The History of the Sussex Yeomanry
Sussex Yeomanry Cavalry 1794 - 1848
The Sussex Troops of Gentlemen and Yeoman Cavalry were formed in June 1794 as a direct response to the perceived invasion threat from revolutionary France. Organised into Troops ranging from 30 to 80 strong and located on the estates of the landed gentry, by 1805 there numbered some 15 Troops across the county from Chichester and Midhurst in the west, to Ashburnham and Brightling in the east. The Yeomanry Cavalry were the social elite of the volunteer army, becoming an exclusive and socially prestigious organisation, with the county nobility and landed gentry providing the officers, and the troopers or “Yeoman” being “a freeholder, tenant farmer or tradesman, under the rank of Gentleman, but nevertheless, of a respectable standing and good character.”
Briefly disbanded from 1848 - 1900
Following the peace that followed the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 most of the Sussex Yeomanry Troops disbanded, but a few remained to support the magistrates in preserving law and order.
The Yeomanry provided a force who knew the local landscape and being mounted could deploy faster when called out than the regular foot soldiers garrisoned within the county. However by 1848, under growing financial constraints and the formation of a fledging police service in Brighton, the last of the Sussex Yeomanry troops disbanded.
Re-instated for the Boer war in 1900
After a break of some 52 years the call went out for volunteers in 1900 to fight in the Boer War. Soldiers who could ride were required, as the South African velt dictated that vast distances often had to be traversed to close with the enemy, and the Sussex Yeomanry was reborn. Two contingents from Sussex were dispatched, in 1901 and 1902 providing the 69th (Sussex) Company of the Imperial Yeomanry. Seeing action at Vlakfontein, the 69th returned to the UK in 1902, having lost 21 men, as many to disease as from enemy action. This Company would form the nucleus of the Imperial Sussex Yeomanry. Their first “Battle Honour” was awarded for this campaign, “South Africa 1900 – 1902.”
Four Squadrons and 18 Troops
Although originally comprising of four squadrons, located in the major towns of the county, the Sussex Yeomanry continued to parade, train and grow, and by 1908 when the Territorial Force was formed, there were 18 Troops locations throughout Sussex;
A Sqn (HQ) : Brighton (with drill stations at Horsham, Worthing, Haywards Heath and Crawley)
B Sqn: Lewes (Burgess Hill, Eridge, Brighton, Uckfield, Tunbridge Wells and Haywards Heath)
C Sqn: Chichester (Bognor)
D Sqn: Eastbourne (St Leonards, Bexhill and Rye).
Sussex Yeomanry - World War One
When war was declared against Germany and her allies in August 1914 the Sussex Yeomanry became the 1st/1st Sussex Yeomanry and moved to Canterbury to join the rest of the South-Eastern Mounted Brigade for some intensive training before deploying to France.
A second formation (2nd/1st Sussex Yeomanry) was formed in Brighton to continue the recruiting and training of volunteers to bolster the ranks of the regiment once it deployed into action overseas. Despite the obvious destination of France, the Brigade remained in Canterbury until September 1915 honing its equestrian skills, when it was ordered to Gallipoli, without its horses!
Gallipoli 1915 & Egypt 1916
The Regiment spent just 12 weeks in Gallipoli, from October to December 1915 before being evacuated with the rest of the British Empire troops to Egypt. Like South Africa some 15 years before, of the 19 men lost by the Sussex Yeomanry at Gallipoli, as many had died from dysentery as from the Turkish defenders.
Egypt would become “home” for the next 15 months, and during January 1917 the Regiment was re-rolled into infantry, becoming the 16th (Sussex Yeomanry) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment.
After two months on intensive infantry training the Regiment crossed the Suez Canel in March 1917 and proceeded up through Palestine towards Jerusalem. The fighting for Gaza became their baptism of fire as infantry, thankfully with very few casualties. This was soon to change during early November 1917 when the Battalion moved to take Beersheba. In two days of extreme fighting, in an advance of just 6,000 yards across barren scrub and desert the casualties amounted to six officers and 119 other ranks killed and wounded out of some 400 who started the action. Despite this the Battalion fought on and had participated in the battles of Sheria, Jerusalem, Yebrud and Tel Azur before being sent to France in May 1918.
