The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging



Military History Journal
Vol 4 No 3 - June 1978

The 45th Regiment of Foot: its progress from the 56th to the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters

by Major A. C. M. Tyrrell

On the outbreak of war between Britain and Spain in 1739, ten Marine regiments were raised and were numbered 44 to 53, and in 1741 seven new line regiments numbered 54 to 60 were formed for action against the French. Captain Daniel Houghton of the 1st Foot Guards was appointed, with the rank of Colonel, to command the 56th and, as was customary at that time, the regiment was known as Houghton’s Regiment after its commanding officer.

In 1748, after the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the Marine regiments were disbanded and the line regiments re-numbered, thus the 56th became the 45th. The practice of referring to regiments by the names of their colonels began to fall away and a Royal Warrant issued in 1751 confirmed the use of the numerical titles.

1755 found the 45th in Canada where, in 1759, its Grenadier companies formed part of the force which, under General Wolfe, captured Quebec and ended French rule in Canada. The 45th saw considerable service in Canada, gaining its first battle honour, ‘Louisbourg’, before returning home in 1765, and the next ten years were spent in Ireland.

Ordered overseas again in 1776, the regiment served in America during the War of Independence, suffering severe losses. Returning to England in 1778 with a strength of less than one hundred all ranks, the regiment was based at Nottingham where it was brought up to strength by local recruiting and, as a result, became officially redesignated ‘The 45th (1st Nottinghamshire Regiment)’.


Badge of the 45th.

A spell of home service ensued until 1786 when the 45th was sent to the West Indies to fight the French for the possession of the islands and suffered continuing losses, mainly from sickness. In 1794 the regiment, reduced to 5 officers and 71 men, returned to England where, within months, recruiting brought its strength upto a total of 686 officers and men and in 1795 it again embarked for the West Indies where it remained until 1801. By this time it had again been subjected to severe losses from disease and was reduced in strength to 368 officers and men. Despite the conditions some 200 men volunteered to remain in the West Indies and transferred to other regiments.

The remnants of the 45th were embarked on various transports for England. One hundred and fifty French prisoners were aboard the transport Windsor with, as a guard, Capt Gwyn, two other officers and 30 other ranks from the 45th. On the third or fourth night of the voyage the Windsor lost contact with the rest of the convoy. The following night the officer in charge of the guard went below to call his relief, as apparently did some of the sentries, whereupon the French prisoners seized the opportunity to overpower the remainder of the guard. The Frenchmen then seized the arms chest, secured the rest of the soldiers and took over the ship, ordering a course to be set for Boston where they released their prisoners who returned to Plymouth aboard the stores ship Camel. No one seems to have been on the carpet as a result of the incident and the report submitted by Capt Gwyn was endorsed by the Duke of York, the Commander-in-Chief, as ‘perfectly satisfactory.’!

Between 1802 and 1806 the regiment was employed on home service but in September of that year embarked as part of the expedition sent to the River Plate to retrieve the situation following the disastrous attack on Buenos Aires. The expedition was delayed in the Cape Verde Islands for about a month as a result of a rumour that a strong French squadron was at sea, but finally at the end of May anchored off Maldonado on the coast of Uruguay where the expedition received word that it was proposed, in conjunction with other British forces now assembled in the area, to mount an attack on Montevideo. This took place in the following January and the town being secured, preparations were made to take Buenos Aires, but here the attackers met with disaster, the Spaniards successfully defending every building and street in the town and causing heavy casualties. On 7 July, 1808 a treaty was drawn up and hostilities ceased. The 45th were accorded the honours of war and marched out of Buenos Aires with fixed bayonets, drums beating and colours flying.

From the time it had left England in September 1806 until re-embarking at Montevideo, the 45th had spent seventy weeks on board ship! Commanded by Major (previously Captain) Gwyn, the troops on board the transport Flame were regarded as models of discipline and orderliness and officers of other units were instructed to visit Flame and to take note of the arrangements of the 45th which the records state approached as near as well could be to the naval system.

The 45th spent little time at home and 1808 saw them in the Peninsular army under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) serving in Spain, Portugal and France until 1814, winning thirteen battle honours during the campaign and earning the nickname of ‘the Old Stubborns’ at the battle of Talavera.

In 1812 at the siege of Badajoz, the 45th fought their way into the castle where Lt Macpherson hauled down the French flag and hoisted his red coatee as a sign that Badajoz had been won. The following day he took the French flag to the Duke of Wellington who thanked him and invited him to dinner. Years later the records show Mr Macpherson still in the rank of Lieutenant; obviously he was not as fortunate as Major Gwyn!

