‘QUEENS OWN OXFORDSHIRE HUSSARS’
63RD (OXFORDSHIRE YEOMANRY) ANTI-TANK REGIMENT RA (TA)
SECOND WORLD WAR 1939-1945
In 1938 the regiment was converted from its artillery role to that of an anti-tank unit and renamed the 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery (TA) (Worcestershire and Oxfordshire Yeomanry), the 4.5-inch Howitzer guns were now replaced with two-pound anti-tank guns. The Oxfordshire Yeomanry had two batteries, 211 at Oxford and 212 at Banbury.
Lieutenant-Colonel A. Coltart commanded the Oxfordshire Yeomanry from 1939 to 1940.
The Oxfordshire Yeomanry was designated the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery (TA) with Headquarters at Oxford as a duplicate of 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment, leaving Worcestershire Yeomanry in the latter. Four batteries were formed 249 and 250 at Oxford and 251 and 252 at Banbury
Lieutenant-Colonel MacDonald commanded the Oxfordshire Yeomanry in 1940.
The regiment took part in coastal defences of England after Dunkirk in 1940 and was then posted to Northern Ireland as part of the 61st Division, a defence force in case the enemy landed troops in neutral Ireland to invade England.
Lieutenant-Colonel A. Brooke commanded the Oxfordshire Yeomanry from 1940 to 1941.
The regiment's two-pound anti-tank guns were later replaced with six-pound anti-tank guns and these in turn replaced with seventeen-pound anti-tank guns. These were drawn by Crusader tanks with the top turret removed which allowed the crews to get in and out easily. Quads, four-wheel drive vehicles were also introduced for towing the guns
Lieutenant-Colonel J. Hirst commanded the Oxfordshire Yeomanry from 1941 to 1942
The regiment was stationed in Ireland for the next three years, except for 251 Banbury battery. in 1941 it was detached and found itself part of the 85th Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery, part of a hastily assembled force sent to defend Singapore from the invading Japanese army.
In February 1942, Singapore fell and the men of 251 battery who had been involved in the attempt to defend it became some of the 61,000 prisoners taken by the Japanese. For three and a half years they were prisoners and used as slave labour, made to work in harsh conditions, under the brutal treatment of their guards they suffered the most appalling cruelty and degradation to build the notorious Burma-Siam railway and a bridge over the Mae Klong, later renamed the Kwai Nai (Bridge on the Kwai)
Lieutenant-Colonel John Thompson commanded the Oxfordshire Yeomanry from 1942 to 1944
Batteries 249, 250 and 252 returned to England in February 1943 and took part in large scale exercises with American and other troops in readiness for the Normandy landings.
The Right Honourable Sir Winston Spencer Churchill became the Honorary Colonel of the regiment from 1942 to 1965
The regiment was not included in the D-Day landings, having been left in reserve to make up numbers in any other frontline units, Lieutenant-Colonel John Thompson interceded to request a combat assignment for the regiment. He contacted Winston Churchill through an intermediary, the Second Earl of Birkenhead, who had been an officer in 252 battery, a godson of Winston and whose father F. E. Smith had also served as an officer in the Oxfordshire Yeomanry
Winston Churchill, ex Oxfordshire Yeomanry officer and Honorary Colonel, now prime minister and minister for defence agreed to the request, as in 1914 he had ensured an active wartime role for the regiment. In October the regiment embarked for France. after arriving at Dieppe as part of the second army they were amalgamated with another regiment, the 91st Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. over the next few months the Oxfordshire Yeomanry together with their new Scottish colleagues advanced with the army across France, Belgium and Holland as the enemy was driven back towards Germany.
Lieutenant-Colonel Richard (Dick) Taylor commanded the Oxfordshire Yeomanry from 1944 to 1945.
On the 26th of March 1945 the Oxfordshire Yeomanry crossed the Rhine into Germany and came under the command of the 6th Airborne Division, patrols were sent out which rounded up many Germans who were taken prisoner.
On the 13th of April, an extraordinary event occurred that became one of the most traumatic events in the history of the regiment. Some Germans had approached the leading troops under a flag of truce and were escorted to Corps Headquarters, where they said that there was a concentration camp a few miles in front of our line of attack called Bergen-Belsen that contained 60.000 prisoners, many of whom had infections and contagious diseases, including typhus, typhoid, gastro enteritis, tuberculosis and others. No amount of training, however, could have prepared the men for the experience which then faced them.
It was reported that the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was guarded around the perimeter by 600 Hungarian troops together with the German Wehrmacht outside the camp; the German SS were inside the camp. The SS “Schutz-Staffel” protection squadron were responsible for law and order inside the camp, and the Wehrmacht outside the main gate to stop people escaping.
On the 14th of April 1945 the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, now under the command of the 11th Armoured Division, crossed the bridge at Celle over the river Aller. On the morning of the 15th Lieutenant-Colonel Richard (Dick) Taylor, Major Ben Barnett, an interpreter and a small bodyguard of eight specially selected men from 249 battery, halted in the neutral zone to meet the Germans, the commander of the Wehrmacht area outside the camp Oberst (Colonel) Harries, and Kramer, the SS commander of the camp.
As the small party walked down the main roadway into the camp, they discovered the cause of a foul smell that they had noticed earlier, huge piles of unburied corpses lay on all sides, as they continued down the walkway they were cheered by the internees, most of them living skeletons with haggard yellow faces and shaven heads, suffering from starvation and disease. Most of the men wore a striped pyjama type of clothing, others wore rags, the women wore a striped gown, many without shoes.
The Oxfordshire Yeomanry spent over a week taking control of the camp attempting to alleviate the suffering of the internees whilst medical teams and other units could be sent up to take over
The last posting of the war for the regiment in Europe was to guard the German naval base at Kiel on the Baltic coast, here the race to Kiel had already been started by T-Force “Target Force” a secret unit raised by “SHAEF” (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) to seize scientists and their secrets at Kiel as well as to deny the Russians free access to the Baltic via the Kiel canal and the threat to Denmark. This final duty was a taste of the Cold War to come for the Oxfordshire Yeomanry.
On the 7th of May 1945 Germany signed an unconditional surrender to the Joint Allied Forces, to take effect the following day (VE Day).
Meanwhile back in the Far East the survivors of 251 battery were marched from Nakom Nai to Pisnaloke, over 400 miles, arriving on the 19th of August 1945 where they were finally freed. They were then flown to Rangoon and finally back to England, all suffering from malnutrition, numerous medical problems and diseases.
On the 15th of August 1945 Emperor Hirohito of Japan broadcast on the radio the acceptance of the Joint Allied Forces terms of unconditional surrender (VJ Day).
The 63rd was disbanded in 1946 and with it the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, as the Territorial Army itself was temporarily suspended that year.