It is almost impossible for those of us of later generations to imagine the trauma that mechanisation caused at the time. The cavalryman of the 193O's was fiercely proud that he was the inheritor of a tradition of excellence and chivalry stretching back to the medieval knight and legend. In spite of the mawkish excesses of some writers, he had a genuine affection for even the most refractory of his mounts. To this already charged atmosphere were added the bitter controversies between the advocates of the horse and the tank.
As late as 1922 the 7th Hussar, Field-Marshal Earl Haig, with all the authority of the victorious commander-in-chief of the First World War, could say in a RUSI lecture "I am all for using aero planes and tanks, but they are only accessories to the man and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse- the well-bred horse - as you have ever done in the past".
It is easy to be critical now, but in those days the arguments must have appeared more nicely balanced. In 1934 the Inspector of Cavalry had been asked, "to select a cavalry regiment to carry out an experiment in mechanisation to replace horsed cavalry". This unwelcome honor fell to the 3 rd Hussars, but true to their traditions, they decided, "the only course was to give the experiment a real and whole hearted trial".
During 1936 only "A" Squadron was converted and then only to the 15 cwt boxcar. It was not until 1937 that the first troops of tanks arrived and even by the Munich crisis of September 1938 there were only enough to equip one squadron; the rest of the Regiment had to train with flags and trucks.
In 1927 the 7th Hussars were equipped with 14 six-wheelers to reduce the weight on the horse from 20 to 18 stone and to carry the eight Vickers machine-guns. Soon after this, two Austin Sevens were issued for reconnaissance. However, it was not until May 1936 in Egypt that the order to mechanize was given. Like the 3rd, the 7th Hussars decided to make the best of it.
The other ranks were given the option of transferring to un-mechanised regiments; it says much for the esprit de corps that only 16 out of 531 did so. The conversion was complete by January 1937.
"It was the end of an era"
Life was centered round the horse: for 365 days a year he had to be watered, fed, mucked out, groomed and exercised; likewise in sport, from polo to tent pegging. So much has been lost; but the Regiment, free now to lock up its tanks in garages for days at a time, is able to take part in an even wider variety of adventurous sports. The horse has gone, except for recreation, but the spirit of the Cavalryman lives on.
If you would like to know more about the Armoured Fighting Vehicles of the Queen's Own Hussars from Mechanisation to the present day then visit our Regimental Shop.