The modern Light Infantry was formed as a large regiment in 1968 from a merger of:
The Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry
The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
The King's Shropshire Light Infantry
The Durham Light infantry.
Still the largest infantry regiment in the Order of Battle, there are six Light Infantry Battalions today.
Although there had been 'light troops' in the British Army in the 1740s, such as the Highlanders at Fontenoy (1745), it was the colonial war between France and England in North America which established the concept of 'Light infantry' in the British Army.
In the North American Wars of the 1750s, the heavy equipment, conspicuous red and white uniforms and close formation fighting of the British Army proved to be wholly unsuitable when operating in close country against Indians and French colonists, who had highly developed fieldcraft and marksmanship skills. Prompted by these experiences, General James Wolfe (1727-59) and Lord Amherst (1717-97) realised there was a need for a new approach in the infantry. A small corps of 'Light' troops, recruited from the settlers, was formed in 1755. It consisted of specially trained men, carefully selected for their toughness and intelligence, able to scout and skirmish, concentrating and dispersing with great stealth and speed. their dress, equipment and tactics were adjusted to meet this new role.
So effective were these 'Light' troops that steps were taken to increase the number available. Regiments formed 'Light Companies' of soldiers specially selected for their toughness, intelligence, military skills and ability to act on their own initiative, within the framework of a broad tactical plan. The bugle horn, which subsequently became the emblem of light troops, replaced the drum as the means of communication for the often widely dispersed Light Companies. By the end of the 18th century it was not unusual for commanders to group the various Light Companies together for specific tasks. The invasion of Spain by Napoleon in 1802 was to cause a further, rapid evolution of the Light Infantry concept under the leadership and training of the brilliant young general, Sir John Moore.
John Moore joined the 51st Regiment of Foot, later to become the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, as an Ensign at the age of 15. In 1790 at the age of 30 he was appointed to command of the 51st serving in Ireland, Gibraltar and Corsica until 1796, when he was appointed to command of a Brigade. He became a Major General in 1797. It was in 1802 at Shorncliffe in Kent that he began to develop further his ideas for the training of infantrymen, grouping regiments to fight together as Light Infantry and eventually forming the Light Division which fought with such distinction in the Peninsular War.
Sir John Moore has been described as 'the greatest trainer of troops that the British Army has ever known' and 'the father of the Light Infantry'. He discarded the then existing disciplinary system, largely maintained through fear and brutality which, in his view, also stifled individual initiative, and replaced it with a system based more upon self-discipline, mutual respect and trust. Sir John Moore died at the battle of Corunna in 1809, but his influence and the concept of the 'thinking soldier' have been fundamental to the conduct of Light Infantry ever since. The famous historian Sir Arthur Bryant wrote of him:
'Moore's contribution to the British Army was not only that matchless Light Infantry who have ever since enshrined his training, but also the belief that the perfect soldier can only be made by evoking all that is finest in man - physical, mental and spiritual.'
During the early 19th century it became the practice to grant, as an honour, the much coveted title of 'Light Infantry', to regiments which particularly distinguished themselves in action. The regiments which were to form the present Light Infantry were all granted this distinction and subsequently incorporated it into the Regiment's name when, in 1881, the system of numbering regiments was discontinued. Those regiments, and the year in which they became Light Infantry, were:
68th Foot - the Durham Light Infantry
51st Foot - the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
53rd Foot - the King's Shropshire Light Infantry
13th Foot - the Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's)
32 Foot - the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.
The last two of these amalgamated on 6 October 1959 to form the Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry (SCLI).
Each of these great regiments brought to the Light Infantry a long and distinguished record of service to the Crown.
The new regiment, the Light Infantry (LI), was formed on Vesting Day 10 July 1968 from the four regular battalions remaining from the old Regiments: 1 SCLI, 1 KOYLI, 1 KSLI, 1 DLI and the Light Infantry Volunteers. The Light Infantry Brigade Depot at Shrewsbury became the Light Infantry Depot, and the Regiment was grouped with the Royal Green Jackets in the Light Division - a grouping of two regiments with much in common. the Light Infantry was so structured that the traditions and customs of its forbears were embodied equally in all battalions. The long-established and much cherished links with the countries from which the regiments sprung were retained, the new regiment receiving on formation, and in the years immediately the reafter, the Freedom of 21 County Boroughs, Cities and Boroughs. these important links with the counties, and the Light Infantry interests the rein, were maintained through the establishment of Light Infantry Offices in Durham, Pontefract, Shrewsbury, Taunton and Bodmin.
The silver bugle cap badge, drill from the 'at ease' position, rapid marching pace and green beret bear testimony to the ancestry of the Light Infantry. Distinctions of dress serve as an ever-present reminder of the former great regiments; red backing to the cap badge from the DCLI, sashes tied on the right from the SOM LI, the Inkerman chain from the DLI and the wearing of white roses on Minden Day from the KOYLI. The Regiment has the distinction of not being required to drink the Loyal Toast; a privilege which had been conferred upon both the KSLI and the DLI.
