Letter from the Chairman of the RLOCA

25 Jan 2021

 

Dear Old Comrades and Veteran Lancers,

‘Tank Tea’ – Thu 28 Jan 2021 at 1700-1800 hrs (the New Time).  Remembering, on this occasion, the 16L at the Battle of Aliwal, 28 Jan 1846, in India during the Sikh Wars, and making the historic link between the ‘Crimped Lance Pennon’ worn on lances at the Battle and deployed by The Royal Lancers (RL) today.

Not wishing to lose sight of the WWII combined Lancer campaign spoken of in Dec 2020’s ‘Tank Tea’, we recall that back in Jan 1943, the 9L and 12L were racing forward from Alamein (Oct 42) as a part of 8th Army.  They were heading West to link up with their fellow Lancers the 16/5L, 17/21L and 27L, part of 1st Army’s Op TORCH landing (Nov 42) in a move to throw Rommel and his Africa Corps into the sea.  This part of their story ends in May 43.  Our North Africa Lancers then head for Italy – we will pick on their progress later in the year.  Meanwhile at home, our 24L had formed (late 1940) and were now preparing for D-Day in 17 months’ time.

Leaving WWII and winding the clock back to 1846, we find the 16L about to use their lances at Aliwal, the new weapon of choice, post the Battle of Waterloo (1815).  In 1816, the 16th Light Dragoons (LD) were one of the first to be re-rolled along with the 9LD, 12LD, 19LD and 23LD.  The now re-rolled 16L were the first Lancer regiment to use the lance in battle.  I am grateful to RL Home Headquarters for recalling the history of the battle and the ‘Crimped Lance Pennons’.  A short history and image of the 16L at the Battle of Aliwal are here

The combination of COVID and ‘Tank Tea’, aligned to nuggets of antecedent Lancer history, has for me, and I hope for you, become a source of understanding and warmth for both our individual and combined Lancer histories.  If this dreadful time of COVID has given us anything positive, I would offer that for me at least, it has been the opportunity to bring Lancer cousins ever closer in family union.  We are forged by common experience and culture borne of the use of our lance and since WWII our armour, something we can all celebrate.   At this ‘Tank Tea’ we recall the bravery and success of the 16L at the Battle of Aliwal and their Battle Honour won at Aliwal, which is emblazoned on the Guidon of The Royal Lancers.

We also have the origins of the ‘crimped pennon’, used by RL today and as a giant bonus courtesy of HHQ, we are reminded of the Lancer collective start date of 1816 when we began re-rolling to lances, 205 years ago. 

‘Tank Tea’ – you know the drill!   (new time): 1700 -1800 hrs, Thu 28 Jan 2021; make a brew, call a Lancer mate and check that they are well.  If someone is not well, either physically, struggling mentally or lonely, particularly during this COVID time, then please offer to reach out with assistance.   

During this COVID Pandemic, please continue to follow government advice on staying safe.

Warmest,

William

William English CBE

Chairman RL OCA

Aliwal

The Charge at Aliwal 29th January 1846

The lance was first adopted by the cavalry of the British Army in 1816, after its effect in the skilled hands of Napoleon’s lancers had been seen on the field of Waterloo (1815). The 16th Lancers who were one of the first regiments of Light Dragoons to be equipped with the new weapon had already earnt the distinction on 10 December 1825 at Bhurtpore of being the first British Regiment to have ‘bloodied’ their lances in battle.

Two decades later on 28 January 1846, 40,000 Sikh infantry massed against the British Army of 10,000 men at Aliwal. During the initial stages of the battle the village of Aliwal was successfully captured denying the Sikhs the best ford across the River Sutlej. In an attempt to recapture the ford, the Sikhs sent a force of 1000 cavalry to Aliwal, seeing this, a squadron of 16th Lancers and a squadron of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry were immediately sent to Aliwal.

On their arrival, the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry failed to charge while the squadron of the 16th Lancers under Captain Bere did so, and routed 1000 Sikh cavalry (over ten times their number). The ford at Aliwal was secured but at a loss of 42 of the 100 16th Lancers who had charged. After the charge, the main body continued to be harried by the Sikh artillery so the main body of the 16th Lancers under their Commanding Officer, Major Rowland Smyth, were ordered to take the guns. Smyth led his two squadrons in a headlong charge against the guns that continued to fire until the moment they were overrun. The momentum of the Regiment was so great that they charged past the guns and were faced by the massed squares of the Sikh infantry. Smyth realised that to pull up and retire would enable the Sikh infantry to lay a withering fire in his rear, he therefore spurred his horse, jumping into the centre of the first square and charging on through. Naturally, the 16th Lancers followed their Commanding Officer and charged head on into the square. Sergeant Gould recounted that “we had to charge a square of infantry – at them we went, the bullets flying round like a hailstorm.”

As a result of the charge, many Lancers were injured including Smyth who received a bayonet wound to his abdomen. Despite his injuries, Smyth managed to reform his Regiment and charge back through the broken Sikh squares. This proved to be the decisive action with the Sikhs breaking contact and attempting to withdraw back across the Sutlej under heavy British artillery fire. As a result of this action the Sikhs left 3,000 dead and all their guns on the British side of the river.

Of all the Battle Honours gained by the 16th Lancers it was the battle of Aliwal that they chose to commemorate each year. A Regimental tradition deriving from this is that lance pennons are starched and crimped 16 times; this commemorates the fact that after the battle they were so encrusted in blood that they stood upright and stiff. Today Aliwal is still celebrated by The Royal Lancers who when on parade have 50% of their lance pennons crimped 16 times.