Unfortunately, 1916 stated with a bang, and there was to be much of that this year! In its winter quarters near the mouth of the Somme, the Regiment trained in all the skills it now needed. During a bomb-throwing practice, a premature explosion killed Sergeant Payne, and Troopers Quelch and Pound. All three were evacuated to General Hospital in Abbeyville, where they died on the 7th, the 15th and the 17th January. Trooper Quelch’s parents had christened him with a name beginning with the letter S, which almost certainly meant that he went through his 29 years known as ‘Squelch”; he certainly would have been known as that in the army! He is the only 17th Lancer commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the missing.
At the end of January, the machine-guns were Brigaded with those of the 19th Bengal Lancers and became part of the newly-formed Machine Gun Corps.
Lieutenants FC Lacaita and F Cornwallis commanded the Regiment’s guns and transferred with them. Captain Lacaita went on to win the Military Cross in November gallantly supporting infantry from attack from Beaucourt-sur-Ancre, and was killed in April 1918 while in command of 1st Cavalry Machine-Gun Squadron, covering the infantry retirement from Le Hamel. Captain Cornwallis survived the War only to be killed in November 1921 by IRA gunmen, returning to Gort from a tennis party, in civilian clothes and accompanied by the District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary and his wife. He is buried in England.
Towards the end of February, the Regiment was re-organised to an infantry establishment, creating a dismounted company. The Indian Cavalry Corps had been disbanded and the 1st Indian Cavalry Division was attached to Third Army. The Company moved to fresh billets in Fillievre, north-east of Abbeville where it was issued with sixteen Hotchkiss machine guns to be carried, with their ammunition, on pack-horses.
This was a mixed blessing as the gun suffered from repeated stoppages. It was joked that if that variety of jams could be issued to the troops, they would cease moaning about the ubiquitous apple and plum jam, issued with their rations!
In May the Regiment moved to Berlencourt, west of Arras, and provided interminable digging parties in preparation for the battle of the Somme. In another training incident, a bomb exploded killing Corporal Saving and wounding three others, including Lieutenant Lord Killeen.
They dug trenches, gun emplacements, buried gas cylinders and dug mines; on 1st July 1916, the Battle of the Somme began, following seven days of continuous bombardment of the German lines. Just before the bombardment began, Trooper Selves was killed.
The Regiment continued to be deployed up and down the line, as was thought needed. After three weeks of this, they reached Gouves, seven miles further west than they started. Just before this, Colonel RJW Carden, who had moved to command 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was killed in the final, successful attack on Mametz Wood.
While billeted at Gouves, the Regiment continued to supply digging parties, on one of which Trooper Kissock was killed. On another, on August 31st, Major TP Melvill and Captain EB Egerton were wounded; Captain Egerton died the next day.
At the beginning of September, the Brigade returned to the training area at St Riquier for ten days before deploying to join the Cavalry concentration around Morlancourt, just south of Albert. On 15th September, Sergeant Cutt was killed. He is commemorated on Pier 1 of Thiepval Memorial, but clearly as something of an inconvenient afterthought. The cavalry regiments number down the Pier sequentially, but right at the bottom of the central panel, between the 9th Lancers and the Tenth Hussars at the top of the next panel, the 17th Lancers have been squeezed in, and there Sergeant Cutt features as the only 17th Lancer whose body was not found, in the Somme battles.
Another offensive that started on September 21st, with tanks, as part of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, was partially successful, but again failed to achieve a break-through, which signalled the end of cavalry operations for 1916. The Regiment moved to Vironchaux where it remained until November when it moved to winter quarters in St Blimont south of the mouth of the River Somme.
Winter was spent digging and building a double railway from Amiens to Arras, in bitterly cold conditions. They were much pleased with their exertions until a company of Durham miners appeared and moved in moments what it had taken our troopers days to shift, proving the adage that skill beats strength, or brains, brawn, every-time. On 21st December, Trooper Knott was killed.
So ended another year of waiting and supporting. Perhaps next year, breakthrough will occur and give the cavalry an opportunity to ravage the enemy behind the front line.