THE SHERWOOD FORESTERS
1881 - 1914
The Cardwell Reforms of 1881 brought together the 45th and 95th Regiments of Foot with the Militia of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire plus the Volunteer Regiments of the two counties to form The Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment). It is of interest that it was not until 1902 that Nottinghamshire was added to the title. The Regiment now consisted of: 1st Battalion (45th), 2nd Battalion (95th); 3rd Battalion (late Derbyshire Militia) and 4th Battalion (late Royal Sherwood Foresters) Militia Battalions; and 1st and 2nd (Derbyshire) and 3rd and 4th (Nottinghamshire) Volunteer Battalions. The Headquarters of the Regimental District was established in Derby.
The 2nd Battalion saw active service in Egypt during 1882 and later went on to India. In 1888 they took part in the Sikkim Expedition to Tibet and in 1897 they were once again in active service in the Tirah Expedition where Lieutenant H S Pennell won the VC during the capture of the Dargai Heights. It was in India in 1885 that the Battalion established what is accepted as a World sporting record, when two companies contested a tug-of-war pull that lasted 2 hours 41 minutes. (This was before the rules were changed to prevent sitting).
The outbreak of the Boer War in 1899 found both regular battalions in Malta and during November of that year the 1st Batalion sailed for South Africa where they were to remain until the end of the War in 1902. They took part in most of the major battles and shared all the hard marching and privations of that long campaign. On one occasion they marched 400 miles in 45 days and were engaged with the enemy 28 times. The 4th Battalion and Service Companies of the Volunteer Battalions also took part in the campaign with great credit. The 2nd Battalion, still stationed in Malta, provided volunteers for the many Mounted Infantry companies. VCs were won by Corporal H Beet and Private W Bees, while amongst the many other decorations bestowed on Foresters were no fewer than twenty two Distinguished Conduct Medals. Click here for BOER War Roll of Honour
The growing threat of War with Germany at the beginning of the Century caused a further re-organisation of the Army. In 1908 the 3rd and 4th Battalions became part of the Special Reserve with liabilities for overseas service, whilst the Volunteer Battalions became the 5th, 6th, 7th (Robin Hoods) and 8th Battalions of The Sherwood Foresters in the newly formed Territorial Force, later renamed the Territorial Army.
WORLD WAR 1 1914 - 1918
The History of the Regiment in the First World War is very much the story of the men of the counties of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. When War was declared, The Sherwood Foresters consisted of eight battalions and a Depot in Derby. During the War the Regiment expanded to a maximum of 33 Battalions of which 20 served overseas. Altogether, some 140,000 men, nearly all from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, served in the Regiment - 11,409 of whom did not return.
The 2nd Battalion was part of the British Expeditionary Force which landed in France in September 1914 and went straight into the bitter fighting on the Aisne. On 20 September (the anniversary of the Battle of the Alma - a previous Battle Honour of the 95th) the Battalion carried out a counter-attack to plug a gap in the British Lines. The casualties were almost identical with those at the Alma; 17 out of 22 officers and 214 out of 930 other ranks. Reinforced, the Battalion fought another major battle in October at Ennettiere on the way to Ypres, holding a vastly superior German force for 48 hours and losing in the process 16 officers and 710 other ranks.
The 1st Battalion was in India at the outbreak of the War and was sent to France in November 1914 without any chance to adjust to European conditions and as a result suffered badly in its first four winter months of 'Trench War'. The Battalion took part in two major battles in 1915 - Neuve Chapelle and Loos - and suffered severe casualties. Private J Rivers and Corporal J Upton were awarded VCs for bravery.
Both 1st and 2nd Battalions continued to serve in France until after the Armistice on 11 November 1918 and overall were the most heavily committed of all the Battalions in the Regiment. The 3rd and 4th Militia Battalions were embodied at the outbreak of War but remained in the UK as holding and reinforcement units. The Territorial Army was immediately mobilised on the outbreak of War and the original four Sherwood Forester Territorial Battalions, the 5th, 6th, 7th (Robin Hoods) and 8th formed the 139 (Forester) Infantry Brigade in the 46 (North Midland) Division. In September the Territorial Army was doubled and almost overnight the 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th (Robin Hoods) and 2/8th Battalions of the Regiment were formed from the original battalions and were made up into the 178 (Forester) Infantry Brigade of 59th (North Midland) Division.