Between 1814 and 1818 the 45th enjoyed a relatively quiet spell in Ireland but once again they were sent overseas to serve in India and Ceylon and took part in the Burmese War of 1824-5 before returning to England in 1838.

An unhappy incident occurred on home service. John Nicolls Thorne, a man of humble birth but imposing appearance and a natural orator, had been touring the villages near Canterbury claiming to be one Sir William Courtenay and unjustly deprived of his estates. He obtained considerable sympathy and financial support from the farmers arid other country people in order to pursue his cause in the courts. An early ‘con man’, he had no intention of doing this and, falling foul of the law, was sentenced to six years deportation. However, he convinced the authorities that he was mad and was sent to the county lunatic asylum from which he was released in 1837. Thorne, now claiming that he was the ‘Saviour of the World’ and could work miracles, soon obtained a following of some 100 ‘disciples’ from amongst the local farm labourers. One farmer, concerned at the loss of his labour force, served a warrant for the arrest of Thorne and three constables were sent to carry out the arrest. On being approached Thorne asked which of the three was in charge and, on receiving the information, drew a pistol, shot the unfortunate man and then hacked at him with a sword exclaiming to his followers: ‘Now am I not your Saviour?’

A detachment of the 45th was sent to arrest Thorne; Lieutenant Bennett called upon him to surrender, and he came forward to the officer but suddenly drew a pistol and shot him dead. The troops thereupon fired a volley killing Thorne. His followers rushed into the fray and a short, sharp melee ensued during which ten of Thorne’s followers were killed and five were wounded whereas the 45th lost two more killed and one wounded. Lieutenant Bennett was buried with full military honours in Canterbury Cathedral and a tablet to his memory is in the cloisters.

The 45th also assisted the civil power during the Chartist riots and disturbances between 1840 and 1843 with less unfortunate results.

In 1842 the regiment was divided into the Headquarters and the Reserve Battalions. In 1843 the Headquarters Battalion was ordered to the Cape of Good Hope where it was based at Simonstown, the Reserve Battalion remaining in Ireland. At this time the regiment formally requested that its title be changed to ‘Royal Sherwood Foresters’. Nothing, however, came of this request, although it was continually followed up by successive commanding officers.

Cape burghers had for many years been trekking up country to get away from British rule in the Cape Colony and many had settled in Natal. When on 12 May 1843, just nine days after the arrival of the 45th, Sir George Napier, the Governor of Cape Colony, proclaimed Natal a British Colony, it was considered prudent to send two companies of the 45th to Natal to assist in establishing the Queen’s Authority. Initially the Dutch were somewhat antagonistic towards the regiment, but within months the majority of the burghers who had remained in Natal after annexation accepted the Queen’s rule and, as they fraternized with the troops, the Colony settled down to a friendly co-existence.

In May 1845 the light company was detached from Headquarters at Simonstown to reinforce the troops on the Eastern Frontier and in August the Headquarters was moved to Natal, setting up at Pietermaritzburg where the 45th, less the light company which was now quartered in Colesberg, spent the next two years ‘gainfully employed’ in enlarging its barracks, building a chapel and a theatre, and working on improvements to the road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The suburb of Sherwood beyond the Berea on the old road to Pietermaritzburg was named after the regiment which was camped in the area whilst carrying out the ‘pick and shovel work’ to form what to this day is known as the ‘45th Cutting’ on the outskirts of Durban.

Hunting expeditions were also organized in an altogether pleasant and relatively peaceful existence with detachments exchanging between Durban and Pietermaritzburg on garrison duties. The light company at Colesberg had a tougher time, being involved in keeping the peace between the burghers and the natives and even between warring factions amongst the burghers themselves. They also took a prominent part in putting down the cattle-thieving activities of the natives, the ‘War of the Axe’ and the attack on Mapona’s Kraal.

Returning to England again in 1859, the regiment saw home service in most parts of the country until, in 1864, it was ordered to India where in 1865, after 20 years of ‘badgering’, it received permission to incorporate ‘Sherwood Foresters’ in its title which now became the 45th (Nottinghamshire Regiment) Sherwood Foresters and was known from that date, informally, by its final suffix.

In Ethiopia, King Theodore was behaving in a high-handed manner towards British consular officials and had imprisoned other British subjects for no apparent crimes. Such treatment was not acceptable in the Victorian era and accordingly the 45th was included in an expeditionary force sent from India in 1868 to ‘explain’ this to King Theodore. Theodore, allegedly drunk at the time, attacked and was repulsed by the British force with a loss of 700 killed and 1200 wounded, whilst the British casualties numbered only 16 wounded. The King capitulated and released his European captives and the Sherwood Foresters returned to India. In 1872 they were moved to Burma, returning again to India in 1875 and went back to England in 1878.

