A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FORMATION OF THE NORTHUMBERLAND HUSSARS AND THEIR PROGRESSION TO THE QUEENS OWN YEOMANRY
In 1794 there was the prospect of the country being invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte. In response to this threat the Government of the day introduced a bill asking Newcastle to form a Gentleman and Yeomanry Cavalry to assist in the defence of the realm. The Men, mostly freehold tenant farmers were funded by their Officers but provided their own horses with Saddlery and uniforms. Many of these were people of wealth and property.
1819 – In December the Regiment was raised as The Newcastle Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry.
1831 – The Regiment was used against its own countrymen in putting down the miners strike of that year.
1876 – Renamed as The Northumberland Hussars
1900 – The Regiment was sent to South Africa as part of the Imperial Yeomanry during the Anglo Boer War. They first saw action in May of that year. Awarded the battle honour “South Africa”.
1939 – In December of that year the Regiment re-rolled to become a Royal Artillery Anti Tank regiment
1939 – 1945 The Regiment saw service in Egypt, Crete Greece. In Sicily July – September 1943 then to Normandy in 1944.
1946 – Th Regiment was disbanded from Regular service in the Royal Artillery and returned to the TA Order of battle.
1949 – Equipped with Cruiser Tanks as The Northumberland Hussars.
1967 – Reduced to Cadre strength after the formation of the TAVR.
1971 – Reformed as HQ Sqn (The Northumberland Hussars) The Queen’s Own Yeomanry. Equipped with Ferret Scout and Saracen Armoured Cars
1986 – D Sqn ( The Northumberland Hussars) formed at Cramlington Northumberland. Equipped With Fox Armoured Cars
1999 – D Sqn and HQ Sqn amalgamated to form D Sqn (The Northumberland Hussars) in Fenham Barracks. Equipped with Sabre then Scimitar Tracked Armoured Reconaisance cars
Major John Chester GAYE
Son of Arthur Stretton Gaye and
Dulcibella Chester Gaye
John Gaye joined the
Northumberland Hussars as a Captain sometime during the Sicily Campaign. He was
not listed in the Regimental ORBAT (Order of Battle) for the invasion in July
1943 but is shown for when the Regiment left in October 1943. As he was
commissioned in December 1939 he is assumed to have beem serving with another
unit or in a staff post.
Returning from the Sicilian Campaign and Salerno Landings in September 1943 the Northumberland Hussars docked at Liverpool on 5th November 1943. They had been away from the UK for twelve days less than three years when they first sailed in to battle.
John was then
Second-in-Command of "C" (288th) Battery under the command of Major G.R Balfour.
The Northumberland Hussars were by this stage a very experienced unit
with six major battle honours including two amphibious landings under their
belts. They were an obvious choice to be placed at the forefront of Operation
Overlord, the D-Day landings. For the next six months they joined thousands of
allied servicemen training in Britain for the assault on the French Coast.
The Regiment was to land at Gold Beach on D-Day with the 50th
(Northumbrian) Division as part the 69th and 231st Brigade. 69th Brigade would
land at La Riviere and move south by Crepon and Creuilly to St. Leger on the
strategically important Bayeux-Caen road. The Anti-Tank Plan was for "A" Battery
to remain with 69th Brigade until reaching St. Leger. "C" Battery would stay
with 231st Brigade for the first phase only and then change over, the Battery
going to 151st Brigade (less one troop who went to 56th Brigade). They would
then be relieved by "B" and "D" Batteries and would then go on an "exploitation"
role with 8th Armoured Brigade.
"A" and "C" Batteries would be the first
of the regiment to land at about H-Hour plus one (that is to say one hour after
the first assault landing) followed by the two self-propelled units with "B" and
"D" Batteries coming after. In addition to themselves the Regiment was allotted
two self-propelled Anti-Tank Batteries (189th and 234th Anti-Tank Batteries of
the 73rd Anti-Tank Regiment R.A) who were to be placed under the direct command
of the Northumberland Hussars.
As the 1st Battalion The Hampshire and The 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment, the lead units of the Gold Beach Invasion force landed, they were met by fortified positions that had barely been affected by the pre-invasion bombardment. The resistance and fire from the 1st Battalion of the German 716th Infantry Division was fierce and accurate. Unfortunately, the tanks arrived too late to give immediate support the infantry.
As time progressed from H-Hour the beach became congested due to
the slower than expected progress. Many vehicles were coming through four feet
of water and some were drowning in the water, as they were off loaded (drowning
meant temporary not necessarily permanent loss). Major G Rae Balfour, the C
Battery Commander, was concerned about the rest of his Battery and in order to
reach his men already on the beach he swam ashore for the craft bringing in the
vehicles. This was a sensible move by the major, as his own vehicle did not
eventually land until 15.00 hours that day. After a walk of around a mile Major
Balfour came upon 231st Brigade Tactical Headquarters, in a ditch two hundred
yards east of Le Hamel, and enemy resistance had been stiffer than expected. He
then met his Second-in-Command, Captain John Gaye, who was also on foot as his
"M.14" had drowned on landing. Together they made their way to Asnelles-sur-Mer,
the Battery Headquarters assembly area. Captain Gaye reported an "M10" blown up
on a minefield, another ashore and heading for the assembly point, and three
six-pounder guns on the beach and one drowned. Two jeeps and two
fifteen-hundredweight trucks were also drowned.
