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Surrey Infantry - 350 years of military history at Clandon Park

PUBLISHED: 10:10 04 April 2012 | UPDATED: 11:49 30 April 2015

Surrey Infantry – 350 years of military history

Surrey Infantry â€" 350 years of military history

Celebrating their 350th anniversary, Surrey's infantry regiments remain the most decorated in the British army - including the youngest living recipient of the Victoria Cross. To commemorate this landmark year, as well as the opening of the newly refurbished Surrey Infantry Museum at Clandon Park to showcase their distinguished history, here we share some of the fascinating tales from our county's military past

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine March 2012


A brief overview

Surrey’s regiments have gone through a whole series of twists and turns to reach their modern day state, but it all began 350 years ago when King Charles II married Catherine of Braganza. Part of her dowry was the North African port of Tangier, and as a result, the First Tangier Regiment of Foot was raised in 1661 to defend the city. This regiment had first paraded on Putney Heath, which was then part of Surrey, and on its return to the UK was renamed the Queen’s Regiment. Surrey’s other collective, the East Surrey Regiment, dated from 1702.

Both regiments would go on to fight against the French Republic and then Napoleon’s Empire for 22 years at the turn of the 18th century. The Queen’s were on board Lord Howe’s flagship as marines during the British victory of The Glorious First – the first great battle between British and French fleets in the French Revolutionary War.

Later, during World War One, battalions from both formed part of the 1914 British Expeditionary Force sent to halt Germany’s advance into Belgium (battalions also fought at Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Italy).

By the end of the war, the Queen’s and the East Surrey Regiment had lost a combined 14,000 men.  

The moving story of Surrey’s infantry regiments during this time is told through a series of war diaries, which can be read online at queensroyalsurreys.org.uk. Their names can also be found on war memorials across Surrey and in the books of remembrance held in the regimental chapels at Holy Trinity, Guildford, and All Saints, Kingston (there is also a third chapel at Guildford Cathedral).

During World War Two, the East Surrey Regiment saw the 1st Surreys in Italy, while the 2nd Surreys were in Malaya in 1940. The latter battalion served with distinction against the Japanese, but with heavy losses. As the 1st Leicestershire Regiment suffered a similar fate, the two battalions were joined together in what was called the British Battalion. They fought until forced to surrender in Singapore. Of the two battalions, only 265 men remained and, of those, 149 died during the three-and-a-half years of imprisonment.

Following a 1958 defence review, the Queen’s Royal Regiment and the East Surrey Regiment amalgamated, becoming the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment. In 1966, the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment became part of the Queen’s Regiment and yet another review in 1992 saw the Queen’s Regiment merged with the Royal Hampshire Regiment to form the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, which remains today.

Known as The Tigers, the regiment continues to draw many of its officers and soldiers from Surrey and is the most decorated of all British Army regiments, with 57 Victoria Crosses.


The regimental depots

In 1851, the government offered £100,000 to the Guildford Corporation for building a barracks for 20,000 soldiers on the Hog’s Back. The offer was declined, but in 1873 Edward Cardwell, secretary of state for war, chose Guildford as the site for Stoughton Barracks. The barracks eventually closed in 1983 and was then converted into a housing estate renamed Cardwells Keep in the 1990s. A memorial plaque at Stoughton can be seen to the left of the original archway in what was once the entrance to the depot. The barracks in Kingston, meanwhile, was built on agricultural land in 1879 – Park Farm belonged to Lord Liverpool and the buildings cost £40,000. Again, much of the site has been redeveloped as housing.


The football attack

The famed ‘football attack’ on July 1, 1916 at the Battle of the Somme saw members of the 8th Battalion East Surreys come out of their trenches kicking several footballs, which the company commander had bought to inspire his men in their advance. The battalion was one of the few to reach and hold their objective, although the company commander and 146 other members of the battalion were killed.


A living hero

The youngest living recipient of the Victoria Cross, Johnson Beharry of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, was just 25 when he was awarded the highest military decoration for valour in the British and Commonwealth Armed Forces. He twice saved members of his unit from ambushes at Al-Amarah in Iraq in 2004, sustaining serious head injuries in the latter engagement. Now 32, Beharry is the first recipient of the Victoria Cross since the posthumous awards to Lieutenant Colonel H Jones and Sergeant Ian John McKay for service in the Falklands War and the first living recipient for nearly 40 years. At present, he is one of only 12 living recipients.


Freedom of our county

To celebrate being awarded the freedom of their respective boroughs, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment paraded through both Epsom and Farnham with bayonets fixed and colours flying last summer.

Back in 1944, the East Surrey Regiment was granted the freedom of Kingston-upon-Thames and in 1945 the Queen’s Royal Regiment was granted the freedom of Guildford.

On the formation of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment in 1992, the boroughs of Kingston-upon-Thames, Guildford and also Reigate and Banstead extended the civic honour of freemen – the highest honour that can granted by local authorities.


Surrey Infantry Museum

After the amalgamation of the Queen’s Royal Regiment and the East Surrey Regiment in 1959, the ownership and management of their artefacts and archives was vested in the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Museum Trust.

Following the closure of the regimental headquarters and museum in the Keep at Kingston, the artefacts had to be put in storage before an agreement was reached with the National Trust for use of rooms in the basement at Clandon Park. The new museum was originally opened in 1981.

Last year, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum was fully refurbished and renamed the Surrey Infantry Museum.


A 350th anniversary fund-raiser

Over the past year, soldiers old and new have been remembering the 350th anniversary of the raising of the first Surrey infantry regiment.

These celebrations will culminate at Clandon Park, near Guildford, on Sunday April 29, when servicemen, cadets and military re-enactors will converge, along with over 100 classic motorcycles, for the finale of what promises to be a huge fund-raising weekend.

From Saturday April 28, motorcyclists from Harley-Davidson clubs will assemble at the stone obelisk on Putney Heath, which marks the spot where the Surrey regiment’s first parade took place. They will then set off on a sponsored bike ride to Portsmouth, accompanied by soldiers of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, some of whom have been injured serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Surrey Army Cadets, who wear the PWRR cap badge, will also take part in a series of sponsored marches through the county and over 40 pubs have agreed to participate in the fund-raising events.

Finally, on the Sunday at the National Trust’s Clandon Park, the public is invited to join in the celebrations and visit the regimental museum there (more on which follows).

  • For more information about the new museum, Surrey’s infantry regiments and upcoming events, visit the website of the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment at www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk.

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