The Royal Welch Fusiliers were a regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales' Division. It was founded in 1689 to oppose James II and the imminent war with France. The regiment was numbered as the 23rd Regiment of Foot, though it was one of the first regiments to be granted the honour of a fusilier title and so was known as The Welsh Regiment of Fusiliers from 1702. The "Royal" accolade was earned fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713.
It is one of the oldest regiments in the regular army, hence the archaic spelling of the word Welch instead of Welsh. In the Boer War and throughout World War I, the army officially called the regiment "The Royal Welsh Fusiliers" but the archaic "Welch" was officially restored to the Regiment's title in 1920 under Army Order No.56. During those decades, the regiment itself unofficially used the "Welch" form. As of 2004, it was one of five line infantry regiments never to have been amalgamated in its entire history, the others being:
Soldiers of this regiment were distinguishable by the unique feature of the "flash", consisting of five overlapping black silk ribbons (seven inches long for soldiers and nine inches long for officers) on the back of the uniform jacket at neck level. This is a legacy of the days when it was normal for soldiers to wear pigtails. In 1808, this practice was discontinued, but the RWF were serving in America when the order to discontinue the use of the flash was issued. Upon their return they decided to retain the ribbons with which the pigtail was tied, and were granted this special concession by the King. The Army Board attempted to remove the flash during the First World War citing the grounds that it would help the Germans identify which unit was facing them. The King refused, stating that "The enemy will never see the backs of the Royal Welch Fusiliers". As a fusilier regiment, the RWF wore a hackle, which consists of a plume of white feathers worn on headdress and mounted behind the cap-badge.
The light infantry and grenadier companies of the Fusiliers saw bloody action at the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Battle of Guilford Court House in the American Revolutionary War. The Regiment participated in nearly every campaign from the Lexington & Concord to Yorktown. Many first hand accounts of the American Revolutionary War can be found in "the Diary of Lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie" or Serjeant Roger Lamb's "Original and Authentic Journal of Occurrences During the Late American War". The regiment also participated in the Napoleonic Wars - for example, at Waterloo, in the 4th Brigade under Lt-Col. Harry Mitchell, in the 4th British Infantry Division.
Several battalions of the regiment saw notable service in France and Belgium during World War I, in particular the 1st, which became forever associated with the terribly destructive action at Mametz Wood in 1916, and the 2nd, which endured the horrors of the massacre in the mud of Passchendaele (Third Ypres)in 1917. In 1915, however, The Royal Welch Fusiliers participated in the legendary Christmas 1915 Football Game with the Germans. During this war, several writers served with various battalions of the regiment in France, including the poets Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, David Jones and Hedd Wyn. Their memoirs have resulted in the activities of this regiment being vividly recorded for posterity. Ford Madox Ford wrote movingly of the Welsh soldiers he commanded in his four-volume novel Parade's End. Captain James C. Dunn, a medical officer attached to the regiment's 2nd Battalion during World War I, compiled a chronicle of that unit's experiences during its more than four years of service in France and Belgium. His epic, The War The Infantry Knew, has become a classic among military historians for its comprehensive treatment of all aspects of daily life and death in the trenches. The best known account by one of the Other Ranks is 'Old Soldiers Never Die' by Frank Richards DCM,MM. Fusilier Richards was a Reservist recalled to the colours at the outbreak of WW1,and served on the Western Front 1914-1918 (including being in the front line during the famous Christmas Truce of 1914). He also wrote about his pre-war service in a book called 'Old Soldier Sahib'.
During the seckond world war the regiment gained battle honours in the Dyle, Defence of Escaut, St. Omer-La Bassée, Caen, Esquay, Falaise, Nederrijn, Lower Maas, s'Hertenbosch, Venlo Pocket, Ourthe, Rhineland, Reichswald, Goch, Weeze, Rhine, Ibbenburen, Aller, North-West Europe 1940 '44-45, Madagascar, Middle East 1942, Donbaik, North Arakan, Kohima, Mandalay, Ava, Burma 1943-45
As with the Royal Regiment of Wales, the regiment has traditionally had a goat mascot. The tradition dates from at least 1775, and possibly from the regiment's formation. The goat is given full honours of a corporal by all ranks and attended to by the Goat Major.
In 2004, it was announced that, as part of the restructuring of the infantry, the Royal Welch Fusiliers would amalgamate with the Royal Regiment of Wales to form a new large regiment, the Royal Welsh. This merger took place on 1 March 2006, leaving only two Welsh foot regiments in the British Army: the Welsh Guards and the Royal Welsh. The Royal Welch Fusiliers is now the name of the first battalion of the new regiment.
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