On entering HorsePower Museum visitors, as they come in the door, will almost certainly see on their left a red flag, carefully framed and preserved. This is the Guidon of The Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own) between 1969 and 1992. But what is a Guidon and why is it so important?
From time immemorial, men in battle have rallied to a token – something by which their leader, chieftain or general could be identified. At Agincourt, Henry V would have been accompanied by an attendant carrying the Royal Standard, while centuries before Crusaders would have carried the Cross of St George.
In more modern times each regiment of the British Army formalised badges which would identify a regiment in battle or on parade. For example, the 2nd Foot (The Queen’s) carried a badge representing a lamb with a flag over its shoulder, while the 9th Foot (Norfolk Regiment) had Britannia. These were large flags (currently 36” x 45”, though In Napoleonic times they were far larger), and each infantry regiment would carry two – the Queen’s (or King’s) Colour, which consists of the Union Flag with regimental devices upon it, and the Regimental Colour, which is in a colour specific to the regiment, also with regimental devices.
In the smoke and confusion of a battle fought with muskets and cannon, having large bright-coloured flags to show men where their comrades were was essential. The modern ceremony of Trooping the Colour represents this, with the Colours being marched in front of the men so they will recognise their regimental flags when necessary. (It was also for recognition of friends that bright uniforms were worn – the scarlet coat of the British soldier had a very practical use).
On both are now also embroidered Battle Honours marking past battles in which a regiment distinguished itself. The Queen’s Colour will carry Battle Honours for the two World Wars, while the Regimental Colour carries all others.
The Colours are sacred to the regiment. Wherever they go they are guarded, as they are paraded past troops they will be awarded a salute, and when new Colours are presented the old ones are consecrated in a religious ceremony. In short, they represent the life and history of the regiment and all who have served, fought and died.
Cavalry are different: although in past times each Squadron would have carried a separate Colour (and some of these are also on display), now only one is carried rather than the two if the infantry. As the visitor will see, Guidons (as they are called for Light Cavalry – Hussars and Lancers) are swallow-tailed rather than rectangular (Heavy Cavalry – Dragoon Guards, Dragoons and Household Cavalry – carry a rectangular “Standard”), but like the Infantry Colour, carry Battle Honours and regimental insignia.
In 1834 it was decided that Light Cavalry, due to their role as scouts and skirmishers, which led to the regiments operating in detached groups, would not have Guidons, so the Battle Honours were emblazoned on banners mounted on the large kettle drums of the band (the museum has examples of these banners). Rifle regiments, undertaking the same role on foot, also carried no Colours for the same reason and this tradition carries on to the present day.
However, in 1956 this decision was reversed and Guidons were granted again. The museum has those of both the 10th and the 11th Hussars and visitors will see that the insignia and devices of both regiments are incorporated into the Guidon of the amalgamated regiment, The Royal Hussars.
So what are these insignia? Firstly, in the bottom right-hand corner as you look at the Guidon is the badge of the 11th Hussars – the crest of Prince Albert (husband to Queen Victoria). This commemorates the time in 1841 when the 11th Light Dragoons escorted the Prince from Dover and so impressed him that he granted the right to wear his badge, be called “Prince Albert’s Own”, to wear his scarlet court colour as part of their uniform, and be titled “Hussars”.
Next, in the bottom left corner you will see a galloping white horse. This is the badge of the House of Hanover and recognises the creation of both the 10th and the 11th Hussars (then Gore’s Dragoons and Honywood’s Dragoons) to assist in defending the new Hanoverian monarchy against the first Jacobite Rebellion in 1715.
In the top right corner is the Welsh dragon, symbolising the connection with the Prince of Wales (the 10th were first linked with the Prince in the early 19th Century, and the connection lasted until the Royal Hussars amalgamated with the 14th/20th King’s Hussars in 1992).
In the top-left is a more obscure badge: the rising sun. This device is an ancient symbol of Wales and was the badge of Edward of Woodstock; The Black Prince, borne as Prince of Wales before he adopted the plume of 3 ostrich feathers. It is present on the guidons of several cavalry regiments associated with the Prince of Wales and on the Colours of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. It is still used as the badge of A Company The Royal Welsh. It also is believed to have roots to early Hanoverian times, and is often twinned with the white horse of Hanover. [We are very grateful to Major Robert Ross, ex-Royal Welch Fusiliers, for information on the rising sun badge].
In the centre is the regimental badge, the Prince of Wales’s feathers and motto, surrounded by a wreath of roses, thistles and shamrock representing Great Britain. Underneath is the Sphinx with “Egypt”, won by the 11th Light Dragoons in 1801 fighting a French army under Napoleon.
As cavalry regiments have only one Colour the Battle Honours are arranged with World War honours on one side and non-World War honours on the other. The side you will see carries the latter, starting with Warburg in 1760 and ending with South Africa in 1899-1902.
Particularly significant are Waterloo (for both regiments), Balaclava (which signifies the Charge of the Light Brigade – the 11th Hussars) and Ali Masjid in the Second Afghan War of 1878 (for the 10th Hussars, the only British cavalry regiment to carry the honour).
On the other side of the Guidon honours range from Mons, Ypres, Arras (all Great War) to France 1940, Alamein, Normandy and Italy.
Guidons, Standards and Colours have long been relegated to a ceremonial function. The last time Colours were carried in battle was by the 58th Foot (later the Northamptonshire regiment) at Laing’s Nek (in South Africa) in 1881. Boer marksmen shot no fewer than four officers who carried the Colours in the battle; it was quickly realised that brightly-coloured flags had no place on a modern battlefield.
Cavalry had realised this far sooner; the last recorded use in battle was the 23rd Light Dragoons in Spain in about 1810. (Coincidentally, the 23rd were disbanded after Waterloo but in 1940 a new regiment, the 23rd Hussars, was created, based on a Commanding Officer and many officers and men from the 10th Hussars).
In 1992, with the creation of the King’s Royal Hussars, a new Guidon was presented representing the devices of the 14th King’s Hussars, the 20th Hussars and the 14th/20th King’s Hussars along with those of the 10th, 11th and Royal Hussars. The Battle Honours also come from all the regiments.
But nothing changes: the Guidon is still the living history of the regiment and still receives the recognition and respect of serving soldiers and those who preceded them.