A number of regiments of dragoons have carried the title “20th Regiment”. The 20th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons, also known as the “20th (Inniskilling) Light Dragoons”, was formed in 1760 and disbanded in 1763. In 1779 a new 20th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons was raised out of the Dragoon Guards regiments, lasting until 1783. It had great delight in its nickname ‘nobodies Own’ as it never had a Royal Colonel.
This was followed by the 20th (Jamaica) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons raised in 1792. The regiment served in Jamaica during the Maroon War of 1795-6. It subsequently performed much varied and gallant service. Part of it was present at the capture of the Cape of Good Hope in 1806 and was subsequently employed in South America at Montevideo and Buenos Aires. A portion of the regiment also took part in the descent on Calabria, and was present at the battle of Maida.
In 1807 the 3rd Squadron was the sole cavalry detachment present in the Alexandria expedition of 1807. It went to Portugal in 1808, and was much distinguished at Vimiero, where its conduct elicited the warmest praise from Sir Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington). The regiment was also at the capture of Genoa in 1814.
In 1805 its title was simplified again to the 20th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons; it was disbanded in 1818.
Formed in 1858, the 2nd Bengal European Light Cavalry was one of the regiments of the British Honourable East India Company (HEIC) that was taken over by the Crown in the same year, in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny.
It was renamed the 2nd Bengal European Cavalry in 1859; and in 1862, while based in Muttra, it was transferred to the British Army and renamed the 20th Hussars (Read the Yellow Plume page 116-117 for more information). Moving to Sialkot in the Punjab at the beginning of 1863, the regiment consisted of 23 officers and 375 men, of whom 100 were volunteers from the 14th Light Dragoons and other cavalry regiments departing from India.
The officers of the 20th had all been in the HEIC’s service and the majority had served throughout the Indian Mutiny, mostly after their original regiments had mutinied or been disarmed. Two of them, Major A.C. Warner and Captain T.T. Boileau, had served all through the defence of the Residency at Lucknow, one of the key episodes in the unsuccessful rebellion.
The regiment’s first commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Henry James Stannus, born in 1824, who entered the HEIC’s service as a cornet in the 5th Light Cavalry, and with whom he had served in the 1st Afghan War of 1842, the Gwalior campaign of 1843, the 1st and 2nd Sikh Wars of 1845 – 46 and 1848 – 49, and the Indian Mutiny campaign. A very experienced veteran, he held command of the 20th Hussars for the next 10 years.
The 20th remained on the North West Frontier for the next seven years during which time it participated in the Umbeyla Expedition also known as the Eusocf zie Campaign, from October to December 1863 and the Hazara Campaign of October 1868, but were used only to protect the lines of communication.
After the Hazara Campaign, the regiment moved to Ambala where it remained until 1872 when it was ordered to Bombay for embarkation to England.
Back to Britain
Upon its arrival in the United Kingdom, the 20th were first stationed at Colchester and then at Aldershot where, in 1874, it received official recognition of its status as descendants of the old 20th Light Dragoons, which was disbanded in 1819, and therefore entitled to the battle honour “Peninsula” which had been awarded to that regiment.
From Aldershot the regiment moved to Brighton in 1877-8 and then to Leeds until 1879, when it was sent to Ireland; it was initially at Newbridge, for the obligatory tour of duty by British cavalry regiments who were employed to uphold the civil power in that country throughout the 19th century. The 20th were also garrisoned at Cahir and Ballincollig for this purpose.
In 1884 two officers and 43 other ranks volunteered to form part of the Light Camel Regiment raised for service in Egypt against the forces of the Mahdi in the Nile Campaign. Two squadrons left Portsmouth in February 1885 to take part in the Suakin Expedition, landing at Suakin in March. Here they were occupied in patrol work and escorting convoys and fought a number of small actions as well as taking part in the battles of Hasheen on 20 March and Tofrek, two days later.
One squadron distinguished itself by saving many of the baggage animals and their drivers, who had been stampeded and were in danger of being wiped out by the Dervishes.
The remainder of the regiment arrived at Aswan in August 1885; three squadrons were present at the Battle of Ginnis on 30 December in that year. During 1887, the 20th left Aswan and returned home in batches, leaving one squadron in Egypt which, under Lieutenant Colonel Fraser, took part in the Battle of Gemaizah on 20 December 1888, where it made three charges against the Dervishes.
In August 1889 the same squadron went up the Nile and took part in the decisive Battle of Toski on 3 August, in which it carried out a charge and pursuit of the fleeing enemy. This squadron then left for home and arrived back in Aldershot in 1890. For their services in Egypt the regiment received the battle honour “Suakin 1885” and also that of “Vimiera” in respect of the earlier services of its predecessor, the old 20th Light Dragoons.
