Somerset Light Infantry

Cap Badge of Somerset Light InfantryThe Somerset Light Infantry (SomLI) has its roots in the regiment raised by Theophilus, Earl of Huntingdon in 1685 at the request of James II, and first saw action at Killiekrankie (1689). This was followed by service in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), Cork and Kinsale.

In the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713) the Regiment served under Marlborough in Flanders and earned its first battle honour at the siege of Gibraltar (1704). In 1706 the Regiment became a mounted unit and served in Spain for the next seven years as Pearce’s Dragoons.

In the War of the Austrian Succession (1743-1748) the Regiment fought in the decisive battles of Dettingen (1743) and Fontenoy (1745), after which the Regiment moved to Scotland and joined the Duke of Cumberland’s army for the battle of Culloden (1746).

The Warrant Officers and Sergeants of the Regiment had the unique distinction of wearing their sashes over the left shoulder and tied on the right side. The precise origin of this custom is unknown; some attribute it to Culloden and others to Killiekrankie but, when officially authorised in 1865, it had already been the practice for many years.

In 1751, regiments ceased to be called by the name of their commander, and Pulteney’s Regiment, as it then was, became the 13th Regiment of Foot. In 1782 the Regiment was first associated with the County of Somerset, becoming the 13th Foot or 1st Somersetshire Regiment. The Regiment took part in Sir Ralph Abercrombie's brilliant victory at Aboukir Bay (1801) and was awarded the Sphinx super-scribed ‘Egypt’ on its Colours.

Service in the West Indies (1808-09) was followed by an introduction to Light Infantry tactics in operations against the Americans on the Canadian border. In 1822 the Regiment was granted the 4 status of Light Infantry — becoming the 13th Light Infantry — embarked for India and served in the First Burmese War (1824-26).

From 1838 the Regiment took part with immense distinction in the First Afghan War, distinguishing itself at the assault on Ghuznee and the epic defence of Jellalabad, becoming idolised by the British public as the "Illustrious Garrison" and “Jellalabad Heroes”. For these actions Queen Victoria approved the title '13th or Prince Albert’s Regiment of Light Infantry'; the Regiment’s facings were changed from yellow to blue and a mural crown superscribed ‘Jellalabad’ was added to the badge.

After a spell in England and Ireland the Regiment returned to Gibraltar (1851-55) whence, under the command of the eccentric Lord Mark Kerr — who later became a General and was Colonel of the Regiment for twenty years — it was sent to the Crimea, taking part in the siege of Sevastopol and later stages of the Crimean War. After a short period in South Africa the Regiment moved to India at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and remained there until order was restored in 1858. At the Relief of Azimghur, the Regiment won its first two VCs. During the Siege of Lucknow in 1857, the first relief force was led by Sir Henry Havelock (late 13th Foot), which reinforced the 32nd at the Residency.

In 1858 the 2nd Battalion was raised at Winchester and battalions of the Regiment saw service in many of the forthcoming conflictes: the Zulu Wars (1878-79), the Third Burmese War (1885-87) and the South African War (1899-1902 ) during which the 2nd Battalion was supported by a Volunteer Company drawn from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Volunteer Battalions and 4th (Militia) Battalion of the Regiment.

During the Zulu Wars the Regiment fought with great distinction as part of Wood's column in the northern operational area, which culminated in the final defeat of the Zulu's at Ulundi.

On the introduction of the Territorial Army in 1908, the three volunteer Battalions became the 4th and 5th Battalions and the Militia was disbanded. In the course of the First World War (1914-1918) the Regiment was expanded to 19 battalions. The 1st Battalion went to France as part of the Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of war with the 4th Division and fought on the continent throughout the war. In all, eleven battalions of the Regiment fought in France, Palestine and Mesopotamia; the 2nd Battalion remained on the Indian frontier throughout, eventually taking part in the Third Afghan War (1919).

The outbreak of the Second World War saw the 2nd Battalion in Gibraltar and the 1st Battalion in India where it was engaged in operations against tribesmen on the North West frontier in 1940 and 1942. Neither battalion saw further action until the 1st Battalion fought the Japanese in the Arakan (1943-44). After five years in Gibraltar, the 2nd Battalion arrived in Italy in March 1944 to fight with 28 Brigade in 4 Division at the final battle of Cassino, followed by the advance up Italy and operations in Greece. The 4th and 7th Battalions were part of 43rd (Wessex) Division and fought with immense gallantry from Normandy to Germany. The 10th Battalion became 7th (Light Infantry) Battalion The Parachute Regiment, and landed in Normandy in the early hours of D Day with 6th Airborne Division. It was the latter Battalion, which relieved the Oxs and Bucks at the Caen Canal Bridges under the Command of Major Howard. The actor Richard Todd, who played Major Howard in the Film "The Longest Day" was in fact an officer in the 7th (Light Infantry) Battalion and was part of the relieving force!

Following the war the 2nd Battalion found itself in Austria and the 1st Battalion in India, the latter becoming the last British regiment to march out of India, following India's independence. The final ceremony itself took place on the 28th of February 1948. The slow march of the Somerset Light Infantry though the city of Bombay culminated at the Gateway to India. The monumental structure was erected to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. Thousands of spectators were on hand to view the last moments of British India. The new Indian Army was represented by a guard of honour from the Bombay Grenadiers, the 2nd Sikhs, and the Royal Indian Navy. Also participating were the 3/5th Gurkhas, and the Mahratta Light Infantry. The Somerset Light Infantry marched their colours past the Governor to the sound of their regimental march. The Indian guard of honour then gave a Royal Salute and " God Save The King" was played. To this the Somerset Light Infantry replied with a Royal Salute and the Indian national anthem. Then the escort trooped the colours to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne "down the centre of the parade ground and out through the Gateway of India. The whole manoeuvre was carried out with the utmost precision and proved to be a very moving sight. Finally, the Somerset CO and General Whistler said their good-byes and passed through the gateway to a launch where the colours had already been embarked. As the launch pulled away towards the troop ship Empress of Australia, the crowds were shouting, waving, and in some cases weeping. It was the end of the Raj in India

Shortly afterwards the 1st and 2nd Battalions were amalgamated to form the 1st Battalion. The Territorial battalion of the Regiment was re-formed in 1947 and continued in being until, after amalgamation with the county yeomanry regiments, it was reduced to cadre strength in 1969. In 1952 the Regiment’s most distinguished soldier, Field Marshal the Lord Harding of Petherton, became Chief of the Imperial General Staff and was later Governor and Commander-in-Chief Cyprus during the campaign by EOKA terrorists (1955-57).

The 1st Battalion served in Germany, Malaya and Cyprus until amalgamation with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 1959.

Back to TOP