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Brief History

Brief History of the Units

Since its formation in 1798 the unit has undergone many changes from its original function of Cavalry, through the Royal Artillery, an infantry cadre, the Royal Signals and finally to the Royal Logistic Corps. With some changes, this has also required a change of cap-badge to coincide with their changes of role.

   In 1881, the unit’s title officially became the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars with the “Queen’s Own” being granted to the 1st Regiment of Oxfordshire Yeomanry by Queen Adelaide (wife of William IV) during her visit to Oxford in 1835.  Prior to this date, the unit was a collection of independent Troops and Squadrons of Oxfordshire Yeomanry.  The colour of Royal Mantua Purple – the Churchill family colours and a favourite of Queen Victoria – was adopted for parts of the uniform, replacing the scarlet used by many yeomanry units.  The QOOH cap badge had the crowned ‘AR’ (Adelaide Regina) cypher as a mark of the “Queen’s Own” title bestowed on them.

   Towards the end of December 1899 and with troubles brewing in the South African states and the Boers determination to preserve their territories, the British government’s War Office decided to form the Imperial Yeomanry (made up of volunteers from yeomanry regiments) to serve overseas.  The Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars commander, Lord Valentia formed two companies in separate battalions (40th Company of the 10th Battalion and the 59th Company of the 15th battalion) and so the unit went to fight in the Boer War of 1900-1901.  For its service in the Anglo-Boer War, the regiment was awarded its first Battle Honour – South Africa 1900-1901.

   1908 saw the introduction of the Territorial Force (TF) – set up by Lord Haldane, Secretary of State for War.  The Haldane’s reforms reorganised the former auxiliary forces, militia, volunteers and yeomanry into this new Territorial Force.  This saw the QOOH transferred into mounted infantry, armed with rifles and bayonets instead of the traditional cavalry sword.

   5th August 1914 witnessed the men of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars arriving at their respective squadron HQs to report for war duty after receiving a telegram the previous night to “Mobilize”.  With the formation of the Territorial Force, the QOOH no longer operated on its own and was now part of the 2nd South Midland Mounted Brigade and having several ex-regular officers and NCOs within its ranks.  Then, in the early hours of 19th September, a telegram arrived from the First Lord of the Admiralty ordering the embarkation of the QOOH for France.  The First Lord was of course Winston Churchill, a member of the QOOH since 1901.  They were to go to France in support of his Naval Division and thus had the honour of being the first Territorial regiment to embark for active service…  The regiment that returned to England in 1919 was very different from the one that had gone so unexpectedly to Flanders in the first months of war.  Whereas it had formerly been derided by the Regulars as the “agricultural cavalry” and its QOOH title used to create the nickname “Queer Objects On Horseback”, now hardened by five years of gruelling active service, had been raised to a degree of military efficiency previously unheard of in a yeomanry regiment. The QOOH received more Battle Honours than any other yeomanry regiment, including those for Messines 1914; Armentieres 1914; Hazebrouck, Ypres 1915; St Julien, Bellewarde, Arras 1917; Scarpe 1917; Hindenburg Line, Cambrai 1917 and 1918; Amiens, St Quentin, Bapaume 1918; Somme 1918; Lys, Canal du Nord, Selle, Sambre and France & Flanders 1914-1918.

   In 1920, following the end of the First World War, the Territorial Force was reconstituted and officially named the Territorial Army (TA).  There would be huge reductions in the size of the armed forces and the part-time TA did not escape.  Of the 56 yeomanry regiments at the end of WW1, only 14 survived the 1922 reorganisation.  16 were disbanded altogether and the remainder converted to other roles.  Among the latter were the QOOH, who became an artillery unit from the 18th April 1922.  In the new artillery, horsemanship would be of less value than technical skills in gunnery.   Horses were retained to haul the guns until motor vehicles became available.  The title “Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars” together with the badge bearing the Queen Adelaide cypher mounted on a Mantua Purple cloth patch were still used although the men now formed the 399th and 400th Batteries of the 100th (Worcester and Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (TA), but they still thought of themselves as “Yeomen first and gunners second”.  Regimental sabres and rifles were now replaced with 18pdr field guns and 4.5″ howitzers.  Coinciding with these changes the batteries were located with one in Oxford (399) and one in Banbury (400), instead of the numerous troops and squadrons around the county.