The Somme Offensive of 1918
Landing in southern France the Battalion moved north to a training camp near Abbeville for a brief instruction on the intimacies of trench warfare on the Western Front. After a few weeks in a “nursery trench” the Battalion moved into the line near Lille, and during early September moved south towards Amiens.
During September casualties in the Battalion rose, particularly during four days of horrific close-quarter fighting (18th-21st) Of a 900 strong battalion, 18 officers and 337 enlisted soldiers were dead, wounded or missing. Later this would become known as the “Somme Offensive” of 1918.
End of World War One
Returning to the UK via Belgium in January 1919 the general disbandment of war-time formations followed, but when the Territorial Force reformed in 1921, the Sussex Yeomanry reformed as Gunners of the Royal Field Artillery.
Their war time exploits had earned the Regiment the following Battle Honours, “Gallipoli 1915-1916, Gaza, Beersheba, Sheri, Jerusalem, Yebrud, Tel Azur, Palestine 1917-1918, Somme 1918, Hinderburg Line, Pursuit to Mons, Bapaume 1918, Ypres 1918, France and Flanders 1918.” In addition, 1 Victoria Cross, 8 Distinguished Service Orders, 1 Croix de Guerre, 1 Distinguished Service Cross, 2 Officer of the British Empire, 1 Air Force Cross, 2 Meritorious Service Medals, 17 Military Crosses, 13 Distinguished Conduct Medals and 24 Military Medals were awarded to members, or former members of the Regiment.
From Cavalrymen to Gunners
It was the considered opinion of the General Staff that Cavalry were no longer needed and acting in the spirit of a poem of that date – “A horseman’s worth is in his heart and not in a pair of spurs,” the soldiers of the Sussex and Bedfordshire Yeomanry’s were the first to undertake reforming into Royal Field Artillery, as guns were still being pulled into action by horses during this period, and the retention of their beloved horses was universally agreed as preferable to disbandment. In due course, another 30 yeomanry regiments would follow their lead and re-role to artillery. During 1921 the Sussex Yeomanry Regiment reformed as the 13th (Sussex Yeomanry) Army Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. Headquarters and one battery in Brighton, with a second Battery in Chichester and a signals troop in Bognor.
The Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry
In March 1922 the Regiment merged with the Surrey Yeomanry to form the 98th (Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. Headquarters, 390 and 392 Battery were located in Clapham, with a troop in Guildford. 389 and 391 were the Sussex Batteries, 389 in Brighton, with a Troop in Lewes, and 391 Battery in Chichester with a Troop in Horsham. This was not the first time these two Regiments had merged. The 2nd/1st Sussex Yeomanry and the 2nd/1st Surrey Yeomanry had merged to form the 8th (Yeomanry) Cyclist Regiment in November 1916 for defence of the east coast near Ipswich, although this too was short lived, and they returned to their separate formations upon deployment to Ireland on internal policing duties during April 1917.
Fully mechanised 1928
Their last “mounted” camp was at Goodwood near Chichester in 1928, when the regiment became fully mechanised, equipped with two batteries of 18 pounders and two of 4.5inch howitzers. When war was declared in September 1939 the Regiment, along with all other Territorial artillery formations was split, forming two, two battery regiments, the 98th (Surrey & Sussex Yeomanry) Regiment, Royal Artillery and the 144th (Surrey & Sussex Yeomanry) Regiment, Royal Artillery. Both Regiments would have one “Sussex” battery and one “Surrey” battery. A third Regiment was formed early in 1940 from a cadre provided by 144th Regiment, the 74th (Medium) Regiment, Royal Artillery. All three of these formations fought very different wars.
Sussex Yeomanry Battle Honours
“Gunner” Regiment’s do not have “Battle Honours” like the Infantry or Armoured formations, as the all-encompassing “ubique” supposedly covers their exploits, with the 'thought process' being that wherever the British Army has deployed, so have the guns, and hence “everywhere” covering all eventualities.
The Sussex Yeomanry had earned a number of “Battle Honours” during the First World War and their equally brave exploits in the Second War should not pass without mention, despite no official recognition, as they were now part of the Royal Regiment of Artillery.
