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Forces War Records Blog


Yesterday, 28th October 2014, the Royal Marines turned 350. In the years since its formation in 1664, the Royal Marines has distinguished itself as an elite unit, to be sent into danger zones the world over. Think of any major battle involving the British, and chances are the Royal Marines were there.

The Royal Marines unit was formed, under the name of Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of foot- or Admiral’s Regiment- on October 28th 1664 during the reign on King Charles II. Its mission was to serve in His Majesty’s fleets prepared for sea serve. In the years since its formation, the unit has developed a formidable reputation as a highly trained force, ready to be deployed anywhere in the world with no more than a week’s notice. The Marines have also received so many battle honours that it is impossible to display them all, and taken part in just about every great battle, starting with the Battle of Trafalgar.

The Marines first saw action in the Second and Third Dutch Wars, and it was during the latter that a Senior Aide to Lord Arlington first called them by their adopted name, saying ‘Those Marines that I have mentioned to you behaved themselves stoutly’.

Remaining loyal to King James II of England when William III of Orange-Nassau, from Holland, seized the throne cost the Royal Marines, and the unit was briefly disbanded, but re-raised in 1690 for service in Ireland. It grew again in 1702 when Queen Anne signed a warrant for raising six new regiments, as the War of Spanish Succession was brewing. The Marines got their hands dirty at Cadiz and Vigo Bay, but their greatest achievement in this war the storming of Gibraltar, which was ceded to Britain. “Gibraltar” is now the sole Battle Honour displayed by the Marines.

In 1741 the unit was sent to Cartagena, Columbia, and took a pounding from dysentery that wiped out 9/10 of the fighting men. In 1756 came the Seven Years War, which took the Marines to North America, then in 1775 they did their bit in the American War of Independence, though the Rebels saw them beaten at the Battle of Bunker hill. Napoleon’s war-mongering gave the Marines their next challenge, and at the Battle of Trafalgar 92 officers and 2,600 Marines took part (17 officers and 332 men were killed or injured).

It was in 1827 that King George IV, when asked which of 106 Battle Honours should appear on the Marines badge, decided that only ‘Gibraltar’ should be used. He also approved the famous ‘Globe and Laurel’ design, and decided his cypher should be a permanent part of the emblem.

The Marines next fought at Spain, where the unit remained until 1840, then took the city of Canton in the First Chinese War, and in 1854 entered the Crimean War. Royal Marines stood alongside the Heavy and Light Brigades at the Battle of Balaclava, with a force of 1,000 men, and when the Victoria Cross was warranted for Gallantry, three members of the Royal Marines were granted the award.

Next, on to help raise the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny, then the Marines fought in the Second China War from 1856-60. Then, it was off to Ashanti on the Gold Coast of Africa to help the local forces restrain King Kofi’s men, who were rioting about the sale of Cape Coast Castle to the British by the French. After that, the Marines faced up to the Zulus in South Africa, then went on to fight in Egypt and Sudan, and help supress the Boxer Rebellion in China, where another Victoria Cross was awarded.

In World War One the Royal Marines served from the first, being among the British Expeditionary Force sent to France in August 1914. They took part in the Battles of Coronel and Jutland on the seas, and landed at Ostend and Gallipoli. They also fought in most of the major land battles on the Western Front, including the 1916 Battle of Ancre and the Second Battle of Passchendaele at Ypres.

After the war the force was briefly downsized, then increased again as the Second World War broke out. In this war the unit gained massive commendation for its amphibious operations, taking part in the Dieppe Raid, which helped the government to learn lessons for D-Day, and the D-Day Landings and the rest of the Normandy Campaign. The Cockleshell Heroes were Royal Marine Commandos too! The only Royal Marine VC in the Second World War was unfortunately awarded posthumously.

So, wherever there is peril for British men, the Royal Marines are likely to be in attendance to fight, defend and peace-keep. Happy Birthday, Royal Marines!

Source: ‘My Ancestor was a Royal Marine’ by Ken Divall

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