On 22 July each year the Regiment celebrates its Regimental Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca (1812), a battle in which all the former regiments fought. The Light Infantry was intensely proud to have as its first Colonel-in-Chief Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, an association which began in 1927 when, as Duchess of York, Her Majesty became Colonel-in-Chief of the KOYLI. It was also the Regiment's very good fortune to have as Deputy Colonel in-Chief, Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, who had been Colonel-in-Chief of the DLI. The Royal patrons have a prodigious knowledge of, and interest in, all branches of the Light Infantry family, and their concern for the Regiment is an inspiration and encouragement to Light infantrymen everywhere.
When the Light Infantry was formed on 10 July 1968 the 1st Battalion (1LI) was in Gravesend and, within a month, moved to Ballykinler in Northern Ireland for a two-year tour. the 2nd Battalion (2LI) was in Berlin - at that time a divided city - and moved to Colchester in April 1969 to join 19 Airportable Brigade and take over Meeanee Barracks, formerly occupied by 1DLI. the 3rd Battalion (3LI) was based at Terendak Camp near Malacca in Malaysia as part of 28 Commonwealth Brigade, with companies detached on internal security duties in Mauritius; an operation for which the Battalion was subsequently awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace. The last elements of 3LI left Mauritius in November 1968 and 3LI moved to Seaton Barracks, Plymouth. The 4th Battalion (4LI) was in Cyprus as part of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and returned to Meeanee Barracks, Colchester in October 1968. The Colours of 1DLI were laid up in Durham Cathedral in a very moving ceremony in December 1968 and 4LI was progressively run down until, on 31 March 1969, it disbanded.
The early years of the Regiment were to witness a constant conflict between the primary role of battalions and the short-notice demands of a rapidly deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, periods as 'Spearhead Battalion', the infantry element of a short-notice rapid-reaction force, were regularly imposed on all battalions, often disrupting long-planned periods of special role-training or leave. The late summer and autumn of 1968 saw a series of increasingly violent marches and demonstrations in Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).
By April 1969 the situation required the deployment of 1LI to guard key facilities in the Province. Nevertheless, a brief period of calm allowed the Battalion to exercise in Kenya from May to August 1969; returning to find the Province in turmoil. As part of the Strategic Reserve 2LI exercised in Malaysia in mid-1969 and by the autumn three regular battalions were on operations in Northern Ireland, with elements of each being involved in the so-called 'Battle of the Shankhill' in Belfast in October 1969.
A very brief stay in Plymouth between tours in Northern Ireland gave 3 LI the opportunity to lay up the Colours of 2 KSLI in Bridgnorth on 16 April 1970, after which the Battalion moved to Cyprus for a six-month UNFICYP tour, returning in October 1970. In May 1970 1LI moved from Northern Ireland to Lemgo in West Germany to join 20 Armoured Brigade as a mechanised infantry battalion. After one brief season of mechanised training, 1LI returned to Northern Ireland in March 1971 to take over the notorious West Belfast area from 3LI. In July 1971 1LI returned to Lemgo to pick up the threads of regimental life and mechanised warfare. In April 1971 2LI, setting aside the demands of Northern Ireland, emplaned for Malaysia on Exercise 'BERSATU PADU', a three-month Strategic Reserve reinforcement exercise.
On return from the Far East, 2LI enjoyed a period of Public Duties in London in October and November. On 7th May 1971 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the Colonel-in-Chief, presented new Colours to 2LI, 3LI and LI(V) at Colchester. In June 1971 3LI had the task of organising the parade and other ceremonies associated with the departure of the Army from Plymouth and move of Headquarters 24 Airportable Brigade to Barnard Castle. This was followed in November 1971 by the move of 3LI to Clifton Barracks in Minden, West Germany to become a mechanised infantry battalion. Meanwhile 2LI had deployed to East Tyrone for what was to prove an extremely active tour and included the mass internment of IRA suspects on 9 August 1971, an event which provoked widespread rioting and which was to be marked every year the reafter with IRA-inspired riots throughout the Province.
In early 1972 2LI deployed at short notice to Northern Ireland in anticipation of unrest following the so-called 'Bloody Sunday' incident in Londonderry on 30 January 1972. In the event there was little disturbance and the Battalion remained to cover the threatened 'Day of Disruption' on 9 February before returning to Colchester. In Lemgo Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, the Deputy Colonel-in-Chief, presented new Colours to 1LI on 25 May 1972. The Battalion deployed to take part in Operation 'MOTORMAN' - the clearance of barricades and opening up of the so-called 'no go' areas. Operation 'CARCAN', which had a similar objective, took place in Londonderry on 31 July 1972, during 2LI's tour in the city from June to October 1972.