With the re-organization of the Army in 1881, the 45th and the 95th regiments were amalgamated to become the 1st and 2nd Battalions respectively of ‘The Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment)’, an unusual geographical contortion! The 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Volunteer, Militia and Territorial Battalions of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were attached as reserve battalions. The 1st Battalion saw active service in Egypt in 1882 and in 1888, as part of the British force in Tibet, was present at the storming of the Dargai Heights in 1897.

In 1899 the 1st Battalion was posted to South Africa, arriving at the Cape in the early stages of the Second South African War and taking its full share of the marching and privations of that long campaign. On one occasion over a period of 45 consecutive days the Battalion marched in all for 35 days, covered 640 km and engaged the Boer forces no less than 28 times.

During Lord Roberts’ advance on Bloemfontein, Lieutenant R. S. Popham earned a Distinguished Service Order at the Bethulie Bridge over the Orange River. The Boers had mined the bridge and prepared it for demolition. In the engagement both sides kept up such a brisk fire on the bridge that any approach either by the Boers to detonate the explosives or by the British to render them safe was more than hazardous. Popham, however, succeeded in crawling across the bridge and removing the detonators from the mine as well as the dynamite which had been placed under the furthermost span, thus preventing the destruction of a bridge vital to Roberts’ lines of communication. The Battalion fought its way to Pretoria and were in the column which Roberts, sitting on his horse in Church Square for over two hours, watched marching into the town.

The regiment was in action at Diamond Hill and moved eastwards with the British forces, following on the heels of General Botha and his men who were screening President Kruger’s move to Komatipoort.

Victoria Crosses were won by Cpl H. Beet in the sharp skirmish at Wakkerstroom and by Pte W. Bees when General de la Rey mounted a surprise attack on a column encamped on the farm Moedwil. Although De la Rey’s men had the tactical advantage and the Foresters had suffered heavy losses, they rallied, counter-attacked and drove off the Boers. No fewer than 22 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to the Foresters during the 1899-1902 War.

In 1902 ‘Nottinghamshire’ was restored to the regiment’s title which now became ‘The Sherwood Foresters’ (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment). During World War I the regiment had the impressive total of 33 battalions on active service in most theatres of war. Over eleven thousand members of the regiment lost their lives in this war and some 33 000 were wounded.

In 1920 the 2nd Battalion was assisting to hold the ‘peace line’ between the Turkish and Greek armies on the western Turkish border and from there proceeded to India, returning to England only in 1935. In the same year the 1st Battalion was sent to the West Indies, whence it went to Palestine during the Arab disturbances.

During World War II the regiment trained many Home Guard units and increased its active service battalions to 13. The 2nd Battalion took part in the attempts to stem the German advance into Belgium and the Dunkirk retreat. Other battalions saw service in Norway, the Middle East, the Western Desert, the Far East, Italy, India and Burma.

After World War II, in accordance with Government policy, the territorial and reserve battalions were disbanded. The 1st Battalion was stationed in Germany and the 2nd Battalion was sent to Palestine and in 1948 the 1st and 2nd Battalions were amalgamated, serving in North Africa and Germany and taking part in the jungle fighting in Malaya. In 1963, after a short spell of home service, the regiment formed part of the peacekeeping force in Cyprus.


Badge of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters.

1970 saw the regiment amalgamated with the Worcestershire Regiment (raised in 1694 as the 29th Regiment of Foot) to become the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment (29th/45th Foot), the County Regiment of Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, inheriting the traditions and battle honours of the old regiments. HRH Princess Anne is Colonel-in-Chief and presented new colours to the County Regiment on 1 October 1971.

With the amalgamation of 1970, the regiment has probably had as many changes of title as any other regiment in the British Army but is still colloquially referred to as ‘The Sherwood Foresters’, a title it first sought in 1842, achieved in 1865 and has firmly retained since that date. The regiment has earned 109 battle honours and its members have been awarded 16 Victoria Crosses.

The regiment has a museum collection at Nottingham Castle covering the period 1741-1970; a collection of uniforms in the Derby Municipal Museum, and exhibits of the early days of the Nottinghamshire Volunteers at Newark Museum.

Bibliography:

Dalbiac, Col P. H. History of the 45th, 1st Nottinghamshire Regiment. London, Swan Sonnenschein, 1912.
Jones, Robert History of the 45th based on documents in the Orderly Room c1854. (Unpublished ms.)
Regimental Museum Brochure The Sherwood Foresters. Derby, English Life Publications, 1973.

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