King's Own

4th Foot (King's Own)

A Potted History

Formed in 1680 as one of the Regiments raised to garrison the King's colony of Tangiers in North Africa. Designated as the King's Own Regiment in 1713, and numbered as the 4th in 1751. The Light Company was added to the establishment in 1771.

Arrived in Boston from England in June 1774. Flank companies engaged on Battle Road, April 19th 1775, with the Light Company suffering all three of the British fatal casualties at Concord's North Bridge. Flank companies again heavily engaged at Bunker Hill, with only five Light Infantrymen still on their feet behind Captain Balfour by the day's end.

Balfour continued in command until selected as General Howe's aide-de-camp in October 1775. He was replaced by William Glanville Evelyn.

The regiment remained in Boston until evacuated, except for the Light Company which was detached with the Lights of the 44th and sent to the Carolinas in January 1776 with General Clinton, seeing a little action at Cape Fear and Charleston, SC.

The Light Company rejoined the army on Staten Island in July. From this time the Company was more or less permanently detached to the First Battalion of the combined Light Infantry, leading every advance through the long, hard campaigns of 1776-1778.

First was the spectacular D-Day style amphibious landing on Long Island on 22nd August, when 5000 men hit the beach and were deployed in 15 minutes. The Lights led the flank march that turned the Rebel position 5 days later, destroying an entire rebel division. Our company led that advance and distinguished itself capturing the entire rebel picket in the vital Jamaica Pass without firing a shot.

Another, equally successful, amphibious assault followed on September 15th 1776 at Kip's Bay on Manhattan Island (now the site of the UN building), ending in another rebel rout. The 1st Lights helped save the day at Harlem Heights the next day.

Further amphibious ops followed in October at Throg's Point and Pell's Point, New York. In the heavy skirmishing that ensued Captain Glanville Evelyn, officer commanding the King's Own Lights, was mortally wounded. His letters provides a fascinating and informative account of the siege of Boston and operations up to the week he was wounded. The campaign in Westchester County, New York, culminated at the Battle of White Plains, although the Lights were not heavily engaged on that day. Command passed to The Honourable Charles Cochrane (who later had the misfortune to be one of the last men killed at Yorktown).

The Lights led Cornwallis' division in the assault on Ft Washington, Nov.16th, and the night crossing of the Hudson to surprise Ft Lee 3 days later. They then left behind their tents (in December!) to chase Washington to the Delaware, only to chase him back again in January. In the pursuit after Princeton our forebears had to wade through icy streams up to their waists.

Tough winter quarters were endured in New Jersey in early 1777, where cold and boredom were relieved only by foraging duties and surprise raids. There were more engagements in New Jersey in June of 1777, but none were decisive so the army embarked to attack Philadelphia by sea - the so-called easy way to win a campaign and lose a war. The Lights played a key role in the advance from the Head of Elk in Maryland to Philadelphia in that summer and fall of 1777, skirmishing almost the whole way, ably supporting the Hessian Jaeger Corps.

The Lights were again in the van for the flank march in the near-decisive battle of Brandywine (11th Sept,1777). The hat companies of the 4th led the attack across Chadd's ford into the teeth of an American battery, but were lucky enough to avoid heavy losses. The next major action was at Germantown (4th Oct.1777), where the Light Infantry was obliged to retreat. Losses in our company were severe, sadly including several men who'd served since before the beginning of the war. The action ended in the usual rebel rout.

Periodic skirmishing went on through the winter of 1777-78, including one interesting clash in the snow in January, when the Lights were covering the rear of a successful foraging party returning to Philadelphia. The Americans pursued only to run into an ambush that ended in yet another costly rebel rout. Can you imagine setting an ambush and waiting for hours in the deep snow?

In 1778, the British were obliged to evacuate Philadelphia in anticipation of French intervention. The army successfully retreated to New York, defeating Washington's attempt to hit it at Monmouth Courthouse (28th June 1778).

Having concentrated and parried the French and American combination in the summer of 1778, the British then dispersed somewhat to garrison their outlying possessions from Nova Scotia to Natchez, and also to seize the initiative in Georgia and the West Indies. The King's Own were embarked for Barbados and joined the assault on St Lucia in December, where the Lights won perhaps their most glorious laurels in the scrub before Vigie on December 18th 1778, defeating a French expedition which outnumbered them at least 4:1. The British army historian, Fortescue, characterizes these tough and versatile veterans as probably the best troops of any army in the world at that time. It must have been a strange Christmas in the tropical sunshine, when they'd been skirmishing in deep snow at the beginning of the year.

Military duty in the West Indies consisted of isolated garrison duty, working on fortifications and spells as Marines aboard ship.

Fresh food was hard to find, the islands being chiefly reliant on North America for most foodstuffs before the war. Only rum was plentiful and cheap, and it was perhaps as dangerous as the malaria and yellow fever which raged in the rainy season. Some Regts lost a third of their strength in the first year.

In June 1779, several regiments were ordered aboard ships to relieve the island of Grenada, which was being attacked by the French. After a hard fought action the Royal Navy was obliged to withdraw. All but one of the transports were escorted to safety except one, which was taken. Four companies of the 4th were aboard. It's not known when they were exchanged.

To keep some Regts up to strength, several were "drafted" in early 1780 including the King's Own. This meant the privates were transferred into other Regts, while the officers, NCOs, drummers and fifers were sent home to recruit, along with invalids unfit to serve.

The Regiment took no further part in the Revolutionary War, although the privates left behind in the West Indies saw much hard fighting in the active operations against the French in 1781 and 1782. The men sent to the 15th Foot were besieged by the French in the fortress at Brimstone Hill on St Kitts in early 1782, and eventually captured after a heroic resistance. Those in the 28th & 55th fought at the successful battle to relieve St Kitts.

The King's Own went through many transformations and saw much more distinguished military service. We burnt the Whitehouse in 1814 and trounced Napoleon at Waterloo. In 2006 the name was finally lost in a merger with other regiments in the amalgamation that produced The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment. The last overseas action as the King's Own was a tour in Iraq in 2005.

Last updated 21st August 2011