Unit History: Honourable Artillery Company
The Honorable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment in the British Army and the second most senior unit of the Territorial Army. The HAC can trace its history as far back as 1087 and known as the Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handgonnes.
It was incorporated by the Royal Charter in 1537 by King Henry VII and is the also the second oldest military organization in the world (behind the Vatican’s Pontifical Swiss Guard). According to the Charter, the Guild of St George was intended for ‘The better increase of the Defence of this our Realm and maintenance of the Science and Feat of shooting Long Bows, Cross Bows and Hand Guns’. The Guild became known as ‘The Gentlemen of the Artillery Garden’, after its practice ground in Spitalfields, then simply as ‘The Artillery Company’. The word ‘artillery’ was used at that time to describe archery and other missile weapons, while guns were known as ‘great artillery’. The courtesy prefix ‘Honourable’, which was first used in 1685, was officially confirmed by Queen Victoria in 1860. However, the Archers’ Company of the Honourable Artillery Company was retained into the late 19th century, though as a private club founded in 1781 by Sir Ashton Lever. The Archers Company remained a part of the regiment operated from 1784 to the late 1790s.
The regiment has the rare distinction of having fought on the side of both Parliament and the Royalists during the English Civil War 1642 to 1649.
The company trained from its formation at the Old Artillery Ground in Spitafield and at The Merchant Taylors Company hall. By 1622 it had built an Armoury House at the site of the Old Artillery Gardens. Then in 1657 it sold its armoury House in Spitalfield and moved to a New Artillery Gardens on 28 October 1664 the body of men that would become The Royal Marines was first formed.
The Company has always had strong connections with the City of London. In the early part of the 17th Century the Court of Aldermen appointed the chief officers and paid the professional soldiers who trained members of the Company. The Lord Mayor and Aldermen are honorary members of the Court of Assistants.
Since the Restoration, the Company has provided Guards of Honour in the City for visits by members of the Royal Family and overseas Heads of State. In gratitude for the Company’s role in restoring order to the City at the time of the Gordon Riots in 1780, the Corporation of London presented "two brass field-pieces", which of necessity led to the creation of an HAC Artillery Division.
By 1830 King William ordered that the uniform of the HAC should be based on that of the Grenadier Guards, except that where the Grenadiers wear gold, the HAC were to wear silver. This tradition is continued today by the wearing of the silver coloured grenade in the forage cap similar to the brass one of the Grenadiers, and the buttons and lace on HAC dress uniforms being silver coloured instead of gold. The Corps of Drums wear the Household Division's blue red blue.
Thirty years later, control of the Company moved from the Home Office to the War Office and in 1889 a Royal Warrant gave the Secretary of State for War full control of the Company’s military affairs.
The HAC first served as a formed unit over sesa in the South African War (1899-1902) in 1908 the Company became part of the newly formed Territorial Force with the passing of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act. The HAC Infantry was due to become part of the newly formed London Regiment as the "26th (County of London) Battalion", but instead managed to retain its own identity as the Honourable Artillery Company Infantry Battalion. The HAC also had its property and privileges protected by the Honourable Artillery Company Act 1908.
Post war in 1947 the company was reorganised into an Infantry Battalion, Royal Horse Artillery Regiment of Self propelled Artillery, a regiment of mobile heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery (disbanded 1955), Locating Battery (disbanded 1961). Then in 1973 the regiment was again reorganized into three patrol squadrons (1, 2, &3), a forth patrol squadron was formed far a short period in the 1980’s, HQ Squadron, including Training Wing and Medical Wing, Band and Corps of Drums.
Honourable Artillery Company during WW1
WORLD WAR I.
During the First World War three infantry battalions and seven artillery batteries were raised for service during WWI. September 1914 the 1st Battalion went to France and fought the 1st Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Ancre and the Battle of Ancre and Arras. There after they became an officer training battalion. The 2nd Battalion HAC was raised in August 1914 and was in France by October 1916. By 25th February 1917 they were in action at Bucquoy, and then fought at the Battle of Arras and in May the 3rd Battle of Ypres in October. In November 1917 the battalion moved to the Italian front for the Battle of Vittorio Veneto October 1918, they led a force of Italians, Americans and British compelling the garrison of the strategic island of Papadopoli. For this remarkable feat of arms the HAC was awarded two Distinguished Service Orders, five Military Crosses, three Distinguished Conduct Medals and 29 Military Medals.
Both A and B Batteries of the Honourable Artillery Company went to Suez in April 1915. In July, B Battery fought in the recapture of Sheikh Othman. In February 1917, both batteries took part in the Palestine Campaign, were in action at the First and Second Battle of Gaza and entered Jerusalem in December 1917. In the German counter attack during the Second action of Es Salt on 1 May 1918, A Battery was forced to make a rapid withdrawal under heavy fire, which resulted in the loss of all its guns. Both A and B Batteries took part in the Battle of Megiddo in September. A third battery, the 309th (HAC) Siege Battery, went to France in April 1917 and saw action at the Battle of Messines and the Battle of Amiens
Its company suffered a total lose in WWI of 1600 soldiers, with two Victoria Cross awarded for action in 1917 at Gavrelle.
Honourable Artillery Company during WW2
WORLD WAR II.
During actions in 1939 the Infantry Battalion became 162(HAC) Officer Cadet Training Unit, leading to 3,800 commissions, while four regiments of artillery were provided. In North Africa at the Battle of Knightsbridge the 11th (HAC) Regiments of the Royal Horse Artillery fought with 25pdr gun, then after was equipped with the M7 Priest self propelled gun in the second battle of El Alamein, then took part in the Allied invasion of Italy and the Italian Campaign. The 12th (HAC) Regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery took part in the first joint allied landings of Operation Torch and were in action at Thala in 1943. By March 1944 and after being re-equipped with Priests they went to fight at the Battle of Monte Casino. The 13th HAC Regiment of Royal Horse Artillery fought in Normandy and the Netherlands and across the Rhine into Germany as part of 11th Armoured Division the 86th (HAC) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment took part in the defence of the Capital during the London Blitz. Theirs were the first heavy AA guns ashore after D-Day and they operated in the anti-aircraft and ground support roles across north-west Europe, including the defence of Antwerp against a V-1 flying bomb barrage.
Over 723 members of the Company lost their lives during the Second World War.