In the late summer of 1936 the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s own) arrived at Tidworth on their return from India. (Incidentally, this was the first time in the regiment’s history that the 10th had returned home from India without stopping-off for battle – in the Crimea, Egypt or South Africa!). Within weeks, mechanisation began, with lorries and obsolete tanks replacing horses and spurs.
As part of their first experience with armoured vehicles, two events marked 1937. First was the Tidworth Tattoo, in which the regiment provided some novelty acts, including lorries disguised as zoo animals (the elephants looking particularly grand), and a light tank disguised as two thoroughbred ponies.
The regiment had been told that their role in the Tattoo was “to entertain” – the Royal Tank Corps were to “interest” the audience. As a result it was decided to create a circus effect, using light tanks (of doubtful reliability) and lorries as the motive power. Austin 7 cars were turned into ponies, controlled on long reins by Cossacks and armoured cars borrowed from the 12th Lancers into elephants (which eventually gave rides to children and adults!).
The regimental band was mounted in 30 cwt lorries, with the bandmaster in front in a small lorry.
Much consternation was caused when the rehearsal took two and a half hours – the actual show was scheduled for 8 minutes. However, by running some turns concurrently timing was kept and the show voted a huge success.
Perhaps more importantly, a trip round the West Country was made – to Plymouth, Torquay, Exeter and thence to Bournemouth and then back, via Bath, Barnstaple, Weymouth and Falmouth to Plymouth.
To begin, three Light Tanks Mark IV were sent by rail to Plymouth on 30th May, where they were met at Plumer Barracks by an Austin 7 and a 30 cwt lorry, carrying an officer, two sergeants and 7 men. A Royal Signals lorry accompanied the crews. A Light Aid Detachment (LAD) of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (these were days before the Royal Electrical and mechanical Engineers were formed) had a more difficult journey – their lorries broke down!
On 1st June, in wind and rain a trip was made to Tavistock. The speed of 6 mph caused the light tanks to overheat, but the return at 15 mph solved the problem.
On 2nd June the tour proper started … with the brakes failing on one tank and leaving it in the ditch. Once it re-started the brakes were fixed … and the engine seized. Two tanks made it to Exeter under their own power; the third arrived on a trailer.
At Torquay the Mayor and Corporation inspected the detachment “… after which we had our first experience of small boys attacking the tanks after the manner of flies round a jam pot.” At Exmouth the following day “… again, after an inspection by the Mayor, we had again to submit to the ravages of small boys.”
After several days spares were running low (the description of the trip in the regimental journal is a litany of crashes, scrapes and breakdowns), and it was discovered spares for the Mark IV Light Tank were no longer being made. The result was several late nights for the crews and LAD, or even all-night sessions, stripping and rebuilding brake pads and gearboxes.
In spite of this there were several other occasions of tanks being brought in on trailers, but the tour continued.
On 9th June, the crews played a cricket match against Bath Police “… which was not marked by victory” and a dance was held in the evening. Other dances took place at various stops, the one at Barnstaple being “… a great success”. The dances seem generally to have been followed by a day’s rest!
The end of the tour was a 75-mile run from Falmouth to Plymouth on 21st June “… not a lucky one. We had a number of breakdowns, and the last tank did not reach barracks until 9 p.m.”
On the 22nd the tanks were loaded back on the train and the crews returned to Tidworth by lorry. The experience these former mounted soldiers gained from this tour were to stand them in good stead two years later on the outbreak of war. Sadly, in 1939 the tanks with which they were equipped were not much better than the Mark IV Light Tank, but the professionalism and good humour of the regiment, displayed in both activities described here, kept spirits and fighting efficiency to the fore.
In HorsePower museum you can see models of the tanks the 10th Hussars used and also learn much more about the road to war in 1939 and the activities of the regiment (and the 11th Hussars) in the succeeding years.