The 1st Border had originally seen life in 1702 as Luca's Regiment, and as the 34th Regiment of Foot in 1751, before finally becoming the 57th in 1755. In 1881, the 57th and the 55th, its sister Regiment, were renamed the 1st and 2nd Battalions The Border Regiment. Like most Regular Army formations, the 1st Border had a colourful history that spanned many famous campaigns in a wide variety of theatres.




The Battalion was recalled to England from Palestine in April 1939, where it had been stationed for three years with the 14th Infantry Brigade and had performed with such distinction that its loss was keenly felt by both the Arabic and Jewish communities, as well as the local British forces. Lt-Colonel Lay DSO was presented with a scimitar by Chief Faris Irshaid who said "You gave us some hard knocks at the beginning, but we asked for it and we have no complaints. We are glad to know we part as friends. This sword is not a symbol of war, but a gift in friendship". Writing to the Colonel of the Border Regiment, the commander of the Brigade said "I don't suppose any Battalion has earned the same admiration from everyone in Palestine as they have done. In fighting they have invariably been outstanding, whether in action on a big scale, as in the early days of the Rebellion when big gangs were encountered, or in the smaller actions and raids by platoons or small parties under junior leaders. Lay has thrown his heart and soul into the business of restoring order here and has controlled his area in a way that no one else has approached. I can hardly express what I owe to him personally and to your Regiment as a whole for setting an example which others have sought to imitate, and so raising the level of the whole Brigade. Your Regiment showed me there was little that could not be done and done well."




Based at Mandora Barracks in Aldershot the 1st Border received a new commander, Lt-Colonel Chambers MC, and became a part of the 4th Infantry Brigade, which was subsequently incorporated into the 2nd Infantry Division. As part of the British Expeditionary Force the Division departed for France in late September, where the Battalion was moved to Orchies, near Lille, and they spent the following month digging trenches and other defences. Billeted in such places as barns with little in the way of local entertainment, morale took a dive with the onset of a cold and wet winter and the necessity for the continuation of their work in such miserable conditions. The 'Phoney War' produced no trace of enemy activity on the Belgian border, and it became customary for one British Brigade at a time to take its turn on the Maginot Line defences, and so having celebrated Christmas Day a week early, where as the Battalion's tradition dictated the officers served the other ranks, the 4th Brigade made its way forward on the 24th December. Life on the front line was cold and a little surreal considering the state of war. Patrols were organised to scout across the frontier, but there was seldom contact with the enemy and instead both sides took it in turns to bombard each other with artillery, without a great deal of enthusiasm or intent. Suffering no losses, the 1st Border withdrew from the Maginot Line on the 13th January 1940 and at the end of the month was relocated near the frontier at Rumegies. Throughout February the Battalion was once more engaged in the task of digging defences and constructing pill boxes, and continued to do so until the 25th April when orders came for their transfer to the 125th Infantry Brigade, serving with the 42nd Division. Following a disagreement with his new Brigadier at the beginning of May, Lt-Colonel Chambers was relieved of his command and replaced by Lt-Colonel Hennessey DSO MC.


On the 10th May the Germans invaded neutral Belgium. At this time most of the Battalion were keeping watch over the crucial bridges linking France and Belgium at Comines, Deulemont, and Warneton, while B Company guarded the Bondue aerodrome to the north of Lille. The British Expeditionary Force advanced 60 miles to the River Dyle to counter the invasion, with the Belgian Army and French 1st and 7th Armies on their flanks. The 42nd Division concentrated on the River Escaut, but a withdrawal of the whole force was announced on the 15th May when a defence proved to be unworkable. This retreat was further encouraged by the enemy breaching the French lines to the south and a subsequent thrust to the sea to trap the Allied armies. At 15:00 on the 17th May, the 1st Border began the march to fresh positions at Don, covering a distance of 25 miles to reach it by dawn on the following morning, but two days later the whole Brigade was called to Froyennes, to the north of Tournai, to guard a section of the River Escaut. The 1st Border secured a line than spanned 3,500 yards, with B Company in the middle, A on the left, C on the right, and D in reserve. It was a large area for one Battalion to hold and the distances involved made communication between the Company's difficult, with Battalion HQ forced to locate itself 3,000 yards behind the front line. On the 20th May the Germans launched a heavy attack against the Battalion, with strong mortar fire directed on the forward positions and troops infiltrating between A, B, and C companies. Though the position was unsteady, all held their ground while British artillery subdued the mortars harassing C Company and then lay a bombardment across the whole area. Enemy shelling began in earnest at dawn on the following day, and an infantry assault succeeded in getting behind both B and C Company, and though some elements still offered resistance most of their forward positions had been overrun. The Carrier Platoon and two of D Company's Platoons were sent forward to assist, but to little effect. Later in the morning telephone communications had completely broken down due to the lines being cut by the shelling, and all dialogue was now reliant on runners. With the situation refusing to improve, one of the Brigade's other Battalion's, the 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers joined the 1st Border's HQ Company and moved forward to reclaim ground lost without meeting opposition. Leaving one Company behind to act in a reserve capacity for the Lancashire Fusiliers, the Battalion was withdrawn that night.


