Unit History: King's Own Light Infantry
The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was a regiment of the British Army. It officially existed from 1881 to 1968, but its predecessors go back to 1755. The regiment’s traditions and history are now maintained by The Rifles.
The 53rd Regiment of Foot was raised in Leeds in 1755 and renumbered the 51st in January 1757. In 1782, in common with other regiments of the line, the 51st was given a "county" designation, becoming the 51st (2nd Yorkshire, West Riding) Regiment of Foot. The title of Light Infantry was given in honour of its former commander General Sir John Moore in 1809, and in 1821 the regiment was given royal status when King’s Own was added to its title, becoming the 53rd (2nd Yorkshire, West Riding, The King’s Own Light Infantry) Regiment.
The 2nd Madras European Light Infantry was raised by the British East India Company in 1839. In 1861 East India Company forces were absorbed into the British Army, and the regiment became the 105th (Madras Light Infantry) Regiment. In 1878 the 105th joined the KOLI in having a depot in Pontefract.
In 1881 after the Cardwell and Childers reforms, regimental numbers were abolished. The 51st King’s Own Light Infantry became the 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Light Infantry (South Yorkshire Regiment) and the 105th became its 2nd Battalion.
The Childers reforms also combined militia and rifle volunteer units into the regiments formed in 1881. Accordingly the 1st West Yorks Rifles Miltia became the 3rd Militia Battalion, while the 3rd Administrative Battalion West Riding of Yorkshire Rifle Volunteer Corps became the 1st Volunteer Battalion.
In 1897 the regimental title was changed to the The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry), and in 1921 to The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
With the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908, the 1st Volunteer Battalion was reorganised as the 4th and 5th Battalions (TF), while the 3rd Battalion was transferred to the Special Reserve.
The KOYLI was raised to thirteen battalions during the Great War, and nine during World War II, including not only infantry but anti-aircraft and armoured units as well.
In 1948, 1 KOYLI was disbanded and 2 KOYLI was renamed 1 KOYLI. In 1968, 1 KOYLI became the 2nd Battalion of The Light Infantry (2LI). In 2007 the LI merged with the Royal Green Jackets to form a new regiment, The Rifles. The former 1 KOYLI battalion (now 1LI) became ’5 RIFLES’.
The 51st first saw action during the Seven Years’ War, gaining a reputation at Minden, its first battle honour. The regiment embarked for the Peninsula in 1807, serving with distinction. The regiment served on the extreme right at Waterloo, and was engaged at Hougoumont Farm.
Both the 51st and 105th saw extensive service all over the Empire throughout the nineteenth century. The Second battalion (105th) fought well in the South African War.
Both battalions served on the Western Front in WWI, as well as 3 Territorial and eight volunteer service battalions.
In WWII the regiment’s nine battalions represented the new age of warfare. 5 and 8 KOYLI were anti-aircraft units, 7 KOLYI were armoured, and 9 KOYLI (formerly the Queens Own Yorkshire Dragoons) was motorised. The Second battalion served in Europe and the Mediterranean, the First fought as a rearguard in the retreat through Burma. The 1/4 battalion participated in the Battle of Normandy in 1944 and subsequently in the Netherlands.
Reduced to one battalion, the KOYLI took part in peace-keeping and counter-insurgency operations post war. The battalion moved to Berlin in 1967, where it joined the Light Infantry Regiment.