   Another change in role came in 1938.  The Regiment was converted from its field artillery role to that of an anti-tank artillery unit, and merged with the Worcestershire Yeomanry into the renamed 53rd (Worcestershire and Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (TA).  The guns were now 2pdr anti-tank guns and the batteries renumbered 211 at Oxford and 212 at Banbury.  War with Germany was looming again and there was a demand for increases in the armed forces.  Prime Minister Chamberlain decided to double the establishment of the Territorial Army and this resulted in the QOOH becoming a separate regiment again.

   World War 2 was declared on 3rd September 1939, by which time the QOOH had been predesignated the 63rd (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (TA) with its Headquarters in Oxford, with 2 Batteries (249 and 250) in Oxford and 2 Batteries (251 and 252) at Banbury.  Along with this change in title came the decision to make them a second-line regiment and charged with the responsibility of home defence and of training men to feed into the first line.  The Worcestershire’s however retained their title of the 53rd (Worcester Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment RA (TA), becoming a first-line regiment and to go to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  This decision for the QOOH must have had some demoralising effect as several occurrences happened to them over the next couple of years.  The first was that all the anti-tank guns were taken away to feed the 1st-line units as equipment was scarce.  Then they were sent to numerous locations throughout Britain on guarding duties.  Equipment eventually started to trickle through allowing them to continue with their training.  There was a number of postings-out due to casualties being taken in France.  With the return of the survivors of the BEF from Dunkirk in June 1940 – without any of their guns and equipment – the country was to rely much more now on the 2nd-line forces.  Under equipped as they were, they were then deployed to repel any invasion.  Eventually this threat never materialised, but thoughts swung towards N Ireland to counter any attempt by the Germans to invade the British Isles via the Republic of Ireland, so off they were posted to several locations around N Ireland.  This posting lasted until February 1943, following rumours of another assault on mainland Europe.

   In September 1941 (whilst the Regiment was in N Ireland) came the order to designate one battery for immediate service overseas.  It was to become part of 85th Anti-Tank Regiment RA, which was being formed at Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Clacton-on-Sea.  Banbury’s 251 Battery was selected.  There was no hint of where they were to be sent apart from all their equipment had been painted the colour of desert sand.  They boarded ships at Glasgow and sailed to South Africa.  Whilst at a stopover at Durban for refuelling, something quite momentous happened.  The Japanese had entered the war, with the attack on the USA in Pearl Harbour followed by their invasion of Malaya.  So, the newly formed 85th Anti-Tank Regiment, with its 2pdr anti-tank guns and sand-coloured lorries, were diverted to Singapore, arriving on 13th January 1942.  There followed numerous battles with the Japanese, but being heavily out-numbered, by both men and equipment plus fighting a type of war (jungle warfare) for which they had not been trained, eventually on the 15th February 1942, all units in South East Asian Command were ordered to lay down their arms and capitulate.  This then presented a problem to the Japanese as they didn’t know what to do with all these prisoners and it wasn’t until October 1942 that they heard that they were to be sent to Thailand to build a railway…  This was later to be known as the ‘Railway of Death’.  They were set to work at a number of POW camps along the railway including the notorious “Bridge over the River Kwai”.  The work was hard, rations were sparse, as was the medical care, and they were treated as slaves resulting in large numbers of deaths.  All this lasted until early August 1945, when the Americans dropped the first Atomic Bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  On the 14th August 1945, Japan officially surrendered and the war was over.  Eventually all the surviving ex POWs were rounded up, making long journeys by rail, sea and air, interspersed by numerous medical inspections and treatments.  One group of QOOH men arrived at Rangoon.  They boarded a UK-bound ship, which left Rangoon on the 19th September 1945 and arrived at Liverpool on the 14th October 1945.