In February 1915, the 139th (Forester) Brigade had the distinction of being part of the first Territorial division to land in France. By the end of the year they had been engaged in heavy fighting and Captain C G Vickers of the 1/7th (Robin Hoods) had been awarded the VC. This Forester Brigade served in France for the remainder of the War and suffered severe casualties. In particular it gained special recognition for its valour on the opening day of the Somme Battle on 1st July 1916, where it suffered 80% casualties and its magnificent part in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line and the final defeat of the German Army in the Autumn of 1918; Lieutenant Colonel B W Vann MC the Commanding Officer of the 1/6th Battalion and Sergeant W H Johnson of the 1/5th Battalion being awarded the VC for conspicious bravery in the latter action.
In 1916, the 178 (Forester) Brigade although only partially trained, was despatched to Dublin to suppress the Easter Rebellion. This operation was completed successfully although at some cost in casualties, especially to the2/7th (Robin Hoods) and 2/8th Battalions. In 1917 the Brigade moved to France and took part with distinction in the latter part of the 2nd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) suffering heavy casualties and also at Cambria later in 1917. The Brigade continued to fight in France until 1918.
As the new Kitchener Armies were raised in 1914, the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th (Service) Battalions were formed, followed by the 15th (Bantams), 16th (Chatsworth Rifles), 17th (Welbeck Rangers), 18th (Bantams), 19th and 20th Battalions.
The 9th Battalion took part in the ill fated Gallipoli campaign in 1915 and gained a name for its stubborn fighting qualities similar to those of the 45th Foot some 100 years previously. The Battalion arrived in France in August 1916 and fought through the remaining Somme offensive; the bitter drawn-out battle of Passchendaele in 1917, where in October Corporal F Greaves was awarded the VC; followed by the German breakthrough in the Spring of 1918 and the final successful Allied offensive later in the year. Click here to visit the 9th (Service) Battalion Memorial Site
The 10th Battalion went to France in July 1915 and moved almost immediately into the notorious bloody Ypres Salient. In 1916, it took part in the first ten days of continuous fighting on the Somme, returning for a second time into the grim battle in August and yet a third time in October/November. In 1917 the Battalion fought magnificently throughout the 2nd Battle of Ypres suffering further heavy casualties and like the 9th Battalion continued in the forefront of battle throughout 1918 to the end.
The 11th Battalion arrived in France in August of 1915 and within the month was engaged in a minor role in the Loos Battle. It took part in the opening day of the Somme offensive on 1st July 1916 and suffered such grevious losses it was relieved that night. It returned to the bitter struggle in late July and again in October for the final attempt to break through the German rear position. In 1917, the Battalion was heavily engaged in the second Ypres Battle for Passchendaele Ridge. In November it moved with its Division to Northern Italy to asist the Italians in their struggle against the German/Austrian offensive and won further renown for its successful stand at Asiago, where its Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel C E Hudson DSO MC was awarded the VC for outstanding bravery and leadership. In October 1918 the 11th Battalion was returned to France and took part in the final offensive.
The 12th Battalion arrived in France in August 1915. The following month it took part in the Battle of Loos and from then onwards was engaged in most of the major battles until the end of 1918. Although its primary role was that of a Divisional Pioneer Battalion it was drawn into the fight in times of crisis and gained recognition for gallant action on several occasions, notably the Battle of Loos in 1915 and the final German offensive in 1918. This Battalion, under the editorship of Captain Roberts MC created and published what must be the most famous wartime news sheet of all - "The Wipers Times".
The 15th (Bantam) Battalion, made up initially of men who although fit were below the normal minimum service height of 5' 3", moved to France with the 35th (Bantam) Division in 1916. The Battalion fought with great distinction and heavy casualties throughout the 1916 battles on the Somme. However at the end of 1916, the problems of finding 'bantam' reinforcements in sufficient numbers became too difficult; the 15th Foresters was redesignated a normal 'service' battalion and fought as such until the end of the War.
