The 12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s) were raised in July 1715 as a result of the revolt of the supporters of the Stuarts against the Rule of King George I. The King had lately succeeded Queen Anne as the protestant heir to the throne. At this time regiment was not officially numbered, but was known by the name of their colonel. The 12th Lancers, were raised by Brigadier Phineas Bowles who had was a veteran of Marlborough’s Wars with a distinguished record of service and the regiment was known as Bowle’s Dragoons. On formation, initially the regiment were initially employed escorting state prisoners to London. In 1718, the regiment was placed on the Irish establishment and posted to Ireland where it remained for 75 years. In 1751, the regiment was officially styled the 12th Dragoons.
In 1768 King George III conferred upon the 12th the honour of bearing the title “Twelfth or Prince of Wales’s Regiment of Light Dragoons” and bestowed the badge of the three ostrich feathers and the motto “Ich Dien.” From 1789-1791 Lieutenant the Hon Arthur Wellesley, later to become the Duke of Wellington, served in the regiment. In 1793 Great Britain declared war on France and the 12th went on active service for the first time. They were sent to the Mediterranean and part of the regiment were present at the taking of Bastia in Corsica. The remainder sailed to Italy where they landed at Civita Vecchia in the Papal States. The good conduct of the regiment impressed Pope Pius VI who received some of the officers at the Vatican and presented them all with Gold Medals. One of the last known medals is on display in the office of the current commanding officer of the regiment to this day. Pope Pius also presented the Regimental Hymns which are still played by military bands for the regiment’s parades. In 1795 the regiment returned to England, and two years later it sailed to Portugal where it stayed until 1800.
In 1801 the regiment took part in General Abercrombie’s campaign in Egypt. Colonel Archdale, the commanding officer, was severely wounded, losing an arm in a skirmish outside Alexandria. The regiment, captured 28 officers and 570 other ranks of the French Dromedary Regiment in an action in the Egyptian desert in May 1801. In 1802 the regiment returned to England and were honoured by royal authority to bear on its guidons and appointments the Sphinx with Egypt. This was the 12th’s first battle honour. In 1809 the regiment embarked on the Walcheren Expedition, however they did not disembark, and therefore fortunate that they did not become victims of the deadly Walcheren fever.
In 1811 the regiment sailed for the Spanish Peninsula in order to reinforce the Duke of Wellington’s Army and took part in the operations which culminated in the taking of Cuidad Rodrigo, and Badajos. In 1812 they took part in the battle of Salamanca. After the retreat from Spain to Portugal under very severe conditions. The 12th took part in the operations which resulted in the great victory at Vittoria in 1813, and the subsequent operations up to the end of the campaign in the south of France in 1814. In the spring of 1815 Napoleon returned to France from Elba, and war was declared. The regiment were sent to the Netherlands to form part of the allied army commanded by the Duke of Wellington. During the Waterloo Campaign, the regiment was attached to Sir John Vandeleur’s Light Cavalry Brigade and at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815, the regiment charged down the slope to support the Union Brigade of Medium Cavalry, but suffered very severely in the withdrawal, losing one third of their strength in ten minutes. The regiment was awarded the honours ‘Peninsula,’ ‘Salamanca’ and ‘Waterloo’.
The lancer regiments of Napoleon’s Army had shown how effective cavalry regiments armed with the lance could be. In 1816 an order was published directing 12th Light Dragoons should be armed with the lance. In 1817 the 12th became a ‘Royal Regiment,’ being styled “The 12th or Prince of Wales’s Royal Regiment of Lancers”.
In 1851 the regiment embarked for the Cape and took part in the Kaffir War. A detachment of the Regiment was on board the ill-fated HMS Birkenhead when she foundered off the African coast. It is from this incident that this Birkenhead boat drill takes its name and where the policy of “women and children first” comes from. Cornet Bond was one of the few survivors of the wreck. The 12th was awarded the honour ‘South Africa 1851-53’. In 1855 the 12th were sent from India to the Crimea to reinforce the Light Cavalry Brigade which had been decimated by the charge at Balaclava and the severity of the winter of 1854. For their services in the Crimea the 12th received the honour ‘Sevastopol’.
The regiment were to take part in the Indian Mutiny Regiments where they formed part of the Saugur Field Force which helped to pacify Central India. For their services in the Mutiny the 12th received ‘Central India’.
In 1899 the regiment fought in the South African War of 1899-1902. They took part in the Relief of Kimberley, the most brilliant cavalry exploit of the war, and the operations which resulted in Cronje’s surrender at Paardeberg. The regiment was engaged in all the actions which culminated in the capture of Pretoria. Finally, at Diamond Hill, the Earl of Airlie, the Commanding Officer of the 12th, was killed after leading a charge which saved two guns of ‘Q’ Battery RHA. The regiment received ‘Relief of Kimberley’, ‘Paardeberg’, and ‘South Africa 1899-1902’.
The regiment served on the Western Front throughout the Great War of 1914-18. On the 28th August 1914 C Squadron of the 12th led by Lieutenant Colonel Frank Wormald and the Adjutant Captain Charles Bryant made a most successful charge at Moy against squadrons of the 1st and 2nd Garde Dragoner (Prussian Dragoons) supported by the fire of A and B Squadron’s, J Battery RHA and the Scots Greys. During the period between the Great War and the Second World War, the regiment served in the Rhineland, Ireland and later in England and Egypt.
In 1928, while serving in Egypt, the 12th gave up their horses and became a Cavalry Armoured Car Regiment. In August 1929 it operated in the Rolls Royce armoured cars for the first time when B Squadron was sent to Palestine to deal with the religious disturbances. In October 1931, a section of armoured cars was sent to Cyprus to help restore order there. In 1935 the 12th provided a composite squadron for the international force which policed the Saar during the period of the Plebiscite.
On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the 12th Lancers, equipped with armoured cars, landed in France on the 16th October. On the 10th May the 12th was the first regiment to cross the Belgian Frontier. During the retreat they covered the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), at one time holding a front of forty miles between Ypres and Nieuport. In his despatches Lord Gort wrote that, “without the Twelfth Lancers only a small part of the Army would have reached Dunkirk”. In September 1941 the regiment sailed for Africa with the 1st Armoured Division. The 12th left behind a detachment which shortly after Dunkirk had been sent to act as a mobile guard for the Royal Family and members of the Cabinet.
The regiment served with the 8th Army throughout the Desert and North African Campaigns. The 12th were the first British troops to link up with the Americans in Tunisia in April 1943. The regiment were first in action as infantry in the Castel di Sangro area to the east of Cassino in the April and the 12th headed the advance of the 2nd New Zealand Division. B Squadron troops were the first to enter Venice at the end of April. When the war in Italy ended on the 2nd May, the 12th was in contact with the Yugoslavs at Trieste. After the war the regiment was employed on security duties in Palestine.
In 1951 the 12th sailed for Malaya where it was employed for three years on security duties. On its return from the Far East it was sent to Germany where it remained until 1959. It then moved to Cyprus for a year before returning to England prior to amalgamation. On the 11th September 1960, the 12th Lancers was amalgamated with the 9th Lancers to form the 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s)