   Returning to the QOOH unit back in England, having returned from N Ireland – there were numerous orders and counter-orders on what they were expected to do.  First, they were told they would be in an assault Division for the invasion of France, this subsequently changed to a follow-up Division and then later to be told that they were reverted to Home Command, back where they were in 1939.  Then in August 1944, the Regiment received orders that it was no longer part of the 61st Division and would come under the command of the War Office.  Apparently, several of the Regiment’s officers had sought to send a petition direct to the Prime Minister.  Amongst these officers were some of Winston Churchill’s oldest friends, hoping to get him to intervene.  It worked and Churchill backed it and the War Office capitulated – the Oxfordshire Yeomanry were to go to war.  There was a ‘small’ problem, inasmuch there was no requirement for a divisional anti-tank regiment – the role for which they had been trained for – but there just may be one for a corps anti-tank regiment.  The crucial difference being the weapons used.  Divisional regiments used 6pdr anti-tank guns whereas Corps regiments used either a towed 17pdr anti-tank gun or M10s (a 3″ gun mounted on a tank chassis).  In the 6 weeks between the order to change role and the Regiment’s departure on the 6th October 1944, there was hectic activity with all ranks given intensive training at Larkhill, Salisbury Plain.  On arriving in France (Dieppe) as part of the 2nd Army, the 63rd (OY) Anti-Tank Regt RA made its way across northern France, up through Belgium and Holland, and into Germany, crossing the River Rhine at Wessel encountering German forces which were in retreat.  After crossing the Rhine, the unit went across Germany in a northeast direction towards Hamburg.  Approaching the town of Celle on the River Aller an extraordinary event, which turned out to be the most traumatic experience of the OY history, happened.  With the German army fleeing back to the Fatherland, they had approached the British leading troops under a flag of truce informing them of a concentration camp in their line of attack – this camp was called Belsen !  An agreement was reached and the area was declared a neutral zone and 249 Battery was detailed to represent the Allied Army and liberate the camp until they were relieved by troops and equipment more capable to cope with the situation.  249 Battery stayed at Belsen for 7 days, doing what they could for the survivors until relieved by a General Field Hospital.  249 and 251 Batteries were then moved on towards Luneburg Heath where the formal surrender of the German forces happened on 4th May 1945.

   And so, the 2nd World War ended, but it wasn’t the end for the QOOH.  Being part of 8 Corps they found themselves in the ‘Dash for Kiel’.  Kiel, originally part of Denmark had become the key German submarine port on the Baltic and there was a worry amongst the UK High Command that this might fall into the hands of the USSR, as now that the war was over, the USSR were looking for countries to incorporate into the Eastern Bloc.  Arriving at Kiel on 7th May 1945 their main task was to police the town and port.  Now they were waiting for demobilisation and for some this did not happen until June 1946.  Ironically, most of the survivors from Malaya and the war in the Far East arrived home earlier, in October 1945.  However, the 63rd (OY) Anti-Tank Regt RA was disbanded in 1946 and with it the Oxfordshire Yeomanry.  The TA was temporarily suspended that same year.  Then in 1947, with an eye to possible conflict with the USSR, the TA was reconstituted as a part-time reservist force.

   Another unit title change along with a change of role again.  387 (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment RA TA, a medium field regiment equipped with 25pdr field guns, with its HQ and P and Q Batteries in Oxford and R Battery in Banbury.  Post-war yeomen had no experience of horses, and did not need it, as the new members of the unit came not from landed estates but from shops, offices and factories.

   Due to the lack of new recruits in most county regiments, the Army Council directed the merger of several regiments and on the 15th September 1950, 387 (OY) Field Regt RA TA was merged with 299 (Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry).  The title of this new unit then became 299 (RBY & QOOH) Field Regt RA TA – the title of the QOOH being resurrected to counter the ‘Royal’ in the RBY.  The RBY would provide the RHQ and 2 Batteries (P and R) with the QOOH providing Q Battery, split between Oxford and Banbury.  It remained a medium regiment with 25pdr field guns and both units kept their respective cap-badges.  On the 31 October 1956, the regiment absorbed the 345 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Medium Regt RA (becoming R Battery) with the unit title then becoming 299 (RBY, BY & QOOH) Field Regt RA TA.  A little later, on 1 May 1961, the 431 LAA Regt RA was absorbed into the regiment – the Berkshire Yeomanry being merged into the Westminster Dragoons.  This prompted another unit title change to the confusing 299 (RBY, QOOH & Berks) Field Regt RA TA with the batteries continued use of their respective cap-badges.

