Major Reginald Wynn-Wynne, in the uniform of the regiment he had the bright idea to form:
the Westminster Dragoons
The Maharajah Shri Raj Rajeshwar,
one of the WDs’ first Troop Leaders
The Westminster Dragoons were formed in 1901 as the 2nd County of London Imperial Yeomanry, to meet the need identified during the Boer War for a body of trained mounted infantry.
The WDs provided more than 800 trained soldiers to the Imperial Yeomanry during the period between the regiment’s founding and the end of the Boer War. Many of those who served in South Africa rejoined the Westminster Dragoons on their return. So although the WDs never served as a unit in South Africa, many of its earliest members had done so, having been recruited and trained as WDs. For this reason, the WDs carry on their guidon (the squadron’s flag) the battle honour 'South Africa 1900-1902'.
The unit was from the start a smart regiment filled with wealthy gentlemen from the City and the West End. Its first officers were posted to the WDs from the 1st Royal Dragoons, the forerunners of the Blues and Royals; one of the first troop leaders was a Maharajah.
They brought with them the Royals' then-current capbadge, which has since been adopted by the General Staff (very senior officers): that is why until the advent of the Royal Yeomanry capbadge in 2006, young WD officers often found themselves being saluted by officers of higher rank. The WD stable belt (worn in barracks) bears the Royal racing colours - the imperial hues of purple, gold and scarlet.
Even at this time the WDs were at the forefront of using new equipment, being the second unit in the British army to be equipped with mobile wireless.
THE GREAT WAR
Self portrait of CCP Lawson on 'Old Top', Palestine 1917
The 1914-1918 War broke out while the WDs were on annual camp and they were immediately mobilised.
Their first taste of action was in Gallipoli, where they fought dismounted, taking heavy casualties in the August 1915 attacks at Suvla Bay. They were transferred to Egypt, where they formed part of the Western Frontier Force, which conducted a counter-insurgency campaign against the Senussi uprising there.
The WDs then moved to Palestine where they served in the campaign against the Turks. The WDs were involved in fierce fighting, both mounted and dismounted. As they were the first formed body of troops to enter Jerusalem, they bear the liberation of that city as a battle honour.
In 1917 the WDs were re-roled as machine gunners and served on the western front until the Armistice.
1920s - 1930s
After the first world war the WDs once again embraced new technology, becoming an armoured car unit at a time when many yeomanry units were determined to remain mounted on horses.
It was at this time that the Regiment formed its link with the Royal Tank Regiment, becoming the only other unit in the British Army to wear the black beret to this day. The two units worked closely together in the interwar years as new armoured tactics were developed, a relationship which continues in the 21st Century in the formation chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear reconnaissance role.
Just before the outbreak of war in 1939, the Westminster Dragoons became an Officer Cadet Training Unit, with over 90% of pre-war WDs gaining their commissions and transferring into units throughout the British Army before the WDs reverted to an armoured role in 1940.
Among them was Captain Pip Gardner VC MC (right), who transferred to the Royal Tank Regiment and went on to win the Victoria Cross for saving the life of a badly wounded officer of the King's Dragoon Guards whose armoured car was out of action and under heavy fire.
Capt Pip Gardner VC MC,
a Westminster Dragoon
WD flails carrying infantry of 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the advance East of Beringe, Holland
Second World War
The Germans planted over four million mines along the French coast to hinder the Allied landings in 1944.
To break through these defences, the British produced a number of novel armoured fighting vehicles under the ingenious direction of Major General Percy Hobart, among them the Sherman Crab. The Crab bore a rotating drum with dozens of chains attached; these detonated mines in the tank’s path to produce a beaten passage through the thickest of minefields.
The WDs were trained in this vital task, as part of 79th (Experimental) Armoured Division, led by Hobart. They and the specially-adapted armoured vehicles of the Royal Engineers were the very first units ashore on D-Day at Gold Beach in the British sector, clearing paths off the beaches and using their tank guns to destroy defences holding up the assault.
They went on to fight across northwest Europe and into Germany during 1944 and 1945, achieving a number of battle honours and assisting in the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp
During the Cold War the WDs' role evolved. At first, the Regiment was equipped with tanks, then with armoured cars and later tracked reconnaissance vehicles.
As the threat facing the United Kingdom altered, the WDs underwent a number of changes including being temporarily amalgamated with the Berkshire Yeomanry and being reduced from regiment to squadron size to become HQ Squadron and later W Squadron of the Royal Yeomanry.
In 1995 the Royal Yeomanry became the first NBC (Nuclear Biological and Chemical Defence) unit in the British Army. In 1998 this role was taken over by a combined Army and Royal Air Force unit, the Joint NBC Regiment (Jt NBC Regt).
However, W Squadron retained its NBC role and continued to train closely with the Jt NBC Regt including supporting them on exercise in Kuwait in 2001.
Soldiers of HQ Sqn RY operating
a nerve agent detector
THREE WDs on Op HERRICK, AFGHANISTAN
IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN
Since 2003, soldiers and officers of C&S Sqn RY have been deployed to Iraq (for the war and subsequent peace support operations) and Afghanistan. On each deployment, members of C&S Sqn RY have been at the very front line.
In January 2003 C&S Sqn RY (at that time called W Sqn RY), along with other members of the Royal Yeomanry, were mobilised as a complete squadron to serve on Op TELIC in Iraq as part of the Joint NBC Regiment.
That was the first mobilisation of a Territorial Army unit as a formed body (TA soldiers under TA command) for combat operations since the Suez crisis in 1956.
Echoing previous roles and their famed flexibility, C&S Sqn RY were nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance soldiers for the duration of the war and then switched to infantry tasks once the peace support phase began.
On Armistice Day 2005, the Royal Yeomanry received the first (and so far the only) battle honour awarded to the Territorial Army since World War II, for its efforts in Iraq during major combat operations between 19 March and 30 April 2003. The citation for the award praises the personnel of the Royal Yeomanry for their “utmost steadfastness and gallantry in the face of hostile fire.”
Of the award to the Royal Yeomanry, Major General S J L Roberts OBE , the then General Officer Commanding London District, said: "I am delighted by this national and historic recognition of all that your Regiment and soldiers achieved in fighting in Iraq in 2003. The Theatre Honour 'Iraq 2003' will henceforth publicly and officially commemorate those achievements and sacrifices, which add lustre to the already proud history of your regiment."
C&S Sqn RY had been earlier honoured for its efforts during the 2003 Iraq War by the award in April 2004 of a Joint Commander’s Commendation to a member of the squadron, Lieutenant CJ MacEvilly, “for distinguished service in the Iraq theatre of operations.” It was a special recognition of the squadron’s efforts, being one of only 67 such commendations awarded to the nearly 30,000 members of the three services who took part in the war.
At the end of 2006, C&S Sqn RY sent another group of soldiers to serve six-months’ operational duty on Operation TELIC in south east Iraq under the command of H Squadron of the Royal Tank Regiment.
From 2007 until the end of Operation HERRICK, the squadron deployed officers and soldiers to Afghanistan as infantry and armoured fighting vehicle crewmen and as mentors of the Afghan National Army and police.