From Horses to Chieftains

The Desert Rats
ISBN 1-873203-17-9
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by Richard Napier
A soldier's journey from boyhood to battle-hardened veteran with the 8th Hussars 1935-59

Includes first-hand accounts of:

  • pre-war colonial Egypt
  • tank battles of the North Africa campaign
  • D-Day landings in a sub-aquatic tank
  • Liberation of Brussels
  • Operation Market-Garden
  • Operation Varsity

This book gives a fascinating personal insight into the final 28 years of one of the British Army’s most prestigious cavalry regiments, the 8th Hussars, seen through the eyes of Richard Napier, who joined the Regiment in 1935 as a boy soldier and served with them through World War II, the Korean War and beyond, until their final disbandment in the late 1950s.

When Boy Soldier Napier joined the regiment, famous for the part it had once played in the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, it was stationed at Abbasia Barracks near Cairo in Egypt and was still an old-fashioned cavalry regiment, equipped with horses. Young Napier participated in the last of the pre-war colonial days as a regimental bandsman, playing at the many social functions that made up the expatriate way of life, and as a sportsman, competing for the regiment’s honour at boxing, football and swimming.

But this comfortable colonial life was soon to be swept away by the winds of war...

The regiment swapped its horses for tanks and headed into the desert to become part of the 7th Armoured Division, the Desert Rats, destined to take on Rommel’s Afrika Corps and eventually win the first Allied victory of the war at El Alamein. The 8th Hussars distinguished themselves during many engagements with the enemy.

Bandsman Napier was now a gunner in a tank, and when the North Africa campaign was over he returned to the UK with his regiment to prepare for D-Day. Once again, 8th Hussars were to be at the forefront, equipped with DD (Duplex Drive) Sherman tanks for the assault on the Normandy beaches. After battles for Caen and Falaise they fought their way across France, participated in the triumphant liberation of Brussels and continued on to Holland, where they were to be involved in Operation Market-Garden, the abortive combined airborne-land attack at Arnhem in September 1944, and Operation Varsity, the successful crossing of the Rhine at Wesel in March 1945. From there they continued into Nazi Germany and were at Bremen when the Third Reich finally surrendered.

With peacetime came a new opportunity, and as personal assistant to General Hackett, Napier enjoyed a taste of the high-life in postwar Germany.

But the end of World War 2 did not mean the end of the fighting for the 8th Hussars; in 1948 they were deployed in Korea, where once again they were in the thick of the action, and gunner Napier, now a battle-hardened and experienced ‘tankie’, played his part.

The Korean war over, Napier continued to serve with the regiment in various capacities until 1959,  when the name of the 8th Hussars finally passed into history. The regiment was absorbed into another and Richard Napier, one of its oldest stalwarts, decided to call it a day and retired from the armed forces.

This unique memoir, which records over a quarter of a century of the regiment's history and some of its finest campaigns from the point of view of a regular soldier, will be of great interest to military historians, former regimental members and those with an interest in World War 2.