From being the closest of allies in the Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856), Anglo-French relations had deteriorated to such an extent that by 1859 an invasion of Britain seemed a real possibility. An attempt to assassinate the French Emperor, Napoleon III, by Italian nationalists – the Orsini affair – had been linked to Britain as the bombs used in the attempt had been made and tested in England, coupled with the British Government's refusal to restrict the right of asylum. With the regular British Army stretched in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny (May 1857 – June 1858), a popular movement saw the creation of the Volunteer Force. The first volunteer unit in Huntingdonshire was raised in Huntingdon in 1860 as the 1st Huntingdonshire Rifle Volunteer Corps. By June 1880, it had been reduced to J Company, 1st Cambridgeshire Rifle Volunteer Corps at St. Neots. J Company was disbanded in 1889.
On 4 December 1900, the 4th Volunteer Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment was raised with headquarters at Huntingdon and eight companies at Huntingdon, St. Ives, Fletton, and St. Neots. In April 1901, it was redesignated as the 4th (Huntingdonshire) Volunteer Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. It was later reduced to six companies.
The Volunteer Force was reorganized and combined with the Yeomanry to form the Territorial Force on 1 April 1908. As a result, the battalion was amalgamated with 3rd Volunteer Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment to form 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. The new unit included just two companies from Huntingdonshire – G Company at Fletton (with a detachment at Yaxley) and H Company at Huntingdon (with detachments at St. Ives and Ramsey).
With the formation of the Territorial Force, Huntingdonshire was one of the few counties that did not have its own battalion. After protracted negotiations with the War Office, agreement was reached in March 1913 that the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion could be formed. The battalion was raised on 27 February 1914; as such, it was the last battalion of the Territorial Force to be raised before the outbreak of the First World War. Once established, men of the two Huntingdonshire companies of the 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment were allowed to transfer and almost all did so. It was headquartered at St Mary’s Street in Huntingdon and had the following companies:A Company – Huntingdon and Godmanchester
B Company – Huntingdon and Godmanchester
C Company – St. Ives and Somersham
D Company – St. Neots and Kimbolton
E Company – Ramsey and Warboys
F Company – Fletton with detachments at Stanground and Peterborough
G Company – Fletton with detachments at Stanground and Peterborough
H Company – Yaxley and Farcet
The battalion was in Eastern Command, unattached to any higher formation. It was to be used as mobile infantry, and for work on signals, scouting and similar activities.
In accordance with the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 (7 Edw. 7, c.9) which brought the Territorial Force into being, the TF was intended to be a home defence force for service during wartime and members could not be compelled to serve outside the country. However, on the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, many members volunteered for Imperial Service. Therefore, TF units were split in August and September 1914 into 1st Line (liable for overseas service) and 2nd Line (home service for those unable or unwilling to serve overseas) units. Later, 3rd Line units were formed to act as reserves, providing trained replacements for the 1st and 2nd Lines.
The battalion was mobilized on 4 August 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War and moved to its war station at Grimsby. It remained in England throughout the war. In 1916 it was at Scarborough and in June 1918 it was at Whitby where it remained until the end of the war. The battalion was disembodied on 14 April 1919.
In late July 1916, the battalion provided a draft of over six hundred men for the 1/8th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment on the Western Front.
The 2nd Line battalion was formed in October 1914. It spent most of the war in Lincolnshire on coastal defence duties. In 1916 it was at Sutton-le-Marsh near Mablethorpe, in March 1917 at Alford and in July at Chapel St Leonards. In May 1918 it was at Skegness where it remained until the end of the war. The battalion was disbanded on 12 December 1919.
The 3rd Line battalion was formed in 1915 to provide trained replacements for the 1st and 2nd Line battalions. It was disbanded in March 1916 and the men were posted to 1/1st and 2/1st Battalions and to the Machine Gun Corps.
The Territorial Force was disbanded after the First World War, although this was a formality and it was reformed in 1920. From 1 October 1921 it was renamed as the Territorial Army.
One major change with the new Territorial Army had an effect on the number of infantry battalions. The original 14 divisions were reformed with the pre-war standard of three brigades of four battalions each, for a total of 168 battalions. Infantry were no longer to be included as Army Troops or part of the Coastal Defence Forces so the pre-war total of 208 battalions had to be reduced by 40. This was achieved by either converting certain battalions to other roles, usually artillery or engineers, or by amalgamating pairs of battalions within a regiment. In particular, based on war time experience, the Army decided to dispense with cyclists units and the existing battalions were either disbanded or converted to artillery or signals units. However, the Huntingdonshire Battalion was converted to infantry and on 7 February 1920 was reconstituted as 5th (Huntingdonshire) Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment with headquarters at Peterborough. It joined the 4th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment in the 162nd (East Midland) Infantry Brigade, which also included the 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment and the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment. The 162nd Brigade was part of the 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division.
The increasing need to defend against attack from the air led to a number of Territorial Army units being converted to the anti-aircraft role in the 1930s and a major reorganization in 1938 saw the TA divisions reduced from twelve to nine battalions. The combination of these factors led to the battalion being transferred, in 1938, to the 143rd (Warwickshire) Infantry Brigade, 48th (South Midland) Infantry Division after the second of four battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment had been converted to the anti-aircraft role.
