by Dr Jack Binns
What follows is partly in response to the many readers who have asked for an explanation and description of the origin and history of the Green Howards up to 1915.
Firstly, until the middle of the 18th century, British regular infantry regiments were usually known by the names of their commanding colonels. So, originally, the regiment recruited in the West Country in 1688 to serve William III, as he became, went by a succession of titles from Luttrell’s, and Earle’s to Sutton’s. Therefore in 1738, when the son of the third Earl of Carlisle, Charles Howard, became colonel of this regiment it was renamed Howard’s. From then on its association with north-east Yorkshire was established.
However, during the War of the Austrian Succession of 1740-48, the Yorkshire Howards found themselves fighting alongside a regiment belonging to Lt-General Thomas Howard. So to avoid confusion between the two, Charles Howard’s was called Green after the colour of their uniform facings of cuffs and collars, and Thomas Howard’s Buff, which was later shortened to Buffs. The name Green Howards was not officially recognised by the War Office until as late as 1920, but for nearly two centuries it had been in common use by the soldiers.
Then, in 1751, according to seniority, numbers were given to infantry line regiments and the Green Howards became the XIX (19th) of foot. The XIX fought in almost every major overseas campaign, particularly the Seven Years War (1756-63) and the War of American Independence (1775-83), but it was not until 1790 that the War Office decreed that it should be called “the First York North Riding Regiment”.
The Green Howards never served under Wellington against Napoleon. For 24 years, from 1796 until 1820, they were stationed in the new British colony of Ceylon. Only two of the original members lived to return home.
During the next years, the regiment spent long exiles in the West Indies, fought with conspicuous gallantry at the battle of the Alma in the Crimean War, and helped to put down the Indian Mutiny.
In 1875, new Colours were presented to the regiment by Alexandra, Princess of Wales. From now on it was known officially as The Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire) Regiment. Its new badge consisted of Alexandra’s cipher, interlaced with a Danish cross and surmounted by her coronet. Though Yorkshire raised six other county infantry regiments, the Green Howards were generally called “the Yorkshire regiment”.
By this time the regiment had two battalions, each of about a thousand regulars. While one battalion recruited and trained in Yorkshire, the other would be serving abroad in one of Britain’s many colonies. By 1914, the First Battalion was on duty in India, where it spent the entire Great War, and the Second was in the Channel Islands and therefore available for active service in Belgium and France.
The first, shattering experience of battle with the Germans for the Second Battalion on the Menin Road in October 1914 was previously described in the Scarborough News of November 20 2014. After it, fewer than 300 survived alive and unwounded. Nevertheless, there was no respite and little rest. The critical shortage of trained soldiers in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was such that the battalion was kept near or in the front line throughout the winter of 1914-15 and took part in nearly all the major engagements that followed, at Neuve Chapelle in March, at Festubert in May, at Givenchy in June and at Loos in September. Very few of the Old Contemptible veterans of October 1914 were left by Christmas 1915.
Meanwhile, two battalions of Green Howards Territorials, the Fourth and the Fifth, had joined the BEF in the Ypres salient. The Fourth were recruited mainly from the far north of the Riding, from Middlesbrough, Northallerton and Darlington and their depot was at Richmond. The Fifth came from Malton, Pickering, Driffield, Bridlington and Scarborough. These were the young men and boys who distinguished themselves so bravely and died in defence of Ypres near St Julien in April 1915 (Scarborough News, March 5).
Finally, in response to Lord Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers, by the end of 1914, new battalions had been added to the Green Howards, the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth, and by the summer of 1915, three more, the Tenth, Twelfth and Thirteenth. These were Kitchener’s New Army Service units, entirely untrained, mostly unequipped and often long without basic amenities such as barracks and experienced officers. However, the Sixth had their baptism of Turkish fire at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli as early as August 1915 and the Tenth were slaughtered in their first battle at Loos the following September.
Few of these men of 1914-15 were Scarborians, many were not even Yorkshiremen. The Seventh, for instance, were drawn from as far away as Wareham in Dorset and the Twelfth were commonly called the Middlesbrough Pals or the “Teesside Pioneers”.
Here there is space for only one local young man in the Fifth who volunteered at the North Street depot in Scarborough and paid the ultimate price.
Older readers might remember Johnnie Jackson, the small, slight, dapper man with the unmistakable waxed moustache, who after 20 years on the council was elected mayor in 1945. Johnnie had a tailor’s, clothier and boot shop at 9-10 Queen Street, opposite the main entrance to Boyes’s store. The family lived above the shop. Ernest, born in 1895, was the eldest of his five sons. After Friarage school, Ernest went to St Martin’s, Ramshill, until he was 16 and then worked for his father.
Lance Corporal Ernest Jackson met his premature, violent death in May 1915. Major Cyril Harvey Pearce of D Company wrote the standard letter of condolence to his father. A German shell had made sure that there was no body to bury and all that remain of him today are his name on the Menin Gate and Oliver’s Mount Memorials and the medals his father wore proudly at the Old Comrades’ reunion in 1946.