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The 50th Regiment of Foot's operational history

The 50th Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army from 1755 to 1881.

There were two regiments known as the 50th prior to 1755, which lends itself to confusion about our regiment’s origins. In 1740, a regiment of marines was formed and was known variously as Cornwall’s Regiment, the 50th Foot, and the 7th Marines. This regiment was disbanded in 1748. In 1754, another regiment was raised in New England. They were known both as Shirley’s Regiment and the 50th Foot, and were disbanded in 1756.

The regiment that we are associated with came into being in December of 1755, a regiment numbered as the 52nd was raised for service. It kept this number for two years, until the disbandments of the 50th and 51st Regiments. The 52nd was then re-numbered to become the 50th, a designation it would hold until 1881.

During the Seven Years’ War, the regiment served first at sea as marines, participating in raids on the French coast. They later campaigned in Germany and were stationed in Ireland after the war. In 1772, the 50th were dispatched to the West Indies where they remained until 1776, when they were sent to New York. Here they were broken up in order to reinforce regiments already serving in the colonies.

A group of officers returned to England to recruit afresh and in 1778 the 50th were in service as marines. Part of the regiment took part in the First Battle of Ushant. In 1782 British infantry regiments were given county titles and the 50th became known as the 50th (West Kent) Regiment of Foot. In the years following the American Revolution, the regiment was stationed in Gibraltar, from which posting they were sent to Toulon in 1793 and later to Corsica in 1794.

From 1797 to 1799, the 50th were in Portugal, after which they were dispatched to Egypt. It was here they earned the nickname of ‘the Blind Half-hundred’, on account of widespread suffering from opthalmia. Egypt is also the regiment’s first battle honour. In 1802, the regiment was withdrawn to Ireland where it remained until the creation of a second battalion after the collapse of the Peace of Amiens. The 2/50th was raised in Ashford, Kent, and remained a home unit throughout the Napoleonic Wars.

The 1/50th was present for the Copenhagen campaign in 1807 and afterward was in Spain and later Portugual. It was on these latter campaigns that the regiment was given the nickname ‘the Dirty Half-hundred’, owing to the fact that the dye of their black facings stained hands and faces. At the battle of Vimeiro, the 1/50th distinguished themselves by breaking a French column. The battalion was with Sir John Moore on his march into Spain and on the subsequent retreat. During the defence of Corunna, they again distinguished themselves by driving back several French attacks.

Both battalions refitted in Kent before joining the ultimately-unsuccessful Walcheren Expedition. The 1/50th were back in the Peninsula in 1810 and with the 1st Division, they took part in the battle of Fuentes de Oñoro. They were later transferred to the 2nd Division after Albuera and remained with this division until 1814. Over the course of the war, the regiment saw action many times, earning a number of battle honours and largely proving themselves a “devilish steady” regiment.

The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in Chatham in October 1814, while the 1st Battalion was sent to Ireland. The regiment did not take part in either the Belgian campaign or the battle of Waterloo.

In 1819, the 50th were again in the West Indies, serving as part of the Jamaican garrison. They remained here until 1827, when they returned to England. 1827 is also the year when the Peninsular Colours were deemed unsuitable for further use and were replaced. New Colours were presented by the Duchess of Clarence and afterward the regiment became known as the 50th (The Duke of Clarence’s) Regiment of Foot. This was their title until 1831 when the Duke and Duchess of Clarence became King William VI and Queen Adelaide. The regiment was thereafter known as the 50th (Queen’s Own).

The regiment were sent to sea in 1834, bound for New South Wales as prisoner escorts. They stayed in Australia until 1841 when they were sent to India, where they took part in the Gwalior campaign. At Punniar, the regiment distinguished itself and earned a battle honour. A couple of years later, they served in the First Sikh War. The 50th fought in all four of the battles of this war, earning battle honours for each, and served in the division commanded by Sir Harry Smith.

1848 found the 50th back in England, where it recovered after the heavy losses sustained in India. They were home only four years before being sent to the Malta garrison, from where the regiment was dispatched to the Crimea upon the outbreak of war. The 50th fought at Alma and Inkerman, and took part in the Siege of Sevastopol. Battle honours for all three actions were earned. After peace was declared, the regiment were again sent home to England, though they were home only a year before going to Ireland.

They were in New Zealand in 1863, taking part in the Third Maori War. This too became a battle honour. It was not until 1869 that the 50th were home again, though over the following years, there was some time spent in Ireland and Scotland both. In 1880 the regiment was back in England. Changes to the structure of the army were in the works and in 1881, the 50th (Queen’s Own) was amalgamated with the 97th (Earl of Ulster’s) to form The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent) Regiment.

The 50th Foot in 1984. (Photo by Keith Gulvin.)