Why Halifax? Why the West Riding?

In 1751 regiments were given numbers, and the Regiment was from that time officially known as the 33rd Regiment of Foot. In 1782 the Regiment’s title was changed to the 33rd (or First Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment, thus formalising an association with the West Riding of Yorkshire which, even then, had been long established. There can be no doubt though that by the time of the American War of Independence the Regiment had established a strong link with the West Riding and it’s from this time also that the Regiment’s nickname ‘The Havercake Lads’ begins to appear, the Havercake being the traditional Yorkshire Oat (hafer) cake.

In 1881, following the Childers Reforms, the 33rd was linked with the 76th Regiment of Foot, who shared their depot in Halifax . In 1782 Lord Cornwallis, the then Colonel of the Regiment, wrote that “The 33rd Regiment of Infantry has always recruited in the West Riding of Yorkshire and has a very good interest and the general goodwill of the people in that part of the country : I should therefore wish not only to be permitted to recruit in that County, but that my Regiment may bear the name of the 33rd or West Yorkshire Regiment”. On 31 August 1782 Lord Cornwallis heard that the King had approved of the new title: 33rd (or the 1st West Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment of Foot. In 1881 the 76th Regiment, which shared the same Depot in Halifax as the 33rd, was linked to the 33rd, under the Childers Reforms, to become the 2nd Battalion. Although retitled as the Halifax Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s) this title only lasted six months until it was changed on 30 June 1881, in a revised appendix to General order 41, to: The Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), or ‘W Rid R’ for short. In January 1921 it was again retitled to The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding), or ‘DWR’ for short.

The invasion scare of 1859 led to the creation of the Volunteer Force and huge enthusiasm for joining local Rifle Volunteer Corps (RVCs). A large number of individual RVCs were raised in the West Riding; some amalgamated into larger units, and the rest of the smaller units were grouped into administrative battalions. For example, the RVCs raised in Halifax were amalgamated as the 4th Yorkshire (West Riding) RVC in 1860. The senior unit in the 5th Admin Bn at Huddersfield was the 6th Yorkshire (West Riding) RVC, officially entitled the Huddersfield Rifles in 1868. In 1880 the 5th Admin Bn was consolidated as a new 6th Yorkshire (West Riding) RVC. Similarly, the 2nd Admin Bn at Skipton-in-Craven was consolidated as a new 9th Yorkshire (West Riding) RVC in 1880.[3

The Childers Reforms (and as a continuation of the Cardwell Reforms) brought the Militia into the regimental system, and the two battalions of 6th West York Militia became the 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment . At the same time the three West Riding Volunteer battalions became linked with the Regiment. In February 1883, as part of the Childers Reforms, these three corps were designated as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Volunteer Battalions of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. By 1887 they had adopted the same uniform as the parent unit. Under the mobilisation scheme introduced by the Stanhope Memorandum of December 1888 the Volunteer Battalions of the Duke of Wellington’s were assigned to the West Yorkshire Volunteer Infantry Brigade in Northern Command and in the event of war were expected to mobilise at Leeds.

The 3rd (Militia) Battalion (the former 6th West York Militia) was embodied in January 1900 for service in South Africa, and 500 officers and men left Queenstown for Cape Town the following month. Most of the battalion returned to the United Kingdom in late May 1902.

All three Volunteer Battalions also sent service companies to support the Regular battalions, and received the Battle Honour South Africa 1900–1902.

When it was first announced the Regiment was to be moved to the new barracks in Halifax  in 1872 the objections came thick and fast. Soldiers in the 19th century were regarded as rough and licentious, given to brawling and a danger to women. A petition signed by 4,664 residents and supported by the Borough Council was presented to Edward Cardwell, the then Secretary of State for War. It stated clearly that the “selection of Halifax as a military centre is contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants and such centres should not be established in prosperous industrial districts, in as much as they offer strong inducements to irregularity and neglect of work and tend generally to demoralisation and immorality.”

But the barracks were part of a major modernisation plan and all opposition was swept aside. The barracks were built and on August 29, 1872, the newly formed Dukes – a combination of the 33rd Regiment and 76th Regiment – moved in. Soldiers had been billeted in the town before and the vicar of Halifax, the Reverend Charles Musgrave, donated the land. For the next 82 years the Depot was to be the home of the Regiment and the base became a much-loved part of Halifax, the Dukes earning a great deal of respect from local residents and vice versa. Recruiting, training and assisting territorial units from all over the West Riding were the main staples of life. At its height, more than 2,000 soldiers were accommodated in the BarracksThe Halifax depot was finally closed on August 6, 1959 leaving a small Regimental Headquarters on the site until amalgamation in 2006.

In 1945 to celebrate the end of the war, the Halifax Corporation granted the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment “the privilege, honour and distinction of marching through the streets of Halifax on all ceremonial occasions with bayonets fixed, colours flying and bands playing”. They were regularly cheered when they marched through the town and were almost as synonymous with the district as textiles and sweets.

Subsequently following The County Borough of Halifax on 18th of June 1945 others followed:

  • The County Borough of Huddersfield – 2nd of July 1952
  • The Borough of Spenborough – 24th of February 1959
  • The Freedom of Mossley – 8th of July 1967
  • The Honorary Citizenship of Skipton Town – 4th of May 1991
  • The Freedom of Barnsley – 8th of May 1995
  • The City of Bradford Metropolitan District – 26th of April 1996
  • The City of Sheffield Metropolitan District- 13th of April 2002
  •  The Freedom of Craven District – 20th of July 2002
  • The Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale – 27th of July 2002

It can be seen that throughout most of its history the Regiment has been synonymous with the West Riding and Halifax became its ‘Mother town’, hence the location of the Memorial.