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17th Lancers History,


British Army Cavalry


The value of light cavalry having been fully recognised in 1759, George II decided on increasing the establishment by adding five new light dragoon regiments to the army. Of these, the 17th Lancers was one, and was first numbered the 18th; but on the reduction of Lord Aberdour's regiment in 1763 it took rank as the 17th. Its first colonel was John Hale, who had carried home the dispatches announcing the victory at Quebec; and in memory of his late chief, General Wolfe, he obtained permission for the new regiment to bear on its standard the Death's Head with the motto "Or Glory", which it still retains.

Though it sent a detachment to serve under the Marquis of Granby in 1761, when it was dressed in scarlet coats with white epaulets and facings, and a leather helmet ornamented with white metal and a scarlet horse hair crest, it saw no serious service until 1775, when it was dispatched to America. It volunteered to send a dismount detachment to assist in the questionable victory at Bunker's Hill; landed in Long Island with Sir William Howe, to follow the retreating Americans to New York; and at "White Plains", "For Washington", and Rhode Island took part in the very ineffective campaigns of 1776. Throughout 1777-78 it accompanied Howe in the equally abortive operations which culminated in the evacuation of Philadelphia and the retreat of the British Army to New York. Its work was undoubtedly well done, and the history of the regiment shows no more harassing and exhausting duty than that which the men had to perform in this useless war. They were attached to Tarleton's "legion", the one force of mixed "provincials" and regulars which did good service, and with it accompanied Sir Henry Clinton in his expedition to South Carolina. The whole history of the American war is one of desultory and disconnected operations. This was one. The siege of Charleston followed by its capture; and that by some unimportant "affairs" at "Wacsaw" and "Camden", where Gales was defeated, and at "Cowpens". It is somewhat amusing to read in the official history that the "American Colonel" Washington called out during the fight, "Where is now the boasting Tarleton?" when Cornet Patterson of the 17th rode up to attack him, and was killed by Washington's orderly. Even as late as 1841 there were men in England unwilling to give to the first President of the United States the grade of General, which he had earned by faithful service towards his native land, and by winning with the rawest levies a wonderful success.

There were gleams of real heroism in this fateful war which are worth recording. Corporal O'Lavery of the 17th was sent to accompany the bearer of an important dispatch; attacked on the way, the latter was killed, but the Corporal, hiding the paper in his wound, rode on with it till he fell from loss of blood. But his message was safe and was delivered, and the appreciation of his gallantry is shown by the monument his chief, Lord Rawdon, raised to his memory in his native county of Down.

In 1783 the 17th Lancers returned home, and their uniform was changed from scarlet to blue. After this they saw various but unimportant service in Ireland, the West Indies, Holland, Monte Video, and Buenos Ayres, where they acted as dismounted troops. The official history of the regiment records a curious fact which, illustrating as it does the varied service of the regiment before its present battle roll was tabulated, is worth mentioning. In four successive years it celebrated the King's birthday in the four quarters of the world. "In 1806, in Europe, in England; in 1807, in America, at Monte Video; in 1808, in Africa, at the Cape of Good Hope; and in 1809, in Asia, at Surat.

Meanwhile, from South America it had gone by the Cape to India. The uniform, both "field day" and "review" order, was striking at this time. The dress was still blue, with a scarlet "girdle", but the head covering was, in the former, a tall conical cap with a plume in the top; and in the latter case a helmet with a ridge of wool apparently from front to rear, with a tall white plume at the side. There is no apparent record of a similar dress, so it was probably a "Colonel's fancy".

From 1810 to 1822, when it returned to England and was constituted Lancers, it was continuously employed in minor operations against Burding, Anjar (in Cutch), the Pindarees, and Bheels. No regiment seems to have changed its uniform more. In 1817 the dark blue coat and pale blue overalls with white facings was surmounted by a broad topped shako with a tall plume in front; the Lancer dress of 1824 had a red and white plume in the lance cap, aiguillettes, and epaulets on the coat; and in 1829 the general colour of the uniform was dark blue, with a white top to the lance cap, in the case of officers, and a black plume; in 1832 the coat was red, with epaulets, the trouser stripe was also red, and the plume still black. Now, with the uniform, both facings and plume are white.