   In 1967, the reserve army underwent another major reorganisation.  The Territorial Army was changed to Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve (TAVR).  1 April 1967 saw the Oxfordshire Territorials formed as a TAVR 3 unit with HQ’s and A (QOOH) Company coming from men of the former Q Bty, 299 Fd Regt RA at Oxford and B (Oxfordshire Rifles) Company coming from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry at Banbury.  Personnel from 129 Infantry Workshop (REME) and 266 Field Squadron (RE) also were absorbed.  This meant another change of role to become infantry-trained to assist the civilian powers in the event of hostilities.  The QOOH element retaining their connection with Queen Adelaide, keeping the ‘AR’ cypher mounted over a strung bugle as their cap-badge.  In 1968, the Oxfordshire Territorials were disbanded, along with most of the TAVR 3 type units throughout the country.  Personnel were given the options either to join the 4th RGJ (Royal Green Jackets) or to join a signal troop at Poundon, near Bicester.

   A small nucleus of around 10-12 formed the Poundon Troop, 1 Squadron, 39th (City of London) Signal Regiment (Special Comms) (Volunteers) where the squadron and regiment were based in London EC2.  They were to become the drivers, powermen and technicians of a mobile radio base-station – another change of role plus cap-badge.  The QOOH lineage discontinued at this time.  The Regiment communicated encrypted traffic in hand-speed morse and radio teleprinter over high-powered transmitters capable of reaching throughout the world, in support of HM Foreign Office.  On 3 February 1971, 5 (Banbury) Sqn, 39th (CofL) Signal Regt (SC) (V) was raised at the former OY drill-hall in Banbury.  In 1974, the vehicles, trailers, equipment and personnel from the Poundon Troop, 1 Sqn were transferred into 5 (Banbury) Sqn.  In 1975, the QOOH honorific started to be used informally by 5 (Banbury) Sqn whilst moves were made to adopt the title officially.  This came about in 1982 and they became 5 (QOOH) Sqn – The QOOH had returned to their ‘modern day’ spiritual home at Banbury.

   On 1 April 1995, the Regiment ceased its role of Special Comms and became 39th (Skinners) Signal Regiment (V) with the HQ’s relocated from London to Bristol.  The Regiment’s role was to be a link in the National Communications Radio System with facilities for secure data transmission or voice comms in vehicle-based Combat Net Radio.

   1 April 2006 witnessed another Army re-org and 5 (QOOH) Squadron transferred into 31st (CofL) Signal Regiment (Volunteers) with their HQ’s moving back to London, but their role was to remain as before.

   1 April 2010 brought another change with another Army re-org (Strategic Defence and Security Review – SDSR 2010), reducing the number of Signal Regiments.  The squadron now became 805 (QOOH) Signal Troop, remaining at Banbury as part of 1 Signal Sqn, 38th (City of Sheffield) Signal Regiment.  Their Regimental HQ’s moved to Sheffield and their Squadron HQ’s now at Bletchley, but their role stayed the same.

   Lastly, (to date) another Army re-org (SDSR 2015) with the Regular forces being reduced, but the Reserve forces increased.  This has brought about many changes and the main change affecting the QOOH was that of the transformation of the Royal Logistic Corps.  A number of specialist’s regiments and squadrons were re-located from Grantham into some of the now under-used TA centres (these now being called Army Reserve Centres – ARC).

  Therefore, 31 July 2014 saw the QOOH at Banbury becoming 142 (QOOH) Vehicle Squadron RLC.  Its parent unit is 165 Port and Maritime Regiment RLC, Headquartered at Plymouth.  Their role and cap-badge changing yet again.  Their role is to collect vehicles (anything from quad-bikes through to the Challenger tank) from operational equipment pools and delivering them to embarkation ports/airfields, then onwards, if required, to the receiving unit’s location.

Glossary of terms used above

AR          Adelaide Regina
ARC       Army Reserve Centre
BEF        British Expeditionary Force
CofL       City of London
LAA        Light Anti-Aircraft
RE           Royal Engineers
REME     Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

SC          Special Communications
SDSR     Strategic Defence and Security Review
TA          Territorial Army
TAC       Territorial Army Centre
TAVR     Territorial Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve
TF          Territorial Force
V            Volunteers

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