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East Surrey Regiment: Wikis


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The East Surrey Regiment
Active 1881 - 1959
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Branch British Army
Type Infantry
Size Two Battalions
Nickname Villier's Marines
Goring's regiment
The young Buffs
Engagements Sobroan (10th Feb.)
Ypres (23rd April)

The East Surrey Regiment was a regiment in the British Army formed in 1881 from the amalgamation of the 31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment of Foot and the 70th (Surrey) Regiment of Foot .



In 1702 a regiment of marines was raised in the West Country by George Villier (not related to the Villiers that became the Duke of Buckingham. It was named Villier's Marines and its direct descendant became the East Surrey Regiment. Villier was drowned in 1703, and the regiment was taken over by Alexander Luttrell. After Luttrell's death in 1705, the command went to Joshua Churchill until 1711 when it became Goring's Regiment (At this time regiments took the name of their colonel).

In 1715 the regiment was removed from the marines and became the 31st Regiment of Infantry, and in 1751 the designation was changed to the 31st Regiment of Foot. Five years later a second battalion was raised in Scotland, the 2/31st Foot, which was predesignated in 1758, the 70th Regiment of Foot (Glasgow Lowland Regiment).

Further changes were made in 1782. the 31st became known as the Huntingdonshire Regiment, while the 70th became the Surrey Regiment. They stayed with this title until 1881 when they became the 1st & 2nd battalions of the East Surrey Regiment. They had been paired in 1873 as linked regiments for alternate service at home and abroad.

Early history

In the form of the 31st Foot, the regiment saw service at the Battle of Dettingen, where it received the nickname "The Young Buffs". In the Napoleonic Wars it served in the West Indies and Spain, where it won 8 Battle Honours. It was fighting in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Crimean War, in China at the Taku Forts.

The 70th Foot was in the Indian Mutiny, the Maori Wars in New Zealand, and the Second Afghan War

The 1st Battalion, after formation, was based in various garrisons around the British Empire but did not see major action until the First World War in 1914.

The 2nd Battalion on the other hand was in action soon after formation, being part of the British expedition to the Sudan in 1884. This battalion also took part in the Anglo-Boer War that started in 1899. They took part in the Relief of Ladysmith , the Battle of Tugela Heights and Laing's Nek. After South Africa the battalion was shipped to India in 1903 where they remained until the outbreak of World War I.

First World War

During the First World War, the regiment raised 18 battalions. The Regiment served on the Western Front from the Battle on Mons in August 1914 to the Armistice in November 1918. Battalions also served in Italy, Macedonia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Also in North Russia in 1919. It was given 62 Battle Honours and seven of its soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, all of whom survived the awarding action. During the war over 6000 men of the Regiment lost their lives


The 1st Battalion

On 4 August 1914, the 1st Bn The East Surrey Regiment was in Dublin. Eleven days later, mobilization completed and at full war establishment, the Battalion was in France, and before the end of the month was in action against the Germans. During the Retreat from Mons and afterwards, the Battalion took part in the great battles of 1914, Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne. In 1915, after the Battle of La Bassée, the 1st Surreys withstood a most determined attack on Hill 60, near Ypres. In the desperate fighting which ensued, the Battalion won three Victoria Crosses and seven Distinguished Conduct Medals. Among the VCs was Lieutenant Roupell, who later became the last Colonel of The East Surrey Regiment. The casualties in this short action alone amounted to 113 killed and 165 wounded.

In 1916, the 1st Battalion took part in the great battles of the River Somme, and distinguished itself notably at Morval in September. The Battalion took part in many of the great battles of 1917, such as Arras, the Third Battle of Ypres. After a four month tour on the Italian Front, the Battalion was back in France in March 1918, and was engaged in the Battles of Albert and Bapaume, and the subsequent advance to victory.

The 2nd Battalion

The Battalion returned from India at the outbreak of war, but it was not until January 1915 that it arrived in France. It was soon in action to the south of Ypres where it lost many men, some by poison gas. In the Battle of St Julien, the Battalion had 141 killed and 256 wounded. A week later it lost a further 100 killed and 133 wounded. The 2nd Battalion took part in the Battle of Loos in September 1915, and fought valiantly in the defence of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. At a vital stage in this battle, Lieutenant Fleming-Sandes, though wounded, displayed exceptional courage and leadership, for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross. The following month the Battalion was transferred to the Salonika Expeditionary Force, and spent the remainder of the War on the Struma, Valley Front and east of Lake Doiran. The summer heat in Macedonia was intense, but the principal scourge was malaria, which at one period reduced the strength of the Battalion to 186 Other Ranks.

The Territorial Battalions

The 5th and 6th Battalions of The East Surrey Regiment were not to see service on the Western Front. They embarked for India in October 1914 and were employed on garrison duties in the United Provinces and the Punjab for two years. The 5th Battalion then joined the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force and took part in the operations on the Tigris, while the 6th Battalion left India for a twelve month tour of duty with the Aden Field Force. This Battalion returned from India for demobilization in 1919, but the 5th Surreys, who were engaged on active operations in Southern Khurdistan until late December, did not reach home until February 1920. Both were resuscitated in 1921 with the rest of the TA. In the late 1930s the 5th Bn converted to Royal Artillery and in 1939 the 6th Bn, which by then was over 1200 strong, was divided into the 1/6th and 2/6th Surreys.

