The Yeomanry was raised in 1794 to help maintain Law and Order at a time when Revolutionary France, with it’s egalitarian ideals, threatened the security of an England governed by landed gentry in an age of industrial and political ferment, and having no police force.
The Nottingham Town Troop was raised in that year, and it’s first ‘engagements’ were to help suppress food riots in Nottingham in 1795 and 1800, and the dispersal of Luddite rioters in 1811. Other troops were raised at Holme Pierrepont and Bunny in 1799, and at Woollaton and Watnall in 1817.
The Wollaton troop, which consisted largely of the retainers of Lord Middleton who owned Wollaton Hall, saved it from attack by Reform Bill rioters in 1832, but the Town Troop was not called upon soon enough to prevent the burning of Nottingham Castle, home of the reactionary Duke of Newcastle.
The troops were regimented in 1826 as the Southern Regiment of Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Cavalry and became known as the South Notts Hussars informally around 1877 and formally in 1903, the Acorn cap badge having replaced the ‘SNYC’ monogram in 1898. Troops in the north of the County were regimented as the Sherwood Rangers.
After the formation of the Police Force in the 1830s the Yeomanry’s activities were mainly to training, parades and colourful uniforms. However, the SNH took their training seriously, received excellent reports and were reckoned to be one of the leading Regiments.
They were first called upon to assist the Regular Army during the Boer War and in 1900 a contingent of over 120 South Notts Hussars, all volunteers, formed part of the 3rd Imperial Yeomanry. Their performance, élan and dash did much to establish their military reputation. Twenty members lost their lives in the campaign.
In 1908 the rise of an aggressive Germany led to the formation of the Territorial Army which was made up from the Militia, which had originated in mediaeval times, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers, a force including artillery which was raised in 1859/60 to counteract threats from France under Napoleon III.
During the 1914-1918 War the South Notts Hussars as part of the 2nd Mounted Yeomanry Division, fought with distinction in Egypt and Gallipoli in 1915/16, in Macedonia in 1916/17 and in Allenby’s campaign in Palestine in 1917/18. Finally they served in France as a Machine Gun Regiment in 1918 but alas lost 50 members who were drowned when their troopship was torpedoed in the Mediterranean.
The mechanisation of warfare with the use of Tanks and large numbers of much improved Guns led to a re-organisation of the Territorial Army in 1922. The Yeomanry Cavalry was reduced to 14 Regiments, decided by seniority. Although the Town Troop was one of the earliest to be raised, it had stood down at the Treaty of Amiens in 1803 when there was a brief period of peace with France, and as a result they became 15th in seniority and so lost their horses and became reluctant Gunners.
However, over the next 15 years, led by the families that had formed the backbone of the old Regiment, notably the Seelys, Barbers, and Birkins, they enthusiastically learned their Gunnery from scratch and became proficient enough by 1938 to reach the finals of the King’s Cup competition.
They went to War in 1939 led by the sons of the Commanding Officer and Squadron Commanders who had taken them to War in 1914. As Gunners supporting the 1st Cavalry Division they became Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) and, benefiting from an attachment to 1st Regiment RHA (1RHA) in 1939 they became efficient enough to be selected to be the first TA Gunner Regiment to see action in Egypt in 1940. Here one SNH gun captured 5,248 Italians including a General.
Having acquitted themselves well in the early battles they were chosen to help defend Tobruk during its 8 month siege in 1941. Side by side with 1RHA and 104 Essex Yeomanry RHA they supported the 9th Australian Division during the siege. They were now high class Gunners.
Their ‘finest hour’ occurred at Knightsbridge at the Battle of Gazala in June 1942 when they were ordered to fight ‘to the last round’ after their covering Infantry and Tanks had been withdrawn.Their action has been recorded as ‘one of the most celebrated in the history of the Royal Artillery’.