Two battalions of the Regiment spent most of 1973 in Northern Ireland, 1LI in South Armagh from July until October and 2LI from March to July in West Belfast - their fifth tour in the Province since the emergency began. For 3LI, 1973 offered a valuable opportunity to develop the necessary mechanised warfare skills and to practise the mat the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Canada. In 1970 an expansion of the Territorial Army had been announced and many of the old Territorial Army and Yeomanry units which had been reduced to cadre form were expanded. By the summer of 1972 a new Light Infantry Volunteer battalion - 6LI (V) had been raised in the West Country, and LI (V) became 5LI (V).
Throughout the 1970s the Infantry and the Regiment were heavily committed to operations in Northern Ireland, either on planned tours or as emergency reinforcements. It was not unusual for a battalion's next tour in the Province to be announced before a tour was completed. the frequent separations arising from these tours and the intensity of operations place a great burden on the families and underlined the importance of the regimental and battalion 'family' in times of hardship. In January 1974 the Colours of 1 KOYLI were laid up in York Minister.
In March 1974 1LI and 2LT exchanged barracks and roles, 1LI hardly firm in Colchester before being sent to Northern Ireland in May to assist with the maintenance of essential services during industrial action by the Ulster Workers Council. In August 1974 1LI moved to Belize to form the core of the force held there to deter Guatemalan aggression. However, almost as the Battalion arrived, a hurricane caused extensive damage and elements of the battalion were temporarily deployed to Honduras on relief work.
Fortunately 2LI were to have the bulk of their first training season in Germany free of Northern Ireland commitments, and only moved to Londonderry in March 1975. Virtually the whole of 1974 was spent by 3LI in West Belfast, although the Battalion did return to Germany for the main field-training period in the autumn. On return from Belize in February 1975, 1LI found themselves collecting refuse from the streets of Glasgow during a prolonged strike by dustmen, Battalion Tactical Headquarters being located at the Govan incinerator.
Exercise 'Pond Jump West', held during the summer in Wainwright, Alberta, offered the change to work and play with members of the North Saskatchewan Regiment, and this was followed by an emergency tour in Northern Ireland in September and October before the Battalion and its families could leave for Hong Kong in December 1975. Having had a full 14 months away from Northern Ireland, 3LI moved to Londonderry in November 1975. In April 1975 a new Territorial Army battalion of the Regiment, 7LI (V) was formed in the North East, most of its companies being in County Durham.
During 1976 and 1977 1LI in Hong Kong undertook duties on the Sino-Hong Kong border to prevent illegal immigration, found guards of honour for UN duties in Korea and exercised all over the Far East and in New Zealand. For 2LI life was less exotic but just as stimulating, the Battalion completing its seventh tour, this time in West Belfast, between August and December 1976.
On 7 July 1977 2LI was privileged to take part in a magnificent parade staged by the British Army of the Rhine to mark the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. In March 1976 3LI returned to Minden and, after a flurry of exercises, moved to Alma Barracks, Catterick in August 1976 as a home defence battalion. In September 3LI was tasked to find the guard at Edinburgh Castle, a duty which was much enjoyed and which lasted until early January 1977.
In June 1977 3LI returned to the now very familiar streets of West Belfast for another four-month tour at the end of which almost without drawing breath, the Battalion deployed in a fire-fighting role in Tyne and Wear. The Battalion provided a skeleton fire service for the area for nine weeks until industrial action by the firemen was resolved. In February 1978 1LI assembled at Lucknow Barracks, Tidworth and prepared themselves for a return to West Belfast for four months starting in June.
In January 1978 2LI moved from Germany to Abercorn Barracks, Ballykinler at the start of a two-year tour as a resident battalion. After an exciting and interesting exercise in Kenya, during which links were renewed with the Kenya Rifles, 3LI moved to Cyprus in November 1978 for a six-month tour with UNFICYP. On 14 July 1978 Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra presented new Colours to 7LI (V) at that most spectacular of settings, Palace Green, Durham. An Infantry Demonstration Battalion, to which the Regiment contributed a number of Light infantrymen, was raised at the School of infantry, in Warminster in 1978.
Given its ancestry, it is perhaps not surprising that, in the first 10 years of its existence, the Light Infantry established a wide reputation for the quality of its operations. This reputation had not been easily earned and the Regiment had suffered a number of casualties; but the courage and professionalism of Light infantrymen was now widely recognised by both friend and foe. the links with the counties from which the Regiment springs had been enhanced by the expansion of the Territorial Army and there was now a regimental presence in each county.
The Light Infantry on exercise in Jordan.
Regimental march - "Light Infantry".