The 16th (Chatsworth Rifles) and 17th (Welbeck Rangers) Battalions arrived in France in late April 1916 and played a prominent part in the Somme Battle from August to the bitter end in November 1916. Their losses were heavy: These Battalions were also engaged in the 1917 offensive and again in the great German offensive on the Somme and Lys in the Spring of 1918, after which they were reduced through severe losses to Cadre form to train the newly arriving American Forces. Their finest hour and certainly the period of their heaviest casualties came in the 2nd Battle of Ypres and particularly the grim fighting leading to Passchendaele. It was for outstanding bravery during this battle that Corporal E A Egerton (16th Battalion) was awarded the VC.
All other battalions filled the vital role of reinforcement and training units combined with Home Defence, attempting to keep pace with the heavy losses over the four years of the War. However, towards the end of the War , the high rate of casualties necessitated amalgamation of weakened Battalions and, as with other Regiments, Forester Battalions started to disappear from the Order of Battle. Throughout all the fighting, officers and soldiers alike, displayed the same selfless courage that had won The Sherwood Foresters so many Battle Honours in the past. After the War, no less than 57 Honours were added to that list. For outstanding acts of bravery, nine members of the Regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross including Captain A Ball VC DSO MC Royal Flying Corps, who was previously a Robin Hood. Over two thousand more received other decorations, honours and distinctions.
The cost was high as shown on the War Memorials throughout Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. There can hardly have been a village or city street that did not produce men to serve in The Sherwood Foresters - 11,409 of whom did not return.
BETWEEN THE WARS 1919 - 1939
As peace returned to the World, all Battalions of The Sherwood Foresters were withdrawn to the UK. By early 1919 the Territorial and Service Battalions were all disbanded or reduced to Cadres while the two regular Battalions - the 1st and 2nd, reformed on a peacetime basis. In late 1919, the 2nd Battalion set out on an overseas tour which was to last for nearly seventeen years. After 2½ years in Egypt, the Battalion suddenly found itself ordered to Constantinople and precipitated into a peace-keeping role between the Greeks and the Turks in what has become known as the Chanak incident; the peace was held and in late 1922 the 2nd Battalion sailed for India. Meanwhile in 1920 the 1st Battalion had also found itself involved with another less critical peace-keeping role in Schleswig-Holstein, where a plebiscite was being held to decide whether the country should join Denmark or Germany. After six months and a brief visit to Copenhagen, the Battalion returned to England. However, in June 1921 they returned to internal security duties again - this time in Southern Ireland where they spent a difficult if uneventful six months on guards and patrols. Subsequently the Battalion remained in the UK until 1935.
It is not easy for a Regiment to distinguish itself in peacetime but apart from their general military efficiency, both Battalions played their part in gaining for the Regiment a reputation as the leading soccer Regiment in the Army. The 1st Battalion won the Army Football Cup for three years running in 1930, 31 and 32 and the 2nd Battalion (which had won the Army Cup in 1911 and 1912) became the All India Champions during 1926 - 28.
In October 1934, the 2nd Battalion left India for the Sudan and remained there until early 1938. A pleasant year in Guernsey followed before the Battalion moved to Bordon near Aldershot in early 1939. In 1935 the 1st Battalion started an overseas tour with a posting to the West Indies where, amongst other duties, it assisted the civil police in containing the disturbances in Jamaica in 1938. A Wing of the Bn was based in Bermuda where in 1937 it provided a Ceremonial Honour Guard for the former Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald who had died whilst on a cruise. He laid in state in Bermuda before he returned to England for burial. En route to Palestine in 1939, the 1st Battalion met up briefly with the 2nd Battalion at Bordon, where a memorable joint parade and reunion was held. In Palestine the Battalion was soon on active service and suffered casualties including one officer killed in operations in the disturbances there.
