The History of The Light Infantry
Air Marshal Foxley-Norris, accompanied by
Captain Hickie and Lieut MacPherson, inspects
the 2 LI Guard of Honour c1968.
The Light Infantry was formed on 10 July 1968 from the four regular Light Infantry Battalions of The Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry, The Kings Own Yorkshire Light infantry, The King’s Shropshire Light infantry and The Durham Light Infantry and The Light Infantry Volunteers. The Light Infantry Depot at Shrewsbury became The Light Infantry Depot and the Regiment was grouped with The Royal Green Jackets in The Light Division. The Light Infantry structured itself on Vesting Day in a manner that embodied equally all the traditions and customs of the former regiments in all battalions.
The silver Bugle cap badge, drill from the ‘at ease’ position, rapid marching pace and green beret bear testimony to the Regiments ancestry. Key distinctions of dress wear also carried forward- Red Backing for the cap badge from the DCLI, sashes tied to the right from the SCLI, The Inkerman chain from the DLI and white roses on Minden Day from the KOYLI. The Regiment also had the distinction of being excused from drinking a Loyal Toast – a privilege inherited from both the KSLI and the DLI.
The primary Regimental Day was 22 July, the anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca, a battle in which all the former regiments fought. The Light Infantry was intensely proud to have as its first Colonel in Chief Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother who was succeeded on her death by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra who had taken on the mantle of Deputy Colonel-in-Chief from Vesting Day.
Vesting Day was the culmination of a series of events that had started in 1934 when The Light Infantry Club was formed as a vehicle to develop a close association between all Light infantry Officers. This was followed in 1951 with the formation of The Light Infantry Brigade. In 1957 the defence White Paper started the process that would significantly reduce Britain’s large conventional forces and end conscription. The outcome for The Light Infantry Brigade on 6 October 1959 was the reduction by one battalion. This was achieved by the amalgamation of The Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s) and The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, to form The Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry. The Light Infantry Brigade was reduced by a further battalion on 7 November 1968 when The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry joined The Green Jacket Brigade. In 1966 The Territorial Army was disbanded and reformed the following day as The Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve. In July 1967 The Light Infantry Volunteers was formed . By 1967 it had become that national economic difficulties would require a further reduction in the Infantry. The Army Board settled on forming Divisions of Infantry. The Light Infantry Brigade would be grouped with The Green Jacket Brigade in The Light Division and in doing so the Light Brigade would be required to reduce by one battalion. The Council Of Light Infantry Colonels accepted reluctantly that if required to reduce the mechanism would be to from a large regiment first and then reduce by one battalion.
The early years of the Light Infantry, 1968-1978, saw a constant draw on all battalions to deploy at short notice on emergency tours of Northern Ireland. 3 LI was the first battalion deployed shortly followed onto the streets by both 1LI and 2 LI. Elements of all three battalions were involved in The Battle of the Shankill in Belfast in October 1969. Other operational commitments over the period saw 3 LI in Mauritius, 2 LI in the Far East and multiple deployments on UN duties as part of UNFICYP in Cyprus. Residential tours also saw the battalions as part of the British Army of the Rhine training in Kenya, Canada and the United States.
The period of 1979-1989 was known as the Years of Consolidation. Continued Northern Ireland commitment placed a heavy burden on the Light Infantry over the period and dominated operational deployments. That said deployments to UNFICYP continued complemented by further training in Jamaica, Canada, the United States and Kenya. Other overseas deployments included Hong Kong and the Falkland Islands. Domestic commitments included supporting the Fire Service, the Prison service and deploying to Greenham Common.
1990-2007 was the period started by Options for Change that culminated with formation of The Rifles in 2007. This saw the Regiment reduce by one further battalion on 25 February 1993 achieved by amalgamating all three battalions to reform as two. The period saw the continuing provision of support in Northern Ireland. The regiment also deployed to the Balkans – Bosnia and Kosovo - Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. This was alongside continued overseas residential tours in Germany and Cyprus( including Falkland Island garrison commitments) and training worldwide in Kenya, Belize, West Indies, Canada and The United States. The Light infantry joined with The Royal Green Jackets, the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment and The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment to form The Rifles on 1st Feb 2007.
Throughout its existence The Light Infantry served the Nation with distinction across the world in a wide variety of operational deployments. In doing so it established a reputation that was second to none in the British Army .