This week saw the 257th anniversary of the Battle of Plassey, fought in West Bengal, India, 23rd June 1757. This is a unique battle honour to The Rifles and one inherited from our antecedents the 39th Dorsetshire Regiment who were the only British Army Regiment, to fight in the action, the remainder of the force Commanded by Robert Clive being comprised of East Indian Company Regiments. On the 29th January 1754 the 39th Regiment was ordered to sail to India, and became the first Crown regiment to serve there. In June 1756, Siraj-ud-daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, captured Calcutta (present day Kolkata) and incarcerated the surviving members of the garrison in the infamous ‘black hole’. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Clive was entrusted with recapturing the city for the East India Company. He took with him three companies from the 39th Foot under command. On 13th June 1757 his modest but well disciplined force of 3,000 set off to confront Siraj-ud-daulah’s enormous army of 35,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry. On 23rd June Clive attacked the Nawab’s army which was drawn up in front of its camp at Plassey. The turning point came with a dramatic rainstorm at midday, which dampened the enemy’s powder, thus silencing their guns. Clive’s gunners, better disciplined, had wisely kept their powder dry and could continue to fire. They cut down the enemy cavalry. This enabled the 39th Foot supported by the Grenadier Companies of the native Regiments, to push forward and seize what little high ground there was and capture the Nawab’s main gun batteries. The defeat of the Cavalry and loss of the guns caused the Nawab’s army to disintegrate and rout. This decisive victory, cost Clive’s force just 80 casualties but set the seal for 190 years of British rule in India. The Battle Honour was awarded retrospectively by Queen Victoria on 17 November 1853 together with the motto ‘Primus in Indus’ commemorating the first honour granted to a Crown Regiment in India. On the 23rd June 1757, the soldiers of the Dorsetshire Regiment had certainly earned the title. Primus in Indus. In an interesting foot note. A Rifles antecedent Regiment was the first British Regiment in India. A Rifles antecedent was also the last British regiment in India, the 1st Battalion The Somerset Light Infantry embarked for Britain 28th February 1948 after a ceremonial march out of The India Gate in Bombay (now Mumbai), the last Crown regiment to serve on Indian soil.
On the coast, on the beaches 1st Dorsets were taking part in their 3rd beach assault of the war (having previously landed in Sicily and Italy) 2nd Devons were landing on Gold Beach, along with 6th 8th 9th DLI (151 ‘Durham Brigade – also veterans of Sicily) 2nd Glosters, 12th Devons, 5th Royal Berks and 2nd KSLI were all also landing on the Normandy beaches that day in 1944. Beaches some of which had been marked out for landing by another antecedent of The Rifles, 1st Buckinghamshire Bn (TA) Ox & Bucks LI who were part of 6th Beach Group.
The story of each of these units and their involvement in Operation Overlord can be explored further by visiting their museums in The Keep Dorchester, The Wardrobe Salisbury, The Castle Taunton, The DLI Museum Durham, RGJ Museum Winchester, all part of The Rifles museums Network.
It was a momentous moment in world history and events that day 70 years ago, still influence the Europe of today. On this 70th anniversary we pay respect to all veterans and the fallen of this operation. We in The Rifles can be justly proud of the D-Day legacy our forebears have left us. For that reason recalling their bold deeds that day; both Pegasus Bridge & Normandy are proud battle honours borne on the appointments of every Rifleman today.
2014 will see some important anniversary events occurring across the UK and Europe and many have direct relevance to the heritage of The Rifles.
The major anniversary that will be the out-break of the Great War in August 1914. All the museums in The Rifles Museum Network will be staging events and exhibitions highlighting the part played by The Rifles’ antecedent Regiments in that war, it will be worth checking them out throughout the year.
2014 also marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day in 1944 and the Allied landings in France to commence the liberation of Europe in World War Two. The Dorsetshire Regiment, the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, The Durham Light Infantry 1/1 Buckinghamshire Volunteers Bn and The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry all played major parts in D-Day itself with all our antecedent Regiments contributing in the follow on campaigns throughout Normandy and subsequently across all NW Europe into 1945.
A little further back in The Rifles’ heritage, 1814 saw the defeat of Napoleon and the defeat of his forces in Spain & Portugal by the Duke of Wellington’s Army, so worth keeping an eye out for events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the end of The Peninsula War.
I’ll endeavour to keep you informed of other Regimental dates past and present throughout the year.