The Boer War
The 20th remained in England until 1896, being garrisoned successively at Woolwich, Norwich, Aldershot and Colchester, and then returned to India where it served uneventfully for the next six years, being stationed throughout this time at Mhow, until it was sent to South Africa to take part in the closing stages of the Boer War. Here it took part in Kitchener’s operations against the Boer “commandos” of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, participating in the fighting in the early months of 1902.
The 20th was at Heilbron in the Orange Free State when peace was declared in May, 1902. Owing to its late arrival in the theatre of operations, its casualties were light in the extreme; just eight other ranks lost.
Egypt, England and Ireland
In 1903 the 20th moved from South Africa to Egypt but stayed there for only a year before returning home in 1904, when it was stationed at Brighton with a detachment at Canterbury. In 1906 the 20th relieved the 14th Hussars at Shorncliffe Army Camp and remained there until 1908 when it undertook another tour of Ireland, being garrisoned at the Curragh. After returning from Ireland in 1911, the 20th was sent to Colchester, being in the 5th Cavalry Brigade with the Scots Greys and 12th Lancers; it was there that they received orders to mobilize on 4 August 1914.
First World War
The regiment crossed to France on 17 August 1914 with a strength of 24 officers and 519 rank and file to join the rest of the “contemptible little army”. The 20th Hussars formed part of the British cavalry that covered the gap between the British Expeditionary Force and the French 5th Army.
The regiment arguably took part in the first cavalry action of the First World War, and became involved in actions that were typical of the role played by cavalry in that conflict. The retreat from Mons, the battles of the Marne and the Aisne and the First battle of Ypres all saw the regiment involved and fighting as infantry from trenches in the Messines area.
A battle at Bourlon Wood was complemented with five officers and 218 men from the 20th; the regiment saw more action on foot at Gouzeaucourt in 1917. Dismounted actions to stem the enemy advance followed the German Spring Offensive of 1918. A return to horses saw the regiment in support of infantry as the tide turned in the Allies’ favour and the Germans began the return to their homeland.
After the war and amalgamation
After occupation duties in Germany, the regiment returned to England for a short while before moving on to Egypt in 1919.
A nationalist uprising in Turkey caused the allies to send troops to Constantinople, (now Istanbul). The 20th Hussars found themselves on the Izmit or Ismid peninsula in 1920 as part of General Ironside’s command with a strength of 13 officers and 523 rank and file on 28 June. The regiment charged Turkish positions in July near the village of Gebze and successfully routed the enemy. Although mounted action did take place in Syria during World War II, this was the last regimental charge ever made by British cavalry. It suffered one casualty, although several horses were also wounded.
The 20th were relieved by the 3rd Hussars in October 1920 and knowing that amalgamation loomed, transferred some 225 men to the 3rd. Another 118 men transferred to the 11th Hussars before the remainder returned to England and in 1922 the regiment lost its separate identity when it was amalgamated with the 14th King’s Hussars to become the 14th/20th Hussars.
Uniform and customs
The newly formed 20th Hussars of 1862 wore the usual dark-blue, yellow frogged tunic with leather-strapped overalls. The tall black-brown busby displayed a crimson bag and plume and the gold-laced officers’ sabretache had a crimson cloth face. In accordance with Dress Regulations, the throat plumes of the officers’ horses were to be crimson, but there is a small mystery in connection with this item.
In 1912, the Adjutant of the Regiment was perusing the latest edition of Dress Regulations and observed that the throat plume for the 20th was indicated as crimson. He therefore fired off a letter to the War Office stating that the regulations were wrong as the regiment’s throat plume was yellow and asking for them to be amended. A somewhat stiff letter came back asserting that the Dress Regulations were not wrong and that consequently all the officers of the 20th Hussars were improperly dressed.
There followed a flurry of letters to and fro between the regiment and the War Office; the regiment pleading that to change the plumes to crimson would involve the officers incurring considerable expense and that the yellow ones had been worn “as long as anyone could remember”. It transpired that at some time in the past, one of the 20th’s Commanding Officers had decided that the crimson throat plumes did not present a very pleasing appearance and, without seeking permission and entirely on his own authority, had changed them to yellow.
Eventually, the War Office conceded the point and allowed the yellow plumes to remain: this decision may have been influenced by the fact that the regiment’s busby plumes had also been altered (officially, this time), from crimson to yellow in 1892. The yellow plume thus became representative of the regiment and their individuality; the regimental journal of the 20th Hussars was consequently named The Yellow Plume.
For undress purposes, a dark-blue stable jacket was worn by all ranks, that of the officers being decorated with gold lace, the appropriate headgear for this order of dress being the dashing, if useless, pill-box forage cap; this had a gold lace band for officers and senior NCOs and a yellow lace band for the other ranks.