The Staffords: A Brief History of the Staffordshire Regiment

Our audience was treated to a fact-packed journey through the history of the Staffordshire Regiment at our December meeting. Retired Major, Ted Green left no one in doubt of his depth of knowledge of the Regiment, both as a serving officer and subsequently as curator of the Regimental Museum at Whittington. Predictably, the history of a long established regiment is detailed and complex. Those yearning for impressive detail must visit the regimental museum or its website.

The Regiment traces its roots to 1705 when Luke Lillingston, already a serving soldier, paused at Lichfield and sought to raise his own regiment. Two hundred and fifty men signed up at The King's Head Public House in Bird St, but, remember, at this time the Regiment was named for Lillingston, not for Staffordshire; it then being the practice for courtiers or wealthy individuals to raise their own regiments in support of the monarchy. The Regiment was soon embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession, being dispatched in 1707 to the West Indies to defend English possessions. There they remained until 1764, achieving the longest unbroken military deployment in the history of the British Army. Whilst they were away in the West Indies army reforms abolished the personal naming of regiments and adopted the use of geographical areas, largely to encourage recruitment and a sense of local comradeship. Hence, Lillingston's Regiment became the 1st South Staffordshire Regiment, the 38th Regiment of Foot. A second regiment was formed in 1793, as the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment, the 80th Regiment of Foot. In parallel, 1756 saw the creation of a North Staffordshire Regiment, the 2/11th Regiment of Foot, enhanced in 1758, by a 64th Regiment of Foot. Recruitment for the regiments was geographical, with Watling Street generally demarking the north and south recruitment areas. Remember, at this time, the fertile recruiting ground of the Black Country was largely in Staffordshire. Lichfield recruited for the North Staffordshire Regiment. In 1793, Lord Henry Paget, Marquis of Anglesey formed the 80th Regiment of Foot, The Staffordshire Volunteers, a form of Territorial Reserve. Paget is well know as the Duke of Wellington's deputy at the Battle of Waterloo. 1824 saw the formation by Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde, of the 98th Regiment of Foot of the North Staffordshire Regiment. During this period, both Regiments served widely at home and overseas, including Persia and India. However, by then many of the recruits were Irish.

The disastrous outcome of the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny at last forced the Government to reform the army. In 1872, the Cardwell Reforms abolished the purchase of commissions and codified regimental numbering. Henceforth, regiments were to be formed of two battalions, with one usually based at home whilst the second served overseas. In 1881, the South Staffs and North Staffs Regiments were formed from four of the old regiments of Foot, the North Staffs now being renamed The Prince of Wales's (North Stafforshire Regiment). At this time, the old County Militias and Volunteers were linked to the two regiments too. They and others elsewhere formed an embryonic Territorial Army. Incidentally, the Militia Barracks were located in Birmingham Rd and the Volunteers headquarters were in Armoury House, Frog Lane. By 1908, both regiments had six battalions, two Regular, two Militia and two Territorial.

This arrangement persisted throughout the First World War, when the two regiments had 35 battalions between them. They participated in the Battle of Loos and fought at The Somme and St Quentin, sustaining heavy casualties. Indeed the British Army's most decorated non-commissioned officer was Lance Corporal Bill Coltman of Rangemoor, Burton on Trent. A stretcher bearer, he risked his life many times to rescue wounded soldiers from the battlefield. For his bravery, he ended the war with a VC, DCM and bar and MM and bar. These medals are held by the Museum. The Second World War saw the Regiments fighting in North Africa, Burma, Italy and France. In 1948, both Regiments were reduced in size and then, inevitably, in 1959, they were amalgamated as The Staffordshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales's). The Regiment had tours in Northern Ireland (six in total), Korea, Cyprus, Kenya and Uganda. They took part in the Gulf War, and were deployed to Iraq. In 2007 the Regiment combined with the Cheshire and Shropshire Regiments to become the 3rd Battalion Mercian Regiment (Staffords). Since when, they have seen action in Afghanistan, suffering fatal casualties. However, the inheritance of The Staffords lives on. They regularly exercise their Freedoms to march through many Staffordshire towns including Lichfield and Cannock is due to join the list in 2018. We must also not forget the Regimental Mascot, Staffordshire Bull Terrier Watchman VI, recently promoted to Colour Sargeant!

Ted is justly proud of the Regimental Museum. Its relatively small size has been offset by interesting displays and positive initiatives, including the World War I trenches and military vehicle collection. Moves are afoot to prepare a Heritage Lottery bid to improve the buildings. Those who wish for a greater insight into this important part of Lichfield's history, should plan to visit the Museum, which is open most days in the year.

Roger Hockney
December 2017