In the first of a series of articles by the Halifax Courier marking the unveiling of a new memorial to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in Halifax town centre next May, Tom Scargill speaks to Brigadier Michael Bray about the regiment’s history with Halifax.
The history of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment stretches back more than 300 years, and its ties with Halifax - its spiritual home - remain incredibly strong.
The regiment was first raised by the Earl of Huntington in Gloucestershire in 1702.
But by the end of the 1700’s, regiments were allocated to areas rather than just individual patrons.
The Dukes then became associated with the West Riding, to the extent they were called the West Riding Regiment at one stage.
Then in the 1800’s, the barracks were built in Halifax which became the Dukes’ training depot.
Michael Bray, a former Dukes member who was an Army Brigadier, says: “It was decided to rename the 33rd of Foot - regiment’s in those days had numbers not names - the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment as a memorial to the Duke after he died in 1852.
“He first joined what became our second Battalion, but was the 76th Foot, and then at 25, became Commanding Officer of the First Battalion of the Dukes.
“He went over to Holland for his first active service and then went with them to India, and that’s where he first acquired an outstanding reputation as a soldier, beginning with the Dukes until he was promoted.
“He remained the Colonel in charge of the Regiment until 1813, and the Dukes fought with him at the Battle of Waterloo.
“That’s why the second soldier on the statue will be of that period dress.”
Michael says not many men from Halifax became officers in the army, but that it was a different story when it came to the regiment’s soldiers.
“When I joined the Battalion in 1957,” he says, “probably 95 per cent of the soldiers came from the West Riding area, with Halifax and Huddersfield the two biggest recruiting areas.
“So we had a very homogeneous tribe based on officers who were connected like my family was, and Yorkshire soldiers, who were special. The Yorkshire man has a special ability for endurance and is a really steady fellow.
“Regiments didn’t used to have a fixed geographical base where they trained soldiers.
“That changed in the 19th Century to having a training depot, and ours was in Halifax.
“I feel Halifax really took the Dukes to their hearts and that spirit still exists.
“If you talk to people here, they will say ‘my dad served in the Dukes’ or ‘my uncle served in the Dukes’.
“I came to Halifax extremely rarely, only on recruiting drives or things like that.
“But the strong bond has endured with the regiment.
“I think there’s something in the character of the Yorkshire man which makes for an easier atmosphere within a Battalion and allows close links to develop and endure from one generation to the next.”
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