On the 22nd May the Germans crossed the Escaut with an attack across the whole of the 42nd Division's front, forcing them to withdraw to a second line of defence on the Franco-Belgian border. The 1st Border were initially in reserve, but moved with the Brigade during the night to positions at Lezennes, south-east of Lille. Here they occupied a 2,000 yard wide front and held these positions whilst under attack until the 26th May when they were ordered to depart for Barques, near Carvin, to beat back a German breakthrough that had occurred there. However upon their arrival it was discovered that the situation had been dealt with, and so the Battalion marched once more to defend a 4,000 yard wide area near Loos on the Deule Canal, west of Lille. The following two days saw little in the way of enemy interference, bar a few confrontations with patrols, however the surrender of Belgium left the entire British Expeditionary Force and their French comrades highly vulnerable to an attack on their left flank. The bridges over the Deule were destroyed and the order was given for all units to make for Dunkirk. While not seriously challenged, the position of the 1st Border was highly precarious on the afternoon of the 28th as they were quite alone and German tanks were reported to have overtook them on either side. There was a danger that the Battalion would become cut off, but luckily they were able to commandeer the lorries of a Bridging Section, and having laid waste to the equipment inside them the 1st Border made their way to the rendezvous at Neuve Eglise. Confusion and chaos reigned on the road to Dunkirk, and numerous parties from the Battalion, including HQ Company, lost their way from the main body. Approximately 80 of these stumbled into the 5th Border Battalion and were taken under their wing, and in dribs and drabs others found their way to the beaches. The Battalion itself arrived during the early hours of the 29th May and spent all of that day waiting on the beaches until their turn came to be evacuated by one of the little ships that had rushed to their aid.


Once back in England the 1st Border was reunited with the 42nd Division and they began to rebuild themselves at Crook, south-west of Durham. Approximately 250 all ranks had been left behind in France, including 20 dead, and reinforcements were largely drawn from Lancashire and the north-east of England, a character that remained true throughout the war. Now based at Prudhoe in Northumberland, the Battalion was back up to full strength by October. It was designated the Division's reserve battalion, but was still charged with the defence of Prudhoe and five bridges across the Tyne. Because so many vehicles had been abandoned in France, adequate motor transport was in short supply and the 1st Border had to make do with civilian transport, namely 25 buses, to facilitate them in their role as a mobile column. In addition one platoon was partially converted to the anti-tank role and was equipped with bicycles and three civilian vans, loaded with Molotov cocktails stacked in beer crates.




In late November 1940, the 1st Border were informed that they were to be transferred to the 31st Independent Infantry Brigade, and they joined them in Hertfordshire on the 1st December. See 1st Airlanding Brigade for further details. When they became airborne, the weeding out of men unsuitable for the role began and the 1st Border lost more of its pre-war representation. However not so many were lost as might have been, because whereas parachutists are genuine volunteers, glider infantry converted to the task were merely asked whether they wished to be involved or transferred to other units. Though many were reluctant, few men admitted that they wanted to leave, and those that remained were, perhaps falsely, seen to have volunteered for airborne status.


Sicily and Thereafter


At Sicily (see 1st Airlanding Brigade) the 1st Border suffered greatly as a result of the mistimed cast-offs that saw many gliders landing in the sea, with 89 men confirmed drowned. Only 202 men of the 796-strong Battalion reached the island in their gliders, but very few of these landed within range of their objectives. It took time for a final head count to be established, but when they were withdrawn back to their base in North Africa it became clear that they had suffered almost 200 casualties, with 2 officers and 108 other ranks dead, and 7 officers and 72 other ranks either wounded or missing. After embarking from Syracuse to North Africa, Lt-Colonel Britten was relieved of his command and sent to a staff posting in Algiers. According to his replacement, Lt-Colonel Tommy Haddon, his removal had been necessary following the great fuss he had made about having to leave all the Battalion's equipment behind when they left Sicily.


Upon returning to England from Italy towards the end of 1943, the 1st Border were based around Lincolnshire at Woodhall Spa, with B Company at Bardney. In the weeks approaching Market Garden however, they were moved to Burford in Oxfordshire. Some of the men set up temporary home in a pigsty, which had been cleared of its previous occupants due to an outbreak of swine fever, but was deemed suitable for human habitation.


After returning from Norway in 1945, the Battalion was converted back to the role of ordinary infantrymen. Having said farewell to their airborne insignia and the maroon beret, the 1st Border left to join the 5th Infantry Division at Brunswick, in Germany, where, as in Palestine, they worked hard to achieve a reputation as one of the finest formations in the British Army. In 1959, the Border Regiment was amalgamated with the Kings Own Royal Regiment, and is known to this day as the Kings Own Royal Border Regiment.


Commanders of the 1st Border



Lieutenant-Colonel W. O. Lay


Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. F. Chambers


Lieutenant-Colonel R. G. Hennessey


Lieutenant-Colonel R. H. Bower


Lieutenant-Colonel G. V. Britten


Lieutenant-Colonel Tommy H. Haddon


Lieutenant-Colonel Charles F. O. Breese