallant a manner, until the whole mass was writhing beneath the irresistible onslaught of our men.
In the midst of the sanguinary struggle the tall, stalwart form of the adjutant of the Greys, Lieutenant Miller, was seen standing in his stirrups, and yelling with all his strength - "Rally - the Greys!". All those who were able fought their way towards him panting, wounded and covered with dust and blood, and cleared a space round him. As many of the regiment as could be collected were formed up, and once more charged. Just then a squadron of the Inniskillings dashed in on the left of the Russians. The Charge of the Heavy Brigade was over. The encounter was won. Again the unflinching Dragoons were victorious, and more than ever entitled to the motto "Nulli Secundus."
Fine old Sir Colin Campbell rode up later on, and uncovering cried : "Greys! Gallant Greys! I am sixty-one years old, and if I were young again I should be proud to sever in your ranks!"
The enthusiasm of the troops who witnessed this glorious charge of the Heavies was unbounded. Officers and men raised their caps and shouted and cheered as the effects of the charge was apparent in the rout of the Russians which ensued. Lord Raglan, who with his staff, occupied a commanding position on a ridge, overlooking the scene of the struggle, sent one of his aides-de-camp to General Scarlett who had led the charge with unfaltering courage. "His Lordship bids me say, Sir," said that officer, "that the charge was admirably executed."
The Russian cavalry retired in much confusion after this heavy blow, while shot after shot from the batteries plunged through their disordered ranks. After the charge the Heavy Brigade moved up to the neck of the valley just about the time the Light Cavalry had been ordered to charge the Russian guns. The Greys who, together with their old Waterloo comrades the Royals, were in the first line, where exposed to a tremendous crossfire from the guns and from the musketry of the Russian infantry who had then occupied in force the captured redoubts, but they escaped fairly well.
Despite the tremendous fighting, the loss of the Greys was very slight. Their total casualties were two men and 14 horses killed, and four officers, five sergeants and 48 men wounded. Sergeant-Major Grieve when he rescued an officer who was in imminent danger of being killed in the melee. He was cut off and surrounded by the enemy, when Grieve caught sight of him. Charging up to the spot, the Sergeant-Major cut down one Russian, and disabled and dispersed the others. For this conspicuous bravery Grieve was one of the proud band of 62 sailors and soldiers paraded before Her Majesty on June 26th 1857, in Hyde Park, when the most highly prized decoration in the British Army, the Victoria Cross, was pinned to his breast by the Queen's own hand. Another non-commissioned officer of the regiment also signally distinguished himself on that historic occasion, and for his bravery received the much coveted Victoria Cross. Sergeant Ramage first of all saved the life of a wounded comrade; then he rescued another from no less than seven Russians, whom he dispersed; and wound up the day dismounting in the valley and taking a Russian prisoner, whom he brought off in triumph.
The regiment remained in the Crimea until peace was made, and took their share of the terrible privations which fell to the lot of those brave fellows, so many of whom, after fighting gallantly and splendidly, died miserably for the want of proper food and clothing. One shudders to think of it even now, and if the mighty pen of the Times correspondent had not been invoked on behalf of the suffering British Army, no one can say what their lot would have been.
The Greys embarked for the Crimea with 18 officers and 299 men, while at the seat of war they received drafts amounting to ten officers and 272 men. Two officers and 91 men never returned, and 11 officers and 75 men were invalided home.
Since 1856, the regiment as a whole has seen no active service. But in 1884 a detachment of two officers and 44 men formed part of the Camel Corps in Egypt, and went through the desert march and took part in the battle of Abu Klea. At that affair one officer and 12 men were killed and three more men died of disease.
The Colonel-in-Chief of the Greys is the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia. When Her Majesty was pleased to appoint the Czar to the command, a deputation from the regiment, consisting of Colonel Welby, Major Hippisley, Captain Scobell and Sergeant-Major Duncan, went to St Petersburg in order to wait upon their new Colonel, and while there they were treated as visitors of distinction. The Czar is very proud of the privilege of commanding one of the crack cavalry regiments of the English Army, and made a point of wearing its uniform when he was recently staying here. For 217 years the regiment has existed, and their successes have been almost unparalleled. In scarcely one instance has the regiment suffered defeat, and only once, at Val, did they lose a standard.
May success be with them in the future as glory always has been; with such a record of glorious traditions behind them may they ever exult in their proudest of all boasts - "Second to None!"
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