The Royal Green Jackets were formed as one single Large Regiment (consisting of three battalions, now reduced to two Regular in addition to two Territorial Army battalions) in the British Army on the 1st of January 1966. This was a logical step from the composition of the Green Jackets Brigade in 1958. This brigade had grouped together three former single-battalion regiments, each with their own long (250-year) and proud history, but also sharing much of this history and traditions with each other. These three regiments were:
- The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry(43rd and 52nd), formed 1741/1755 respectively, later amalgamated.
- The King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), formed 1755 as the 62nd Foot, later renamed as the 60th American Regt.
- The Rifle Brigade (RB), formed 1800 as The Rifle Corps.
These three regiments found themselves formally linked for the first time in 1958 and based at the Green Jackets Depot at Winchester.
The Royal Green Jackets can claim to be the innovators of many new ideas from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, most of which were not adopted by the regular army until much later. These include mobility in place of rigid drills on the battlefield, camouflage in place of red coats (hence the "Green Jackets"), rifle marksmanship in place of massed musket volleys, and self-reliance in place of obedience due to sheer fear of punishment. These innovations took place under distinguished officers such as Henri Bouquet (actually a Swiss citizen) and Lieutenant General Sir John Moore, the latter having been described as "the very best trainer of troops that England has ever possessed". Moore was killed after the retreat to Corunna during the Napoleonic wars.
Other legacies of the original regiments include the use of the bugle instead of the drum as a more effective way of controlling battlefield manoeuvres (many calls are still in use today and bugles replace drums on parade), and the faster marching pace of 140 to the minute, as opposed to the 120 paces of other regiments, developed as Rifle troops often needed to move about the battlefield faster. As this was also often at the double, the Green Jackets retain the "double-past" as a parade manoeuvre, unlike any other regiment. These traditions mark out the Royal Green Jackets as one unlike any other in the British army, although their specialised role has decreased as the tactics first developed by this regiment were adopted by the rest of the army some time later.
As the Green Jacket regiments carry no colours, the 18 most memorable of their battle honours are displayed on their cap badge (a Maltese cross with a bugle horn at the centre, with a Naval crown at the foot commemorating service under Nelson at Copenhagen, topped by a crown, denoting Royal status, and framed by a laurel wreath). To date the various Rifle regiments have won 59 Victoria Crosses, the highest award for bravery available to British servicemen (5 of these awards were omitted from the Regimental Roll of Honour, and were only recently discovered). This includes 8 won in the Crimea (1854-55) by the Rifle Brigade when the VC was first awarded, more than any other regiment. These were awarded from Belgium to New Zealand, from South Africa to Delhi, and the last was won by Lt.Col. V.B. Turner of the Rifle Brigade in 1942. The Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Green Jackets is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The regimental quick march is an arrangement of "Huntsman's Chorus" and "Italian Song", and the double past is "The Road to the Isles". The regimental motto is "Celer et Audax", or Swift and Bold, and was earned by the KRRC following the capture of Quebec in 1759.
Particularly famous occasions involving precursors to the Green Jackets include the ship-wreck of the Birkenhead off Natal during the Kaffir War of the early 1530s, when the troops paraded on deck whilst the women and children took to the boats. This discipline and self-sacrifice stirred Victorian imaginations, and the story was read to every regiment of the Prussian army on the orders of Kaiser Frederick as an example. The retreat to Mons in World War One is another example, when the rifle fire of the RB was so concentrated and sustained that German troops mistook it for machine-gun fire. The bloodiness of this conflict is well represented in casualty figures; the KRRC lost 12, 824 dead and won 2136 decorations (8 VCs) and the RB lost 11, 575 dead, winning 1753 decorations for bravery (including 10 VCs).
Also, the Sharpe books written by Bernard Cornwell follow rifle troops throughout the Peninsular campaign against the French during the Napoleonic wars, and describe several of the battles listed below (eg Copenhagen, Talavera, Badajoz and Waterloo, amongst others). These books are well worth a read, both for their historical content and for their entertainment value as excellent stories.
Since 1966 both Regular battalions of the Royal Green Jackets have been involved in the Troubles in Northern Ireland at some stage, and Green Jackets have been garrisoned in Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Belize and the Falkland Islands. Detachments have also been on exercise to many countries, including the USA, Morocco, Kenya and Nepal. In the last decade Green Jackets deployed to the Gulf in 1991 and have been involved in operations in the Balkans, e.g. in Kosovo post-1999.
Battle Honours (formation to 1945):
The Battle Honours of the Royal Green Jackets (all those of the three original regiments); those shown in bold are those appearing on the Cap Badge.
