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Leeds Rifles

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Leeds Rifles

The Leeds Rifles were raised in 1859 when a Volunteer Force was formed to meet an invasion threat from France. As "Rifle Volunteers" the Corps received little War Office funding and their accommodation, uniform, arms and equipment were largely funded through subscriptions.

After the Cardwell reforms The Leeds Rifles were to become a "Volunteer Battalion" of The Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment). The Leeds Rifles, still under private funding, declined the War Office offer to join another regiment and the Regiment retained their distinctive Rifle Green uniform.

On the outbreak of the Boer War the Leeds Rifles formed two Volunteer Active service Companies whose active service resulted in the award of the Leeds Rifles' first battle honour, "South Africa 1900-1902". A memorial to those who died on active service is in Leeds Parish Church.

In 1908 the unit expanded to form two battalions, the 7th and 8th (Leeds Rifles) Battalions The Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) (TA).

In July 1914 both battalions were deployed for war and two second line battalions were formed. The original battalions were identified as 1/7th and 1/8th; the second line as the 2/7th and 2 /8th. The first line battalions served in France and Flanders from April 1915 continuously to the end of the war as part of the all-territorial 49th (1st West Riding) Infantry Division. A large part of their active service found them enduring the misery of holding the infamous Ypres Salient as well as the Battle of the Somme, Passchendaele and the final advance to victory.

The second line battalions served with the all-territorial 62nd (2nd West Riding) Infantry Division which went on active service in January 1917 when it established a deserved reputation as as assault division. In the fighting to recapture the Marne, the 8th Battalion was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre for its gallantry in capturing Bligny Ridge. From that time all members of the Leeds Rifles wore the ribbon of the Croix de Guerre on their uniform.

Some 2,050 members of the Leeds Rifles died on active service in France and Flanders, 1915-1918.

In 1920 both Battalions reformed. In the late 30's, the 8th Battalion was converted to the anti-aircraft role as the 66th (Leeds Rifles) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA (TA), mobilised for the Munich Crisis, later seeing active service in Britain and the Far East. The 7th Battalion became a tank unit which itself expanded to form two regiments: 45th (Leeds Rifles) Royal Tank Regiment (TA) and 51st (Leeds Rifles) Royal Tank Regiment (TA).

The 45th fought with distinction during the break-in phase at El Alamein, but was subsequently disbanded to provide battle replacement crews, having suffered high casualties. The 51st also served in North Africa. Later, during the battle for the Adolf Hitler Line in Italy, the 51st supported the Canadian Division who subsequently decorated the unit with the emblem of the Canadian Maple Leaf which is, to this day, worn as part of Regimental dress.

The Leeds Rifles anti-aircraft and tank regiments reformed after the war and served in those roles until 1961 when they again became infantry and were amalgamated to become The Leeds Rifles The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire (TA).

In 1967 a new Volunteer Regiment, Yorkshire Volunteers, was formed. The Territorial battalions of the four Yorkshire Infantry regiments each became a Company of this new Regiment. In 1969, The Leeds Rifles became "E" (The Leeds Rifles) Company at Leeds. The remaining cadre of soldiers subsequently became the nucleus of "C" (The Leeds Rifles) Company , 2nd Battalion, was formed in Castleford in 1971.

Successive reorganisations witnessed Yorkshire Volunteers expanding to form four battalions. The Leeds Rifles companies variously changed their company letter to meet these changes, but always retained their "Leeds Rifles" title as well as wearing the Croix de Guerre and the Maple Leaf.

Further reorganisation of the Yorkshire Volunteers in 1993 found The Leeds Rifles serving as a Company of 3rd Battalion The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire.

One of the consequences of the Strategic Defence Review of 1998 was that from early 1999, The Leeds Rifles were reduced to a platoon of Imphal Company, the East and West Riding Regiment.

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Andrew Palmer
Andrew Palmer

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Categories: Leeds Rifles