The Service Battalions - Kitchener's Army

The East Surrey Regiment raised seven Service battalions, of which the 7th, 8th, 9th (the Gallants), 12th and 13th served in France. All these non-Regular battalions had fine fighting records, and in every way maintained the traditions of the Regiment, enhancing its prestige by their gallantry and endurance. All took part in the Battles of the Somme in 1916. Most were present at the principal battles of 1917, such as Arras, the Scarpe and the Third Battle of Ypres, and in 1918 at St Quentin, Albert and Cambrai. They saw as much fighting as the Regular battalions and showed themselves as worthy members of the Regiment whose name they bore. One particular incident will always be remembered. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, B Company of the 8th Battalion went into the attack dribbling four footballs which the Company Commander, Captain Nevill, had bought for his platoons to be kicked across No Man’s Land. Captain Nevill and many of his men were killed during the advance, but the 8th Surreys were one of the few battalions to reach and hold their objective on this day. The ‘Football Attack’ caught the imagination of the country, and illustrations of it are shown in the Regimental Museum, which also contains one of the footballs used. on that day, the 8th Battalion won two DSOs, two MCs, two DCMs and nine MMs, but 147 officers and men were killed and 279 wounded.

Second World War

The 1st Battalion

The 1st Battalion was based in England at the out break of the Second World War as part of the 4th Infantry Division. It was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. After returning to the United Kingdom after the evacuation from Dunkirk the 1st Battalion was reformed and was assigned to 11th Infantry Brigade, part of 78th Infantry Division, with which it remained for the rest of the war. It took part in Operation Torch in November 1942, landing in North Africa at Algiers. Following this the battalion fought with the division in Tunisia until the end of the Tunisia Campaign in May 1943 during which time it took part in notable actions at Longstop Hill and Tebourba.

The battalion then fought in Sicily during the Allied invasion of Sicily before moving to Italy for the Italian Campaign where it had notable involvement in the Battle of Termoli and the fighting on the Barbara Line and River Sangro during the autumn of 1943. In February 1944 78th Division was switched to the Cassino sector. The battalion initially held positions on the River Rapido south of Cassino but by March had been moved into bleak and exposed positions in the mountains north of the town. In late April they were relieved and after a brief rest took part in the fourth and final Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944. They were then involved in the pursuit after the Allied breakthrough. They fought a hard engagement at Lake Trasimeno on the Trasimene Line in June 1944 before being withdrawn with the rest of the division in July to Egypt for rest and training.

1st East Surreys returned with 78th Division to Italy in September 1944 in time to take part in Operation Olive and the fighting in the Apennine Mountains during the winter of 1944 and occupying positions on Monte Spaduro when the front became static.

In February 1945 the battalion came out of the front line to prepare and train for the offensive planned for the spring. By late March the whole division was in place on the banks of the Senio river ready for the start of the spring 1945 offensive which started on 6 April. The battalion fought in the intense action at the Argenta Gap before advancing with the rest of the division to the north of the Gulf of Venice and crossing the Italian border to finish the war in Austria.

The 2nd Battalion

In 1940 the 2nd Battalion was shipped from China to Malaya where it was attached to 11th Indian Division based in North West Malaya. In December 1941 the Japanese Army invaded Malaya after landing in southern Thailand. The 2nd East Surreys suffered tremendous casualties during the defence and retreat from this part of Malaya. The battalion was amalgamated with the 1st Battalion, The Leicestershire Regiment to form the British Battalion (Malaya 1941) on the 19 December 1941. This unit fought gallantly through out the rest of the short campaign until the surrender of the British Army at Singapore in February 1942.

In May 1942 the 2nd Battalion was reformed from the redesignation of the 11th Battalion. It did not see further action in the Second World War.

Corporal Charles "Nobby" Hibbert, of the 2nd battalion, the East Surrey regiment, wrote an informal unpublished memoir shortly before his death at the age of 49 in 1969 in Stevenage, Herts, England, his health undermined fatally by his experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war in the far East. The book, which he called The Wheel of Fortune, described vividly in colloquial London English, the lost battle for Malaysia and the grimness of life under the loathsome prison camp regime in Borneo. His memoir also touches on the Chinese leg of the battalion's far eastern spell that ended in heoroic disaster.

Further unpublished notes were made by the wife of George Britton, also of the 2nd Battalion, who was one of the very few survivors of the Alexandra Hospital massacre and who also survived internment at Changi Prisoner of War Camp and later forced labour on the notorious Death Railway.

The Territorial Battalions

The 1/6th Battalion

The 1/6th were deployed to France at the beginning of the war and fought along side the 1st Battalion in Belgium and were evacuated at Dunkirk. The 1/6th continued to see active service with the 1st in North Africa in March 1943 and took part in the Tunisian Campaign. From February 1944 to May 1945, the Battalion fought in Italy, and it experienced hard fighting at Cassino and Forli. It then moved to Greece.

The 2/6th Battalion

The 2/6th were also deployed to France at the beginning of the war. Attached to the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division as part of the BEF. Like the 51st, about 95% were captured at Saint-Valery-en-Caux with the majority becoming prisoners of war. After St. Valery, the remainder of the 2/6th were dispersed.


The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1948 and its personnel joined the 1st Battalion. In 1959 the East Surreys were amalgamated with Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) to form the The Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment. In further amalgamations in 1966 and 1992 the Queen's Royal Surreys first became part of The Queen's Regiment and then the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.


  • Ford, Ken (1999). Battleaxe Division. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton. ISBN 0-7509-1893-4.  
  • Squire, G.L.A. and Hill, P.G.E. (1992), The Surreys in Italy. Clandon, Surrey: The Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment Museum.
  • Langley, Michael, (1972), The East Surrey Regiment, London: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0 85052 114 9

External links


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