The Leeds Rifles

The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire (TA)

This section is divided into several pages and will continue to grow:
The History of the Leeds Rifles  The History
The Croix de Guerre,  Croix de Guerre
How the Maple Leaf was won  Maple Leaf
51st (Leeds Rifles) Royal Tank Corps  51 RTR
Bligny Sunday - an outstanding annual event  Bligny Sunday
The Band - an amazing story of persistence  The Band

The Leeds Rifles were raised in 1859 when the Volunteer Force was formed to meet an invasion threat from France. The Corps was titled 7th Yorkshire, West Riding, (Leeds) Rifle Volunteer Corps. Many prominent Leeds businesses raised complete companies from their workforces, including Joshua Tetley's brewery. The Tetley family played a central part in the Leeds Rifles for well over a century providing a number of officers, commanding officers and honorary colonels. The Leeds Rifles at first had their barracks next to the Town Hall where the Law Courts stand today. As "Rifle Volunteers" the Corps received little War Office funding and their accommodation, uniform, arms and equipment were largely funded through subscriptions. The unit grew quickly, soon reaching 1,000 and, as well as producing an elite volunteer infantry unit, played a central part in the social life of the city.

Edward Cardwell's reorganisation of the army in the 1880's required The Leeds Rifles to become a "Volunteer Battalion" of The Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment). The Leeds Rifles, by now a flourishing unit, stoutly declined the War Office offer to join another regiment. The dispute lasted several years, resulting in The Leeds Rifles retaining their distinctive Rifle Green uniform and regimental accoutrements, and not being required to bear the colours of The West Yorkshire Regiment, despite, in 1887, becoming the 3rd Volunteer Battalion The Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) (Leeds Rifles). By this time the unit had become so large that it had bought and modernised, with Corps funds, the old militia barracks at Carlton Hill, and so Carlton Barracks became the home of The Leeds Rifles.

On the outbreak of the Boer War the Leeds Rifles formed two Volunteer Active service Companies whose active service resulted in the award of the Leeds Rifles' first battle honour, "South Africa 1900-1902". A memorial to those who died on active service is in Leeds Parish Church.

When the Volunteer Force became the Territorial Force, in 1908, the unit expanded to form two battalions, each over 1,000 strong, the 7th and 8th (Leeds Rifles) Battalions The Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) (TA). In July 1914 both battalions returned early from camp with orders to embody for war. So many former Leeds Riflemen and new recruits turned up at Carlton Barracks that two second line battalions were formed. The original battalions were identified as 1/7th and 1/8th; the second line as the 2/7th and 2 /8th. The first line battalions served in France and Flanders from April 1915 continuously to the end of the war as part of the all-territorial 49th (1st West Riding) Infantry Division. A large part of their active service found them enduring the misery of holding the infamous Ypres Salient as well as the Battle of the Somme, Passchendaele and the final advance to victory.

The second line battalions served with the all-territorial 62nd (2nd West Riding) Infantry Division which went on active service in January 1917 when it established a deserved reputation as as assault division. In the fighting to recapture the Marne, the 8th Battalion was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre for its gallantry in capturing Bligny Ridge. From that time all members of the Leeds Rifles wore the ribbon of the Croix de Guerre on their uniform. Some 2,050 members of the Leeds Rifles died on active service in France and Flanders, 1915-1918.

Both Leeds Rifles Battalions reformed in 1920 when the Territorial Army was reconstituted. War Office funding was poor throughout the 1920's and early 30's but a hard core of dedicated Leeds Riflemen kept both battalions flourishing. In the late 30's, the 8th Battalion was converted to the anti-aircraft role as the 66th (Leeds Rifles) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA (TA), mobilised for the Munich Crisis, later seeing active service in Britain and the Far East. The 7th Battalion became a tank unit which itself expanded to form two regiments: 45th (Leeds Rifles) Royal Tank Regiment (TA) and 51st (Leeds Rifles) Royal Tank Regiment (TA). The 45th fought with distinction during the break-in phase at El Alamein, but was subsequently disbanded to provide battle replacement crews, having suffered high casualties. The 51st also served in North Africa. Later, during the battle for the Adolf Hitler Line in Italy, the 51st supported the Canadian Division who subsequently decorated the unit with the emblem of the Canadian Maple Leaf which is, to this day, worn as part of Regimental dress.

The Leeds Rifles anti-aircraft and tank regiments reformed after the war and served in those roles until 1961 when they again became infantry and were amalgamated to become The Leeds Rifles The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire (TA).

In 1967 a new Volunteer Regiment, Yorkshire Volunteers, was formed. The Territorial battalions of the four Yorkshire Infantry regiments each became a Company of this new Regiment. The Leeds Rifles (apart from the Band, which became the Yorkshire Volunteers Band) became an AVR III unit, unpaid and largely unwanted. Once again, they did not "fade away" when asked, but stuck it out. Two years later, having once again "declined" to accept the wishes of those in Whitehall, The Leeds Rifles became "E" (The Leeds Rifles) Company at Leeds. The remaining cadre of soldiers subsequently became the nucleus of "C" (The Leeds Rifles) Company , 2nd Battalion, was formed in Castleford in 1971. Successive reorganisations witnessed Yorkshire Volunteers expanding to form four battalions. The Leeds Rifles companies variously changed their company letter to meet these changes, but always retained their "Leeds Rifles" title as well as wearing the Croix de Guerre and the Maple Leaf.

Further reorganisation of the Yorkshire Volunteers in 1993 found The Leeds Rifles serving as a Company of 3rd Battalion The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire.

One of the consequences of the Strategic Defence Review of 1998 was that from early 1999, The Leeds Rifles were reduced to a platoon of Imphal Company, the East and West Riding Regiment. The name and traditions will be proudly preserved for many years to come.

 

The Leeds Rifles Museum is to be found within the museum of Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire. Click on the blue link for details.

Also refer to the Band's pages, for their part in preserving the traditions of the Leeds Rifles

Bligny Sunday The annual commemoration of the award of the Croix de Guerre

to return to Yorkshire Volunteers.

Copyright © 1998, 1999