WORLD WAR 2 1939 - 1945
The 2nd Battalion landed in France with the British Expeditionary Force in September 1939 and took part in the early stages of the 'Phoney War' and the advance into Belgium. The 1/5th, 2/5th, and 9th Battalions also joined the BEF, the former as lines of communication troops and the latter two for pioneer duties. All three of these Battalions were totally ill-equipped for the operational tasks they eventually had to perform in the retreat to the Channel Coast. At one period the 2nd, 2/5th and 9th Battalions were together defending the Dunkirk perimeter before the successful evacuation. At the same time the 1/5th Battalion, after a period of fighting alongside the 51st Highland Division, was evacuated from Cherbourg.
In April 1940, the 8th Battalion had landed in Norway as part of the ill-fated attempt to assist the Norwegian Army against the Germans. This Battalion had had little training and was not fully equipped; a situation made worse when the ship carrying its vehicles and heavy equipment was sunk. The Battalion became involved in a withdrawal through mountains and deep snow pursued by ski troops supported by aircraft and tanks; the remnants eventually being evacuated to Scotland.
In June 1940 the 1st Battalion was moved from Palestine to reinforce the Garrison of Cyprus, where they suffered their first war casualties in an air-raid. Early in 1942 the Battalion was moved to Egypt, converted to a motorised role and joined the Desert Army. Unfortunately after a sharp engagement in the Knightsbridge Box, the Battalion was ordered to surrender when the Garrison in Tobruk capitulated.
The 1/5th Battalion after a year in England sailed for the Far East and arrived in Signapore on 29 January 1942 just prior to its capture by the Japanese.
As a result of these early defeats, many Foresters spent long years in captivity. Those of the 1/5th Battalion suffered horrendously at the hands of the Japanese while working on the notorious Burma-Siam Railway; 450 officers and men of this Battalion died in captivity.
Our fortunes turned with the 8th Army's victory at El Alamein in November 1942. The 14th Battalion took part with distinction in this Battle. It had been originally formed as the 50th Battalion in 1940 but was renumbered after a few months and then in July 1942 had been converted to a Motor Battalion. In January 1943 the 2/5th Battalion, by now renamed the 5th Battalion, joined the 1st British Army in Tunisia and was followed shortly by the 2nd Battalion. The Battalions took part in severe and difficult fighting, in particular at Sedjenane and the Medjez Plain and suffered many casualties before the remnants of the German Armies capitulated at Cap Bon.
The 5th Battalion were next in action in Italy at the assault landing at Salerno in September 1943. They suffered heavy casualties there and later in the difficult and fiercely resisted fighting advance up to the Cassino area.
The 2nd Battalion took part in the assault landing at Anzio in January 1944 where they were joined later by the 14th Battalion and took part in what was probably the toughest fighting of the whole War. After the fall of Rome the 2nd, 5th and 14th Battalions continued the difficult fight up the length of Italy, adding a further eleven battle honours to the seven earned in North Africa.
In December 1944 the 5th Battalion was despatched to Greece to help quell the Civil War which had started there after the German withdrawal. Meanwhile the 14th Battalion had been disbanded and many of its officers and men were posted to the 2nd and 5th Battalions. At the end of the War the 2nd Battalion was in Palestine and the 5th back in Italy from where they moved into Austria with the liberation armies. The 1st Battalion was meanwhile re-forming in England.
Brief mention should now be made to some of the other Battalions of the Regiment. The 9th Battalion had been converted to an armoured car role after Dunkirk but was disbanded in October 1944. The 12th and 13th Battalions had been sent to India where the 12th became a Jungle Training Unit providing officers and men for the 14th Army's campaign in Burma and the 13th was converted to 163rd Regiment Royal Armoured Corps. They were both disbanded in India, the 12th Battalion in February 1946 and the 13th Battalion in September 1945. The 8th Battalion, after retraining in Northern Ireland and a period of defence of the South East coast of England was converted to a pre-OCTU at Wrotham, where it gave valuable service in training large numbers of potential officers. The 6th and 7th (Robin Hoods) Battalions in their respective anti-aircraft roles as 40th Searchlight Regiment (later 149th LAA Regiment) Royal Artillery and 42nd SL Regt Royal Artillery did their share in the Air Defence of the UK and then later operating in North West Europe. The Robin Hoods were awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre for their actions in the Antwerp Box shooting down V1 and V2 Bombs.