Louisburg, Quebec 1759, Martinique 1762, Havannah, North America 1763-64, Mysore, Hindoostan, Martinique 1794, Copenhagen, Monte Video, Rolica, Vimiera, Corunna, Martinique 1809, Talavera, Busaco, Barrosa, Fuentes d'Onor, Albuera, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, Toulouse, Peninsula, Waterloo, South Africa 1846-47, Mooltan, Goojerat, Punjab, South Africa 1851-53, Alma, Inkerman, Sevastopol, Delhi 1857, Lucknow, Taku Forts, Pekin 1860, New Zealand, Ashantee 1873-74, Ali Masjid, South Africa 1879, Ahmed Khel, Kandahar 1880, Afghanistan 1878-80, Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt 1882-84, Burma 1885-87, Chitral, Khartoum, Defence of Ladysmith, Relief of kinberley, Paardeberg, Relief of Ladysmith, South africa 1899-1902.
The Great War 1914-18:
Mons, Le Cateau, Retreat from Mons, Marne 1914, Aisne 1914, 18, Armentieres 1914, Ypres 1914, 15, 17, 18, Langemarck 1914, 17, Gheluvelt, Nonne Boschen, Givenchy 1914, Neuve Chapelle, Gravenstafel, St. Julien, Frezenberg, Bellewaarde, Aubers, Festubert 1915, Hooge 1915, Loos, Mount Sorrel, Somme 1916, 18, Albert 1916, 18, Bazentin, Delville Wood, Pozieres, Guillemont, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Le Transloy, Ancre Heights, Ancre 1916, 18, Bapaume 1917, 18, Arras 1917, 18, Vimy 1917, Scarpe 1917, 18, Arleux, Messines 1917, 18, Pilckem, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, Passchaendale, Cambrai 1917, 18, St. Quentin, Rosieres, Avre, Villers-Bretonneux, Lys, Hazebrouck, Bailleul, Kemmel, Bethune, Drocourt Queant, Hindenburg Line, Havrincourt, Epephy, Canal du Nord, St. Quentin Canal, Beaurevoir, Courtrai, Selle, Valenciennes, Sambre, France and Flanders 1914-18, Piave, Vittorio Veneto, Italy 1917-18, Doiran 1917, 18, Macedonia 1915-18, Kut al Amara, Tigris 1916, Khan Baghdadi, Mesopotamia 1914-18.
The Second World War 1939-45:
Defence of Escaut, Calais 1940, Cassel, Ypres-Comines Canal, Normandy Landing, Pegasus Bridge, Villers Bocage, Odon, Caen, Esquay, Bourquebus Ridge, Mont Pincon, Le Perier Bridge, Falaise, Antwerp, Hechtel, Nederrijn, Lower Maas, Roer, Ourthe, Rhineland, Reichswald, Cleve, Goch, Hockwald, Rhine, Ibbenburen, Dreirwalde, Leese, Aller, North-West Europe 1940, 44-45, Egyptian Frontier 1940, Sidi Barrani, Beda Fomm, Mersa el Brega, Agedabia, Derna Aerodrome, Tobruk 1941, Sidi Rezegh 1941, Chor es Sufan, Saunnu, Gazala, Bir Hachiem, Knightsbridge, Defence of Alamein Line, Ruweisat, Fuka Airfield, Alam el Halfa, El Alamein, Capture of Haifaya Pass, Nofilia, Tebaga Gap, Enfidaville, Medjez el Bab, Kasserine, Thala, Fondouk, Fondouk Pass, El Kourzia, Djebel Kournine, Argoub el Megas, Tunis, Hamman Lif, North Africa 1940-43, Sangro, Salerno, Santa Lucia, Salerno Hills, Cardito, Teano, Monte Camino, Garigliano Crossing, Damiano, Anzio, Cassino II, Liri Valley, Melfa Crossing, Monte Rotondo, Capture of Perugia, Monte Malbe, Arezzo, Advance to Florence, Gothic Line, Coriano, Gemmano Ridge, Lamone Crossing, Orsara, Tossignano, Argenta Gap, Fossa Cembalina, Italy 1943-45, Veve, Greece 1941, 44, 45, Crete, Middle East 1941, Arakan Beaches, Tamandu, Burma 1943-44.
For more information see royalgreenjackets.co.uk or alternatively visit the regimental museum in Winchester, England.
Thanks to webtoe for the reminder about Sharpe; I was going to include it originally but deemed it irrelevant for some reason.
I also recommend looking at this node for the song sung by riflemen in the Peninsular War, rewritten by one of the actors in the television version of Sharpe for the series. Look for the writeup by Szlater.