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Regimental History - 20th Century

Second World War 1939-1945

7th Battalion, King's Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster, at Gibraltar in 1942

The 7th Battalion, King's Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster, was formed at Dover in February 1940 and in April of that year went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.  They returned to the UK through Dunkirk in May 1940 and moved to a Home Defence Roll.

On 21st June 1942 the 7th Battalion King’s Own embarked from Greenock and joined the 2nd Brigade under Brigadier E G Pullan to reinforce the Garrison of Gibraltar.  The battalion spent the summer manning the perimeter defences with mortars and medium machine guns, a special machine gun platoon being formed. 

Reserve companies in the event of operations were to move under the Rock into elaborate caves which were then being constructed.  A tremendous amount of concrete was put into these defences, and a great deal of work was also entailed shovelling out the loose rock and stones caused by the Royal Engineers blasting.  It was dirty work and the men hated it, but they were constantly congratulated on the excellence of their performance.  As a result, Gibraltar could in an emergency close up like a clam and live its life underground.  It was possible to walk along miles of two-way subterranean roads, and there were hospitals, food dumps, workshops and railways buried beyond the reach of any bomb or shell.  Caves as big as cinema theatres were gouged out along the underground roads, and sometimes stalactites hung weirdly from the ceiling among the shell cases and the guns.  Great reservoirs of icy rainwater lie in the centre of the Rock and it seemed capable of withstanding any attack.  Holes in the face of the precipice enabled a beleaguered garrison to look down into Spain to the north, out into the Mediterranean in the east and into the Atlantic in the west.

Work was not only below ground, and the battalion assisted in rebuilding a bombed Roman Catholic convent, while its  artists were let loose on mural paintings.  Games were as usual the principal pastime, and a good deal of Association football and some cricket and hockey were played.  The only air raid warning during the battalion’s residence was of short duration as the planes turned out to be friendly.  Gibraltar was not even blacked out.  Swiftly the Axis sympathisers across the bay in Spain relayed their information to the German High Command, and great care was taken to ensure that Spaniards coming into Gibraltar were properly searched.  On 9th August this duty was carried out by a NCO and four men of the battalion’s Intelligence Section.

On the 11th August 7th King’s Own carried out the Ceremony of the Keys.  One or other of the units of the garrison was detailed for this every Wednesday night at 6.30pm, a ceremony not unlike that which takes place nightly at the Tower of London.  The escort to the Keys consisted of a sergeant and three men who marched  with the band from the Almedia through the town to the Casemate Square, where the Commanding Officer, the Adjutant and the outpost platoon all awaited the arrival of His Excellency the Governor, who handed over the Keys.  The Governor was received with a Royal Salute; ‘Retreat’ was sounded; then escort and outpost platoon marched past His Excellency, the latter returning to its battle position.  After being challenged at the Waterport Gate, the sergeant in charge of the Keys locked the gate.  Another Royal Salute, the National Anthem and an ‘Eyes left’ to His Excellency as the band and escort returned to Government House to hand back the Keys, and the ceremony was over.

After service in Gibraltar the 7th Battalion travelled to India via South Africa and from March 1943 were based in Lahore.  They were involved in internal security and undertook training for war, but were not used on active service.  The Battalion was disbanded at Bangalore in January 1947.


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