The requirement for infantry in World War 2 was considerably less than in World War 1 and the casualties were thankfully correspondingly lower. A total of 26,940 officers and men served in the Foresters, of whom 1,520 were killed or died of wounds and about three times that number were wounded. The Foresters won 25 Battle Honours, ten of which are emblazoned on the Queen's Colours. The VC was posthumously awarded to Captain J H C Brunt MC, who at the time was serving with the 6th Battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment. Some 400 other Foresters received awards for gallantry and outstanding War Service.
THE POST WAR YEARS 1945 - 1970
By mid 1945 the 1st Battalion had been re-formed and was training as part of 61 Light Division to move out to take part in the final defeat of the Japanese. However with the end of hostilities its role was changed and instead it joined the Army of Occupation in Germany. The 2nd Battalion remained in Palestine seeing further active service during the post war disturbances there. Meanwhile TA and Service Battalions were disbanded. As the old colonies and territories of the British Empire were granted their independence, the size of the Army was reduced. In 1948 the 1st and 2nd Battalions were amalgamated to form one battalion, although for a short period (1952 - 1955) as a result of the Korean War, the 2nd Battalion was reactivated; the Sherwood Foresters as a Regiment did not take part in this War but provided men for other Regiments.
During the post war period the 1st Battalion served first as a lorry-borne infantry battalion in Germany and then as Garrison Troops in Egypt. Early in 1953 the Battalion moved to Libya where they became a motorised battalion equipped with armoured track vehicles. Service in the same role in Germany followed. In 1958 the Battalion reverted to a normal infantry role and took part in the closing stages of the jungle fighting against the communists in Malaya. Then, after a further period in Singapore, the Battalion returned to the UK in 1961.
In December 1963 the Battalion found itself in a United Nations peace-keeping role in Cyprus once again keeping the Turks and Greeks apart. In 1966 1 Foresters moved again to Germany as a mechanised infantry battalion and served there until returning to UK in early 1970. It was during this period that Nottingham, Derby, Chesterfield, Ilkeston, Mansfield, Newark, East Retford and Buxton bestowed their 'Freedom' on the Regiment further cementing ties with their County Regiment.
The Territorial element of The Sherwood Foresters consisted of the re-formed 5th Battalion based in Derbyshire and the 8th Battalion in Nottinghamshire, while the old 6th and 7th (Robin Hoods) Battalions continued in the form of 575 (The Sherwood Foresters) LAA Regt RA and 350 (Robin Hood Foresters) Light Regt RA. Unfortunately all of these were reduced in size by subsequent Defence cuts, the 5th and 8th Battalions being finally amalgamated to form the 5th/8th Battalion.
As the strength of the Army diminished it was decided to group regiments together into administrative brigades with common basic depots. Initially the Sherwood Foresters were grouped with the Royal Warwickshire, Royal Lincolnshire and Royal Leicestershire Regiments in the Midlands Brigade; this was renamed the Forester Brigade in 1958 when the Royal Lincolnshires left the group. A Forester Brigade cap badge and buttons were introduced but regiments retained their own collar badges. The Regimental Depot at Normanton Barracks in Derby became an outstation of the Brigade Depot at Leicester and finally closed in 1963. In 1963 a further regrouping occurred and the Foresters found themselves linked with the Cheshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire Regiments in the Mercian Brigade based on Lichfield Staffordshire. A new common cap badge was introduced but regiments retained their old buttons. The grouping was again changed in 1969; regimental cap badges were restored and The Sherwood Foresters found themselves part of the Prince of Wales's Division.
On 28th February 1970 at Battlesbury Barracks Warminster in Wiltshire the 1st Battalion The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) amalgamated with 1st Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment to form 1st Battalion The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment (29th/45th Foot)