In the Crimea the regiment shared in the battle of the Alma, and still more in the glory of the Light cavalry charge at Balaklava, where they were in front line. Lieutenant-Colonel Morris led the regiment with nine troop leaders and subalterns, but when the guns were reached five of the subordinates had fallen, Winter and Thompson dead. the others desperately wounded. With the shattered remnants of the regiment, now broken up into groups, the wild charge continued. Morris ran the leader of the Russian cavalry through, but unable to withdraw his sword from the body of his adversary, was severely wounded, and fell from his horse, to be wounded a second time by the Cossacks who surrounded him. The he surrendered; but as no one remained to make him prisoner, he attempted to retreat on a loose horse, which fell with him, crushing his leg. Extricating himself, he fell senseless by the side of his dead friend Nolan, to be rescued by Dr Mouatt of the Inniskillings, as already related by Sergeant-Major Wooden, both of whom won the Cross for Valour; the latter for "proceeding, under a heavy fire, to his assistance when he was lying very dangerously wounded in an exposed situation". Two other men of the 17th won the same distinction in the campaign; the one, Troop Sergeant Major John Berryman, who, present at the Alma, was engaged in the pursuit at Mackenzie's farm, capturing three Russian prisoners; and in the Balaklava charge, where his horse was shot, he "stopped on the field with a wounded officer (Captain Webb of the 11th Hussars) amidst a shower of shot and shell, although repeatedly told by that officer to consult his own safety and leave him; but he refused to do so, and on Sergeant John Farrell coming by, with his assistance carried Captain Webb out of the range of the guns". For his share in this cool and gallant action Quartermaster-Sergant Farrell was also decorated, he having also had his horse killed under him in the charge.

The 17th also bear on their appointments "Inkerman", where they suffered the loss of one officer and some men, forming at the time part of the Light Brigade, which the numbered only about 200 men!

They served next in "Central India" after the Mutiny was broken, and in 1879 proceeded to South Africa with the reinforcements ordered by Lord Chelmsford. They were brigaded with the Kin's Dragoon Guards, under General Marshall, and were present at the reconnaissance in the direction of the Erzungayan Hill, on the 5th June, where their adjutant, Lieutenant E. F. Cockayne-Frith, was killed; and later on at Ulundi were represented by two squadrons, commanded by Colonel Drury-Lowe. When, at 9.25am on that day, Lord Chelmsford gave the order "Go at them, Lowe, but don't pursue too far", they dispersed the broken fragments of the last Zulu attack to meet a close mass of the enemy concealed in a donga, under whose fire fell Captain Wyatt Edgell and several men. But the charge continued and broke these also, though, strangely enough, lances were slung, and the work done with the sword.

One Victoria Cross, in addition to those already named, has been won by a former officer of the regiment, the Lieutenant H. Evelyn Wood, now commanding the 'Aldershot' division. For in 1858, during the action of Sindwaho, when in command of a troop of the 3rd Light Cavalry, he attacked with much gallantry, almost single handed, a body of rebels who had made a stand, and whom he routed; also for having subsequently, near Sindhora, gallantly advanced with a Duffadar and Sowar of Beaton's Horse, and rescued from a band of robbers a Potail; Chenum Singh, whom they had captured and carried off to the jungles, where they intended to hang him.

Their several names are "The Death or Glory Boys", from their regimental badge and their origin; "Bingham's Dandies", from their colonel, who was punctiliously careful as to the fit of the men's uniforms; and, lastly, the title "Duke of Cambridge's Own" was conferred on them in 1876, in honour of the Commander-in-Chief, who once served in the regiment.

Extract from "The British Army and Auxiliary Forces" Colonel C. Cooper King, R.M.A. , 1894

The 17th (Duke of Cambridge's Own) Lancers, started life as the 18th Light Dragoons raised in 1759, in 1876 they became the 17th Lancers (Duke of Cambridge's Own ), the regimental motto is "Death Or Glory".

Regimental Battle Honours.

1854 - 1855, Crimean War, Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, and Sebastopol.
1857 - 1858 Indian Mutiny,
1877 - 1879 Zulu and Basuto War.
1899 - 1902 Boer War
1914 - 1918 The Great war, Festubert 1914, Somme 1916,1918, Morval, Cambrai 1917, 1918 , St Quentin, Avre, Hazebrouck, Amiens Pursuit to Mons,

Five members of the regiment have been awarded the Victoria Cross; Three in the Crimean war, 1 during the Indian Mutiny, and one during the Boer war.


For details and the history of the 17th Lancers please follow these links:

The Origins of the 17th Lancers -  17th lt dragoons

Victorian - 17th lancers 1822-1922

Lancer Museum -



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