The Dorsets outflanked
Asnelles and the St. Come des Fresnes crossroads establishing themselves on the
high ground to the west. On pedal cycles, conveniently borrowed, Major Balfour
and Captain Gaye reconnoitred this area and, as it was now nearly 11.00 hours,
Captain Gaye returned to the beach in order to try and hurry the guns up to the
position. One gun arrived shortly after with the remainder following on through
The Battery continued moving forward with their Brigades
as the 50th (Northumbrian) Divison moved on to occupy Bayeux on the 7th June and
then pushed on another three miles towards Tilly-sur-Seulles, Sully and Longues.
At daybreak on 10th June the German's counter attacked at St. Pierre,
which temporarily was a success. The Battery fought a rear-guard action in an
infantry role as Infantry and Tanks fell back with a certain amount of
confusion. They regrouped on the Infantry Battalion's Headquarters (8th
Battalion The Durham Light Infantry) where every soldier was positioned for a
last-ditch stand. Much good work by Lieutenants Packham, Brameld and the men of
the Battery helped stem the German attack. Major Balfour sent Lieutenant
Packham's troop to "Point 103" to avoid overcrowding in an already risky area.
Major Balfour, Captain Gaye and Lieutenant Brameld remained in the village to
keep in contact with the quickly changing events. Although the actions by the
Battery certainly helped to reduce losses in men and equipment the casualties,
especially from mortar fire, where heavy.
All morning the battle
continued and at one time the force with St. Pierre were holding only one small
farm and orchard. It was completely surrounded and to those watching further
away on "Point 103" it seemed they "had had it". Casualties continued to mount
with ammunition running low and the strain beginning to tell on men who had been
in action and contact with the enemy for four days and nights.
The 8th Durham Light Infantry suffered some three hundred officers and
men killed, wounded or missing. C Battery had two gun crew casualties when they
came under accurate mortar fire and the remainder of the crew had to move to
safety and abandon the gun temporarily. As the Infantry had lost their guns,
every Battery piece counted, so Captain Gaye and Driver Bartholomew, who was
Lieutenant Packham's carrier driver, volunteered to rescue it. They reached the
gun but as soon as an attempt was made to hook it to the carrier another
accurate concentration of mortar fire hit the position. Both tried to take cover
but Driver Bartholomew was badly injured when the carrier he was sitting in was
set ablaze. He needed to be rescued and this was managed but Captain Gaye was
then himself wounded in the leg and the gun and carrier were burned out.
Stretcher-bearers along with Lieutenant Packham evacuated both men. Driver
Bartholomew's injuries were so serious he was downgraded from active service.
Captain Gaye went to hospital for a period before re-joining the regiment. When
Major Balfour visited Captain Gaye in the Regimental Aid-Post he was "almost in
tears" at the thought of being evacuated. Four other Battery casualties, one
killed, one mortally wounded and two other also evacuated were received.
Although short of men the Battery continued to have seven out of twelve guns in
action. This however changed later on the 10th to five working guns. After a
hard fight the German's were pushed back and the position was finally made safe.
The Battery remained in action throughout June and July in the hard
fought bloody battles for Normandy, many of which are today forgotten and
un-remembered by the public.
John rejoined the Battery on 29th July having been promoted to the rank of Major. While away there had been many casualties and changes of faces and John joined D Battery. Major Balfour, who was also wounded at St. Pierre also, re-joined at this time as Battery Commander for B.
The next day A Battery were in support of 231st Brigade, C in support of 151st Brigade and D Battery in support of 56th Brigade, advanced to the final attack against the line from Viller Bocage and Aunay-sur-Odon where they were supported by two hundred and fifty four-engined bombers. Progress was slow and it was not until the three British Armoured Divisions (Guards, 7th and 11th) broke through near Caumont that the enemy fell back and abandoned Villers Bocage.
D Battery was supporting 56th Brigade in its attack south of the Le
Lion Vert - Caumont road when Major Gaye was killed by a sniper's bullet while
out on reconnaissance.
From the landings on D-Day to the terrible
fighting in Normandy and the devastation of the German Forces at Falaise in
August the British suffered many casualties. Many of these men lie in the
Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries that are dotted around Normandy away from the
beaches in countryside that has changed little since 1944.
and Lieutenant's Brameld and Packham all survived the war.
Sources: CWGC, Army List, "Overlord" by Max Hastings and "The Northumberland Hussars 1924-1949 by Joan Bright.