The remnants of the Regiment were reconstituted as 107 Medium Battery, part of 7 Medium Regiment, armed with the first 5.5 inch guns to be used in action, and as such they fought from El Alamein to Tunis and Sicily. Returning to the UK in December 1943 they were re-formed in March 1944 with 16 Medium Battery as 107 South Nottinghamshire Hussars Yeomanry Medium Regiment RHA, (an unusual role for RHA who normally have highly mobile guns), and then fought their way across Europe until being disbanded in June 1946.
With the rise of an aggressive Russia after the War the TA was re-formed in 1947, and the SNH, now re-numbered 307, were armed with Rams – self propelled 25 pounders on a tank chassis – changing to towed 25 pounders in 1956. They steadily built up their strength, greatly helped by Colonel Peter Birkin’s remarkable recruiting skills and by the influx of trained ex National Servicemen who had to complete 2 or 3 years reserve service with the TA.
When the National Service TA commitment ended in 1958 the strength fell sharply, but successful recruiting drives under Colonels Warburton and Foreman Hardy kept the Regiment up to strength and efficient, greatly assisted by their affiliation with 1RHA who provided a succession of first class Adjutants and Permanent Staff Instructors (PSI’s). Under Colonels Gunn and Featherby they went on to win the Queen’s Cup in 1966, competing against over 20 TA Field Regiments.
However this did not save them from virtual disbandment in the TA reorganisation of 1967 when they lost their guns and became an AVR III Home Defence Battalion (Army Volunteer Class III – class I being ‘Ever Readies’ and class II being ‘Volunteers’ in formed Units or Subunits).
Not being willing to lie down and die they ran an extraordinarily effective recruiting campaign and 100 all ranks attended an unpaid Camp at Warcop in 1968. This drew the attention of the military hierarchy, and as a direct result a new role was found for the ‘Regiment’ as an OP Battery in 1969.
In this role the Battery, consisting of some 20+ Officers and 100 soldiers, had the task of providing a 3rd OP to Regular Gunner Regiments in BAOR ( the 3rd OP was the Wartime establishment, 2 Ops per Battery being the peace time requirement). The role, at the sharp end of the Cold War, was a tremendous challenge because it takes several years to train competent OP Officers and their teams, and since all the Officers, apart from the Battery C ommander (who was a Major), could be Captains, promotion prospects were negligible. Retention at all levels was vital.
The OP Battery survived for over 20 years thanks to exceptional leadership and esprit de corps, and by the end of its time had reminded Regular Gunners of the value of the TA, and also how to make the best use of it. Following the SNH example two other OP Batteries were raised.
With the end of the Cold War in 1990 the requirements for the 3rd OP disappeared leaving the SNH in need of a new role, preferably as part of a normal Gunner formation. In practice this meant that the Gunners would have to lose one TA Battery and this was eventually decided in SNH’s favour, thanks to their good recruiting and performance.
Obviously this caused some unavoidable friction, not perhaps helped by the SNH’s recent independent history and outlook, and the new Regular CO’s requirement that the Battery should wear the Gunner badge rather than the Acorn under which the Regiment had fought as Gunners with such distinction since 1922. However, as time went by and people changed, the SNH Battery soon became an integral and welcome part of 100 Yeomanry Regiment, again largely due to their strength and efficiency. Since 1990 the role of the TA has been to provide reinforcements to the Regular Army whenever it finds itself overstretched. South Notts Hussars have served as detachments in Belize and Cyprus in non combatant roles, and as individual reinforcements in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan on Active Service. They have also trained in Canada and the USA.
The nature of the challenge to the SNH remains what it has always been – to maintain their numbers and efficiency in changing times so as to play their part in the defence of the Country. Each new generation has to resolve this problem in its own way.
In doing so they are enormously helped by the support of the SNH Association, formed in 1928, which produces the Regimental Magazine, runs the Museum in Bulwell Nottingham, operates a Benevolent Fund and also organises the Annual Remembrance Day Dinner and the Church Service in St Mary’s Church, Nottingham.
They are also much assisted by the City and County, the Reserve Forces & Cadets Association and by their many local links.