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Ninth Lancers, The - Actions in the Great War (WWI, World War 1) to 1915

Updated on February 5, 2015

Badge of the Ninth Lancers

9th (Queen's Royal) Lancers
9th (Queen's Royal) Lancers | Source

9th Lancers' Drummer

Drummer of the 9th Lancers in parade dress
Drummer of the 9th Lancers in parade dress | Source

Origins, Name Changes and 'Modern' Warfare

A war in which trenches and dug-outs, howitzers, shrapnel, and grenades, to say nothing of explosive bombs and poisonous gases, play a prominent part, does not give the cavalryman very much chance, and he probably thought that the battles of the past were far superior to the battles of the second decade of the 19th century.

It is more exhilarating, more like the real thing, to ride gaily towards the enemy on a fine horse than to look at him through a periscope and then to blow him into small pieces by exploding a mine at dead of night.

Even that dashing and charming horseman, Etienne Gerard, about whom Conan Doyle told so many delightful tales, would have had a very poor time if he had been fighting for France in 1915.

But in spite of the great change in the nature of war, the cavalrymen proved that they were by no means useless. Their plumes and lances were, and possibly their swords, while there is certainly no room on the battlefield of the Great War for that " rich armoury of banners and pennons" which, as Froissart reports, the French Army carried at Poitiers; but nevertheless the men and the horses could do as good and useful work as they ever did.

This fact was proved by all British cavalry regiments throughout the Great War, but by none more clearly than by the famous 9th Lancers.

The story of this regiment goes back to 1715, just two hundred years prior to the war, when the Jacobites were stirring up trouble in Scotland. To provide against this danger several new regiments of cavalry were raised, and one of them was called "Wynne's", for in those days regiments were frequently called by the name of their colonel.

Later it was known as the "9th Dragoons", then as the "9th Light Dragoons" and finally as the "9th Lancers".

Quote by Sir John French

"Our cavalry acted with great vigour, especially General De Lisle's Brigade, with the 9th Lancers and the 18th Hussars" - Sir John French

9th Lancers' Troopers

Troopers of the 9th Lancers in parade dress
Troopers of the 9th Lancers in parade dress | Source

The Record of the 9th

At Falkirk, in 1746, unlike some of their comrades, the 9th did not flinch before the charge of the Highlanders; they were in South America in 1807, and later were with Wellington in the Peninsula.

In the19th century they spent many years in India. They fought against the Sikhs and in the Mutiny; more than once against the Afghans, and one of their great exploits was the saving of the guns at Maiwand.

From India they were sent, in 1899, to South Africa. They were in Natal, and with Methuen at Magersfontein; they led the force which French took with him to relieve Kimberley, and they were present at Paardeberg.

With such a record behind them, it was certain that the Ninth Lancers would leave their mark on the Great War.

The 9th left Tidworth for the front at the outbreak of war, as part of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade under General De Lisle.

They were in reserve at Mons on Sunday, August 23rd, but on the 24th the 5th Division was in dire trouble, and the cavalry were sent to assist, with the 2nd Brigade at the forefront.

A massed German advance near the village of Audregnies was engaged at the orders of General De Lisle. His men dismounted to open fire on the Germans, but this had little effect. On command the 9th Lancers mounted their horses and rode at the enemy with little chance of survival, and the colonel, it is said, uttered that he never expected a single lancer to return.

through shot and shell they rode on up to two lines of barbed-wire, where men and horses were abruptly halted, falling over in all directions, this ending the charge.

The survivors retired into shelter. Out of the four hundred plus who had ridden out, only seventy-two were initially accounted for. Later two hundred odd others turned up. The regiment had encountered heavy losses: Major V.R. Brooke, D.S.O., had been killed.

Although at first the charge had seemed fruitless, the Lancers had succeeded in one aspect: it had drawn the enemy's fire. This had gone some way to assisting the 5th Division.

The charge was described by one trooper as:

"magnificent but horrible",

while a Frenchman who rode with them wrote:

"My God! How they fell".

9th Lancers at Doubon

The 9th Lancers saving the guns near Doubon
The 9th Lancers saving the guns near Doubon | Source

La Bataille De Messines Ridge, Belgique

Ypres, 1914, The First Battle of

Ninth Lancers at the Marne

Their work was not yet done. On arrival at a railway embankment near Doubon, the Lancers found themselves with some surviving gunners of the 119th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, who had been driven from their guns.

The wounded Captain Francis Octavius Grenfell, now the senior officer of the Lancers, at peril of his death, went out to reconnoitre a way of saving the guns.

On returning to his men, he asked them to follow him to rescue the abandoned guns. They left their horses, rushed out and reached the guns, and returned them to safety. Captain Grenfell received the Victoria Cross for this deed, the first to be gazetted of the European War.

September 6th, saw the beginning of the decisive Battle of the Marne. The 9th Lancers had rested and been reinforced. They were ready to drive back the enemy.

By September 7th the Germans were in full retreat. This retreat was covered by their cavalry. Whenever they got a chance the British cavalry regiments charged the enemy. They had much the better of this cavalry battle even though they were fewer in number. They cut down hundreds with their swords when they caught them in a clearing between woodlands.

On the next day the cavalry forced a passage across the Petit Morin. They made their way towards the Aisne. This was where the real trench warfare had begun.

In September the Ninth Lancers lost two company officers:

In addition, their colonel, Lieut.-Col. David Graham Muschet Campbell, had been wounded.

During October they made endless attempts to cross the Lys. However, they were mainly employed to man the trenches with the infantry.

During the first Battle of Ypres they, with several other regiments, were stationed near Messines, where they repulsed several attacks during earlier days of the battle.

On October 31st, however, the Germans made a most violent attack. The Lancers were driven from their trenches, and on that day and the next they fought desperately as foot soldiers at the most critical part of the British line.

There, on the first of those two critical days, one of the regiment's lance-corporals, A.C. Seton, earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) for working his machine-gun after his squadron had fallen back, and so making it possible for them to recapture their lost trench.

August 24th, 1914, was one of the great days in the history of the 9th Lancers, and May 24th, 1915, exactly nine months later, was another.

After a period of rest the 1st Cavalry Division, to which the Lancers belonged, returned to the trenches on May 12th, just after the Germans begun to use poison gas, and were placed in front of Ypres.

On the following day they were bombarded and suffered some loss, but their real trial came on the 24th. The cloud of poisonous gas was blown down upon the dismounted Lancers, but they knew how to use their respirator, and were able to stick to their trenches throughout it all.

In one place, however, the Germans did manage to break through, but under Captain Grenfell the left section of the line held firm, and saved the day. It was on this occasion that Grenfell, the hero of August 24th, was killed by a shell, and with him fell Captain William Hubert Roylance Court. The regiment also lost Captain Noel Edwards, like Grenfell, a famous polo player, who was murdered by poison gas.

Captain Francis Grenfell VC

Captain Francis Grenfell VC
Captain Francis Grenfell VC | Source

Heroes of the Lancers

On that May day all the Ninth Lancers were heroes, but two perhaps, may be singled out as having specially distinguished themselves.

One of these was Captain G.F. Reynolds, who helped Captain Grenfell to organise the defence of the left section of the line, and under heavy fire passed frequently from the trenches to the headquarters and back again with messages. He could not escape from the poison, but in spite of this "he set the finest example possible of calmness, coolness, and courage" - the words of the 'London Gazette'.

The other Lancer was Sergeant J.W. Chitty. He showed great gallantry in laying and repairing telephone wire under heavy fire, and, in spite of the poisonous fumes which had invaded the dug-out where the telephone was, he kept up communication with the front. He received the D.C.M. for this action.

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