By 1939 it became clear that a new European war was likely to break out and, as a direct result of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia on 15 March, the doubling of the Territorial Army was authorised, with each unit and formation forming a duplicate. Consequently, the 5th (Huntingdonshire) Battalion formed the 4th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment.
The 5th (Huntingdonshire) Battalion mobilized on 1 September 1939 with the 48th (South Midland) Infantry Division along with the rest of the Territorial Army when the German Army invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and France declared war and the Second World War had begun. With the division, it joined the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France on 5 January 1940 – being the first Territorial Army division to do so – and joined I Corps. As part of the BEF's official policy to integrate Regular Army units into Territorial Army formations, on 29 January it transferred to 11th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, swapping places with the 1st Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. The battalion remained with 11th Infantry Brigade for the rest of the war, serving alongside the 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers and the 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, both Regular formations.
When the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940, the BEF moved forward to occupy pre-planned positions in Belgium (the Dyle Plan). The brigade took part in the Battle of the Ypres-Comines Canal (26 – 28 May) but the rapid German breakthrough into France forced the BEF into a withdrawal to Dunkirk. It was evacuated to England on 1 June 1940. It spent the next two years in the United Kingdom on anti-invasion duties preparing for Operation Sea Lion, the planned German invasion of the United Kingdom which, fortunately, never happened.
In June 1942, 4th Infantry Division was reorganized as a Mixed Division when 21st Tank Brigade was assigned. On 5 June 1942, 11th Infantry Brigade left the division and came under command of First Army, before joining the 78th "Battleaxe" Infantry Division on 22 June. The 11th Brigade remained with the Battleaxe Division for the rest of the war.
The battalion left the United Kingdom on 16 October 1942 and deployed to French North Africa where it took part in Operation Torch, landing in Algeria on 9 November 1942. It took part in actions at the Tebourba Gap (1 – 10 December 1942), Oued Zarga (7 – 15 April 1943), the Medjez Plain (23 – 30 April), and the final battle for Tunis (5 – 12 May).
It next saw action as part of the Eighth Army in the Allied invasion of Sicily, landing on 25 July 1943. It took part in the Battle for Adrano (29 July – 3 August 1943). It left Sicily on 22 September for the Italian mainland and, other than a short period of rest in Egypt, served for the rest of the war on the Italian Front.
The battalion landed at Taranto and, with the division, advanced up the Adriatic coast under the command of V Corps. It took part in the crossing of The Sangro (19 November – 3 December 1943) under the command of V Corps. The division transferred to XIII Corps and took part in the First Battle of Monte Cassino (20 January – 20 March 1944), the Second Battle of Monte Cassino (11 – 18 May 1944), the advance up the Liri Valley (18 – 30 May) and the Battle for the Trasimene Line (20 – 30 June).
The battalion was transferred to Egypt on 17 July for rest and refitting, arriving back in Italy on 16 September. Back in V Corps, it took part in the final offensive in Italy (codenamed Operation Grapeshot) with the crossing of The Senio (9 – 12 April 1945) followed immediately by the Battle of the Argenta Gap (13 – 21 April).
The battalion entered Austria on 8 May 1945, following the surrender of German forces in Italy. It remained in Austria on occupation duties until it was placed in suspended animation on 15 September 1946.
The original 4th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment had originated as the 1st Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteer Corps in 1860, had served in the Gallipoli and Sinai and Palestine Campaigns in the First World War and had been converted to a searchlight unit of the Royal Engineers in 1937 as the 50th (The Northamptonshire Regiment) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, Royal Engineers.
Formed on 1 June 1939 at Wellingborough, the new 4th Battalion was assigned on 6 November 1939 to the 183rd Infantry Brigade, serving alongside the 7th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment and the 10th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. The 183rd Brigade was part of the 61st Infantry Division (duplicate formation of the 48th (South Midland) Division). It remained with the brigade in the United Kingdom for most of the war, including a considerable stint in Northern Ireland from June 1940 to February 1943.
On 28 August 1944, it transferred to 115th Infantry Brigade and remained with the brigade for the rest of the war. This formation was the core of Force 135 which was planning the liberation of the Channel Islands. In the event, the plan did not go ahead and the brigade left Force 135 on 30 January 1945. On 12 February, the battalion moved with the brigade to North West Europe where it remained until the end of the war serving variously under the direct command of VIII, XII and I Corps.
The 4th Battalion was placed in suspended animation in Germany on 4 February 1946. On 1 January 1947 it was amalgamated with the 5th (Huntingdonshire) Battalion.
The Territorial Army was disbanded at the end of the Second World War but, again, this was a formality. TA units were reactivated on 1 January 1947, though no personnel were assigned until commanding officers and permanent staff had been appointed in March and April 1947. The battalion was formally reconstituted on 1 January 1947 at Peterborough, absorbing its wartime duplicate 4th Battalion at the same time.
The battalion was assigned to the 162nd Independent Infantry Brigade along with the 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment and the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment.
On 1 May 1961, the battalion amalgamated with R (The Northamptonshire Regiment) Battery, 438th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (the original 4th Battalion) to form 4th/5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment.