The Pembroke Yeomanry
LT COL. R. L. HOWELL, M.B.E., T.D.
Part 1 – Beginnings.
For more than one and a half centuries the men of Pembrokeshire have given of their spare time to serve in a regiment of volunteers raised within their own County. In times of peace they have maintained it by their own efforts: in times of war they have fought with it on the South African veldt, amongst the sands of North Africa, in the mud of Flanders and the snows of the Appennines, and on the banks of the Po and the Rhine. In this article I have attempted to set down something of its history.
With the outbreak of the French revolutionary war in 1793, the Committee of Public Safety introduced mass conscription. No British Government would have dared to do so. Public opinion recognised the Navy as the one sure shield against invasion, and still tolerated the Press Gang as the means to man the ships when the need was great. For the Army, other means must be found. Conscription was restricted to the raising of local regiments of Militia, each County finding its own quota of men by ballot to be trained as soldiers for 28 days in each of 3 years. On March 5th, 1794, Mr. Pitt outlined to the House of Commons various measures for strengthening the internal defences. Foot soldiers must either march, or else be moved by sea. There was a need for greater mobility, and he employed the expression ‘Yeomen Cavalry’ for the first time.
That month a plan was sent to the Lord Lieutenant of each County which contained provision for the raising of ‘Bodies of Cavalry’ to consist of ‘gentlemen and yeomanry’ who would be exempt from the Militia Ballot and Horse Duty. They were to provide their own horses, the Government their arms and accoutrements. Training was to be authorised by the Lord Lieutenant and he, or the High Sheriff of the County, could call upon them for ‘the suppression of riots or tumults within their own or adjacent Counties’ as well as in the event of invasion. In such circumstances they were to receive pay as cavalry and be subject to Military Law. The plan was accepted with enthusiasm all over the United Kingdom. Lord Milford presided over a meeting of Pembrokeshire gentlemen in London on April 19th, 1794, at which it was decided to raise the ‘Pembrokeshire Company of Gentlemen and Yeomanry Cavalry’.
In 1795 the Army List showed the following officers, together with the dates of their commissions, under the heading of ‘Gentlemen and Yeomanry, Pembroke’
Captain Richard Lord Milford, 17th July, 1794.
Captain John Campbell, 31st August, 1794.
Lieutenant Dudley Ackland, 31st August, 1794.
Cornet John Lloyd, 31st August, 1794.
Each Captain was to raise a Troop of 50 men, Lord Milford’s to be known as the Dungleddy Troop and recruited from the neighbourhood of Picton and Haverfordwest. John Campbell, to be raised to the Peerage as Lord Cawdor in 1796, was to form the Castlemartin Troop from the district around Stackpole. The uniform was to consist of boots and white breeches; a blue coatee with buff collar, cuffs and lapels, and a leather helmet with a bearskin crest and a turban of moleskin. This helmet was to be edged with white metal, bearing the words ‘Pembroke Yeomanry’. They were to be armed with swords and pistols, with an additional twelve carbines a Troop. From the condition that they must provide their own riding horses, it would appear that the recruits were to be persons of some substance and responsibility. It was in the winter of 1796 that the Castlemartin Troop was first called upon for service, parading on market days in the Pembroke district after disturbances caused by the shortage of bread.
Part 2 – “Fishguard”
Early in the morning of February 23rd, 1797, they rode to Haverfordwest, crossing the Haven by ferry, and that evening were at Fishguard with the 750 men commanded by Lord Cawdor who had been mustered to oppose the 1,400 Frenchmen under William Tate, safely landed at Carreg Wastad Point the night before. This expedition, originally intended as a minor diversion in an ambitious invasion plan that came to nothing when the 15,000 men of Louis Lazare Hoche had failed to land at Bantry Bay, and the 5,000 more under Quantin had abandoned their voyage to Newcastle off Dunkirk, ended ingloriously. Tate, disillusioned as to the quality of his troops and the temper of the Welsh, misled by Lord Cawdor’s firmness and a belief that the scarlet whittles of distant Welshwomen were the red coats of the Regulars into assuming a British superiority that did not exist, surrendered upon Goodwick Sands on the morning of the 24th February. Yet the landing of the French had demonstrated the value of Yeomanry Cavalry within 3 years of its inception. A threat had been countered by the resolute action of local men, to be acknowledged many years later by the award of the Battle Honour ‘Fishguard’ to the Yeomanry by Queen Victoria in 1853. This remains the only Battle Honour to be held by any unit of the British Army for facing an enemy within the British Isles.