Based on extracts from-A short history of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 1741-1922 for the young soldiers of the Regiment. By R.B. Crosse
Light Infantry and " Rifle Men."
" . . . . The service of Light Infantry does not so much require men of stature as it requires them to be intelligent, hardy, and active. And they should, in the first instance, be young, or they will neither take to the service, nor be easily interested in it. . . ,"-—Sir John Moore, January 17th, 1803.
Light troops, not including Light Cavalry, were of two kinds : (a) Light Infantry, who, according to the idea of the day, acted in support to, or else co-operated with (b) rifle men, whose duties were primarily to skirmish, and to gain contact with the enemy, as well as information of his movements and intentions. They were dressed accordingly in green, the first form of "service dress” adopted for the purposes for which khaki is worn now, with very plain uniforms, dull buttons and few ornaments. They carried the Baker rifle, accurate up to 300 yards, and a short sword, which could be fixed as a bayonet. All movements were carried out by sound of bugle-horn, and the officers and sergeants carried a whistle.
To the light troops fell the difficult, dangerous and so the honourable duties of war, the service of protection; the advanced and rearguards and the scouting, reconnaissance and skirmishing on the move, the outposts when halted, and the alertness at all times, which these duties involved. The men were trained to act, not as machines, but as intelligent individuals ; in fact, individual training, including education, as a preliminary to all forms of further collective training, was from the first regarded as essential for light troops. Men were taught to think, skirmish and in all respects take care of themselves under all conditions; they were especially taught to shoot, and were given better fire-arms than the other regiments ; particular attention was paid to marching, care being taken that, while greater speed was practised, the length of pace was no shorter than the regulation, and that in the interests of the soldier himself, all the rules of march-discipline were most rigidly obeyed. It became a point of honour with each soldier to keep himself physically fit so that he could keep his place in the ranks and not be either a burden to his comrades by needing to be helped in the carrying of his arms and equipment, or a cause of bringing discredit on his company and his regiment by having to fall out of the ranks.
The Training of Sir John Moore's Light Brigade at Shorncliffe.
In January, 1803, at Chatham, the 1st Battalion 52nd Regiment became the 52nd Light Infantry, and so the senior regiment of light infantry in the Service. Its 2nd Battalion was separated from it about the same time and numbered the 96th. Early in July the 52nd joined the camp at Shorncliffe, and a few days later, while still in the Channel Islands, a like distinction was conferred upon the 43rd, who then became the 43rd Light Infantry and the second regiment to be thus honoured. In January, 1804, the 43rd was transferred to Ashford, and in June joined the camp at Shorncliffe, when the Light Brigade, composed of the 43rd, 52nd, and 95th Rifles, was then complete, under Major-General John Moore, Colonel of the 52nd.
Meanwhile, in the country around Shorncliffe, which is so well adapted for the exercise of light troops, a programme of the most active training had begun, on the system laid down by Major-General Moore, who, having explained his wishes to the commanding officers of regiments, permitted each to fix upon his own hours for drills, but required to be informed of the time and place of parade, and seldom failed to attend.
To give the soldier a free unconstrained attitude, and to march with the utmost ease and steadiness, were the primary objects of the training, so that nothing should be left undone to have the brigade in the most efficient state to march against the enemy. The threat of invasion, and the knowledge that a landing by the French on the coast of Kent would have to be met by the Light Brigade, kept every individual in the same constant state of activity and vigilance as if absolutely in the presence of an enemy; and the careful supervision of the General infused a soul and spirit throughout all ranks, which made them perform their various duties with a zeal and alacrity seldom attained in other regiments.
In 1804 Major-General Moore was created a Knight of the Bath, when the officers of the 52nd presented him with a diamond star.
Sir William Napier, who served at Shorncliffe first in the 52nd and then in the 43rd, wrote of the Light Division, that the three British regiments composing it had been formed by Sir John Moore precisely upon the same system. There was no difference save in the colour of the riflemen's jackets and the weapons which they carried. The riflemen fought in skirmishing order more frequently than the 43rd and 52nd because their arms, the rifle and sword, did not suit any other formation; and in that respect were inferior to the musket and bayonet for close or open order. The riflemen of the Light Division could form line, columns, and squares— could move as a heavy body—could do, and did do, everything that the best soldiers in the world ought to do; and in like manner the 43rd and 52nd Regiments skirmished and performed all the duties of light troops with the same facility as the riflemen, but the difference of the weapon made it advisable to use the latter nearly always in open order.
In 1804 second battalions had again been raised ; in August for the 52nd, at Newbury, from Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, and Berkshire; and in November, for the 43rd, at Bromsgrove. From 1805 both the new battalions were at Hythe and elsewhere in Kent, until they proceeded on active service in 1807 and 1808. A second battalion was added to the 95th (Rifle) Regiment at Canterbury in May, 1805.