World War Two (98th) - Belgium 1939
The 98th (Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery deployed to Belgium with the GHQ element of the British Expeditionary Force in September 1939. Evacuated from Dunkirk with the rest of the BEF in the June of 1940 the remnants of the regiment reformed under Home Forces, Southern Command and deployed, like so many other units, along the south coast in anticipation of a German invasion. 38 members of the Regiment had been killed in the retreat to Dunkirk. The next 8 months were spent in the Portsmouth/Havant area before hopping across the Solent in March 1941 to Ryde and Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. It was during this period that the Regiment formed its 3rd Battery (471 Bty).
African conflicts (98th) - 1943
The Regiment remained on the island until the September of 1942 when they were ordered to Egypt, going the “long way round” via South Africa to avoid German and Italian submarine activity in the Mediterranean. Once in Egypt the Regiment saw action at El Alamein as part of 10th Armoured Division but thankfully sustained only light casualties. During July 1943 the Regiment landed in Sicily as part of Operation Husky and in the September moved onto the Italian mainland. Had they not been “Gunners” the Honours for 1943 would have read “Sicily Landings, Primasole Bridge, Trigno River and Sangro Line.”
European conflicts (98th) - 1944
During 1944 the Regiment moved up through Italy as part of 8th Army, seeing further action at “Garigliano River, Monte Argento, Minturno Ridge, Monte Casino, Rapido River, Adolph Hitler Line and the Gustav Line.” 6 officers and 37 enlisted ranks of the 98th lost their lives in Italy.
During the March of 1945 the Regiment relocated to Germany via France and remained in Germany as part of the post war occupation force, only returning to the UK in June 1946.
World War Two (144th)
The 144th (Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery remained in the UK, under Home Forces, Southern Command in the Hove area until November 1940. Deploying through Egypt into the Sudan, with the Regiment coming under the command of the 5th Indian Division, and engaged Italian colonial forces at the battles of “Keren” and later “Amba Alagi” with only 3 soldiers being lost. During June 1941 the Regiment returned to Egypt and in the September moved westwards into Libya, taking part in a number of actions, “Siege of Tobruk, Breakout from Tobruk, Sidi Rezegh and Western Desert.” 23 soldiers of the Regiment were lost in these actions. May 1942 saw them deployed to northern Iraq under 10th Army, just in case German forces tried to strike south through the Caucasus Mountains into the Persian oil fields. However the German’s were completely consumed in the fighting for Stalingrad and this threat never materialised. It was here that this Regiment formed its 3rd Battery (552 Bty). The regiment then moved from northern Iraq to Basra in the south, before returning to Egypt in October 1943 to join the 31st Indian Armoured Division. The Regiment was deployed into Lebanon on internal security duties during March 1944 and remained there until it returned to the UK in September 1945.
World War Two (74th)
The 74th (Medium) Regiment, Royal Artillery was formed from a 64 strong cadre taken from 144th Regiment in January 1940. Initial training took place in Brighton, becoming a Corps Artillery Asset of XII Corps. During August 1940 they relocated to the Sevenoaks area, and then on to Ramsgate and Sandwich during 1942, remaining in Kent until February 1943, when they deployed to Algeria as part of 1st Army, taking part in the battle at “Bou Arada.” During September 1943 the Regiment deployed to Italy under 2nd Army Group Royal Artillery and fought with the rest of the Allied formations moving up towards Rome and beyond. “San Angelo, Volturno River, Monte Camino, Monte Casino, Lake Trasimero and Largano” can all be added to the “Honour” of the Regiment for 1944, as can “Senio River” in 1945. The regiment was disbanded in Italy during November 1945. Forty-two members of the Regiment lost their lives during the War.
Honours and awards
The Honours and Awards received by these three “Surrey & Sussex Yeomanry” Regiments for the Second World War amount to: 4 Distinguished Service Orders, 1 Officer of the British Empire, 18 Military Crosses, 3 Distinguished Conduct Medals, and 3 Members of the British Empire, 20 Military Medals and 77 Mentions in Despatches.
Post World War Two
When the Territorial Army reformed in 1947 the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry went their separate ways, with Surrey forming 298th (Surrey Yeomanry (QMR)) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (V) and Sussex forming 344 (Sussex Yeomanry) Light Anti-Aircraft and Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery (V).
The story is still far from complete and is still ongoing, but we would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to Captain Paul E Mason RA for compiling this overview.