The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI) was an amalgamation of two regiments; the 32nd and 46th Foot. The 32nd was raised in 1702 as a regiment of marines and was known, from the name of their commanding officer, as ‘Fox’s Marines’. The first action of the Regiment was against a Spanish treasure fleet which had taken shelter in Vigo Bay. Well over a million pounds’ worth of silver was captured and two thousand Spaniards slain for negligible British losses. In 1704 the 32nd took apart in the siege and capture of Gibraltar and later fought at Dettingen (1743) during the War of theAustrian Succession (1743-48).
In 1741 a number of new regiments were raised, among which was the 57th Foot, known as Price’s Regiment, which was subsequently renumbered 46th Foot in 1748. The 46th was to see almost continuous action in Canada and the West Indies, fighting at Ticonderoga, Niagara, Quebec, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Granada and Saint Vincent. After a brief respite in Ireland, the 46th returned to America to fight the rebel colonials. In 1777 the Light Company of the 46th took part in an attack on a rebel force near Paoli. After a long and stealthy approach march through forest, the Company attacked with the bayonet, killing or capturing over 400 rebels. The Americans , viewing this as an example of British brutality, swore that no quarter would be given in future. Those who took part in the raid, determined that other regiments would not suffer on their account, dyed their hat feathers red, thus proclaiming that they alone were responsible. From that time forward the 46th wore red in their headdress.
In the long war against Napoleon in the Peninsula and France, the 32nd were involved continuously, winning battle honours at Rolica, Vimiera, Corunna, Salamanca, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes and Quatre Bras at Waterloo in 1815.
The defeat of Napoleon was followed by a long period of relative peace. However, in 1848 the 32nd found itself engaged in the arduous Second Sikh War (1848-49), winning battle honours at Mooltan, Gujerat, and Punjab. In the Crimea only two companies of the 46th landed and were committed to the Battle of Alma (1854) and later at Balaclava and Inkerman.
The balance of the Regiment arrived later and the complete Regiment subsequently fought at Sevastopol. At the time of the Indian Mutiny (1857) the 32nd was stationed at Lucknow with a small detachment, including their families, about 50 miles away at Cawnpore. The mutineers attacked Cawnpore in overwhelming numbers and, having offered the garrison free passage, slaughtered the entire party as they left, throwing many of the bodies down a well. The remainder of the Regiment was under siege around the Residency at Lucknow, under constant attack for 140 days and was awarded 4 VCs
In recognition of the gallantry of the 32nd at Lucknow, the following statement was issued from Buckingham Palace on 14th May 1858:
"Her Majesty Queen Victoria, in consideration of the enduring gallantry displayed in the defence of Lucknow, has been pleased to direct the 32nd be clothed, equipped and trained as a light infantry regiment"
In 1881, as a result of the reductions in the Army which affected the whole infantry, the 32nd and 46th Regiments were amalgamated to form the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. The 2nd Battalion moved to Egypt in 1882 and in 1899 was sent to South Africa where it fought with particular gallantry at Paardeberg in February 1900. The Battle was significant in that it was the first major defeat suffered by the Boers and thus became the turning point of the whole war. 2 DCLI were brigaded with 2 KSLI (19 Brigade) throughout this action.
At the outbreak of the First World War the 1st Battalion mobilised at the Curragh and was in action on the Mons-Condo canal. The 2nd Battalion was in Hong Kong where, the Royal Navy being short of Marines, it reverted to the role of 1702 and embarked in HMS TRIUMPH. Soon however they too were in France. During the Great War the Regiment raised 15 battalions, eight of which saw action against the enemy in France, Flanders, Aden, Palestine, Salonika, Serbia and Bulgaria. Fighting in every major battle the Regiment took its share of the appalling attrition on the Western front; 4282 men were killed and as many wounded.
When war broke out again in 1939 the 2nd Battalion crossed to France with the British Expeditionary Force and, by 1940 was heavily engaged in the rearguard action and subsequent evacuation through Dunkirk, surviving to fight again in North Africa, Italy and Greece. The 1st Battalion, having been rushed from Iraq to Libya, was immediately thrown into action against Rommel’s armour. The result was predictable; the Battalion sustained so many casualties that it became virtually ineffective. The 5th Battalion, a Territorial Army battalion, landed in Normandy on 23rd June 1944 and within three days was heavily engaged fighting in the bocage. Among many heroic actions, the Battle of Hill 112 (Cornwall Hill) stands out, as does the gallant dash to Nederrijn a few months later in an attempt to relieve the beleaguered airborne forces in Arnhem.
After the war there were substantial cuts in the Army; the Territorials were reduced to a single battalion and in 1950 the two regular battalions amalgamated to form the 1st Battalion, which was to serve in England , Germany and the West Indies before amalgamating with the Somerset Light Infantry in 1959.