The Origins of Light Troops The North American Wars of the 1750s saw the first moves towards a new way of thinking in the Infantry. The heavy equipment, conspicuous red and white uniforms and close formation fighting of British soldiers proved to be totally unsuitable and eventually disastrous for an Army operating in dense forests and rugged mountain areas.
As a result, a Regiment of Light Troops (The 60th Royal Americans) was formed in 1755, consisting of specially trained men, carefully chosen for their toughness and intelligence. These soldiers were able to scout and skirmish, to move quickly and quietly and to use their initiative without waiting for orders. Both their dress and method of attack were designed to tone in with their surroundings and to make the best use of natural obstacles.
So successful was this that by 1770, every Infantry Regiment had it's own Light Company. This led eventually to the formation of Regiments of Light Infantry, and later of Rifle Regiments, which worked to the same principles, adding to their skills an expertise in marksmanship, using the rifle rather than the traditional musket.
The Light Division The implications of using Light Troops and their fighting efficiency were soon realised by Army commanders. In 1803, as Napoleon's armies were showing their strength in Europe, Major General Sir John Moore was appointed to train a Light Brigade at Shorncliffe.
With his progressive training methods and enlightened ideas, General Moore condensed all the best Infantry principles into the formation of a Division of thinking, fighting and self-disciplined soldiers. It was this Division which, under command of Wellington in the Peninsula War, played a significant part in defeating Napoleon's army.
Throughout this time, Light Infantry and Rifle Regiments regularly fought side by side as part of the Light Division. One hundred years later, they were to do the same again as a new Light Division was formed in the First World War. The bond between the two was strengthened on 1st July 1968 when the Light Division was reborn consisting of two large Regiments, The Light Infantry and The Royal Green Jackets. With reform of the infantry in 2005 two further regiments became light infantry, The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantryand The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry and joined the Division.
Soon afterwards the component regiments of the Light Division elected to merge to form a new large Regiment, The Rifles. The Rifles formed on 1st February 2007.
The silver bugle, the green beret and the faster marching pace are the more obvious features which distinguish the Light Division from other Infantry Regiments. They are also the symbols of a complete philosophy of leadership and operation. A philosophy which is as relevant today as it always has been.
A Spirit of Innovation It took a long time for the techniques developed and practised by the first Light Troops to be adopted throughout the rest of the Infantry. The Light Division continues to maintain their special interest in developing new skills and knowledge, and its regular battalions offer a wider choice of roles than any other infantry regiment in the British Army with Battalions in the Light Role, Mechanised Role, Armoured, Role and Commando Support Role.
In the Second World War our battalions were closely involved with developing new tactics such as the use of glider-borne forces; in the airborne divisions, parachute battalions and motor battalions in the new armoured divisions. All this involved the development of modern training methods. In the dawn of the new Millennium, that spirit of innovation is kept alive by officers and soldiers facing very different and complex problems.
A style of leadership
In The Light Division our hallmark has always been a concern for individuals, both as professional soldiers and in terms of personal welfare and comradeship. To this day we still operate under the legacy of our former Regiments:
". . . treating Riflemen not as rigid drill automata, but as human beings capable of individual initiative and self-improvement. The goal was 'the thinking, fighting man'. Officers were encouraged to get to know their men as individuals, to study their particular attributes, to bring out the best of which each was capable and teach them to think for themselves. Wherever possible they were to be shown the why and wherefore of things, to be put in the picture, to understand their orders instead of merely obeying them blindly out of fear or mechanical routine. Punishment, particularly of the 'curse, hang and flog' kind that robbed a man of his dignity was discouraged. Its place was taken by a discipline of example and encouragement whose object was the prevention of, rather than the punishment, of crime".
Thus we pride ourselves on a relaxed but self disciplined relationship between ranks, rather than a rigid formal approach.