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6 – World War 2

The Pembroke Yeomanry

By

LT-COL. R. L. HOWELL, M.B.E., T.D.

Part 6 – World War 2

Throughout, the combined battalion of the Pembroke and Glamorgan Yeomanries had been commanded by the Commanding Officer of the Pembroke Yeomanry, Lt.-Col. C. J. H. Spence-Jones, who was decorated with the C.M.G., and D.S.O. The days of cavalry had gone, and when the Territorial Army took independent shape again in 1920, all but the first 14 of the 53 regiments of Yeomanry were converted to other roles. The Pembroke Yeomanry became the 102nd Field Brigade, Royal Artillery, recruiting only in Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire. It consisted of four Batteries, two in each County, three being armed with 18-pounder field guns, one with 4.5 inch howitzers. At first these were horse drawn, farmers being willing to hire their horses after the spring sowing, and contractors providing them when camps were held further afield.

Mechanisation began in 1929, at first with agricultural tractors and such unlikely vehicles as the ‘Trojan’ delivery vans designed to distribute ‘Brooke Bond’ tea. Eventually they were replaced by Service transport. In 1937 the Pembroke Yeomanry fired its first 21-gun Salute, for King George VI on his arrival at Aberystwyth.

In June of 1939 the strength of the Yeomanry had risen to 736 volunteers, half belonging to the Second Line Regiment being formed in Cardiganshire. No British Government is ever prepared for war: always men have been sacrificed because funds were not made available in peacetime to provide the up-to-date equipment that a rapidly expanded army would need. After the evacuation from Dunkirk there were only two Divisions in Great Britain, one of those Canadian, with their full scale of the new 25-pounder guns. It was not until June of 1942 that the first regiment of the Pembroke Yeomanry could be sent overseas.

146th Field Regiment, raised in Cardiganshire, joined Eighth Army in the Middle East in time to take part in the Battle of El Alamein.

Afterwards it became part of the 7th Armoured Division, taking part in the advance to Tripoli, playing a particularly distinguished part in defeating Rommel’s counter-attack at Medenine, and continuing with the ‘Desert Rats’ until Tunis fell in May, 1943. As an Army Field Regiment it landed on the beaches of Salerno, taking part in the crossing of the Volturno and the bitter fighting for Monte Camino. On January 7th, 1944, the regiment left Italy for the United Kingdom, converted to Medium Artillery with 5.5 inch howitzers, and arrived in France on July 15th. Thereafter it was employed in many battles, notably the reduction of the Maas Pocket, and the crossing of the Rhine and the Elbe. Until disbanded in 1946, it remained in North West Europe.

102nd Field Regiment, formed from the Pembrokeshire Batteries, disembarked at Algiers on February 16th, 1943, to join First Army. It was one of the first two regiments in the Royal Artillery to be equipped with a Battery of self-propelled guns, and the first to fire them in action. Prior to the ending of the Tunisian Campaign it took part in many operations around Medjez el Bab, and provided support for the French XIX Corps attack near Zaghouan. Then it was withdrawn to Algeria to convert to Medium Artillery before landing in Italy on December 16th, 1943. The rest of the war was spent in that country, and included participation in the Garigliano crossing, the final battle for Cassino, and the pursuit to the north of Rome. During the winter of 1944 the regiment was in action in the Appennines, for some time in support of the II Polish Corps. After the crossing of the Senio in the following spring, it took part in the pursuit to the Po, firing for the last time near Ferrara on April 25th, 1945. A year later the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Haverfordwest conferred the Freedom of the Borough on the Pembroke Yeomanry.