Before becoming well known in the Second World War for the capture of Pegasus Bridge, the predecessors of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry saw extensive action in the Great War, particularly on the Western Front.
As part of the 1881 Childers reforms, the 43rd Monmouthshire Regiment and 52nd Oxfordshire Light Infantry Regiment were brought together to form two battalions of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry Regiment.
Then, in 1908, as part of further reforms, their title was changed to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment, more commonly known as the Ox and Bucks. This is the title that they would see large amounts of action under in the First, and Second World Wars.
Six battalions of the Ox and Bucks would see action on the Western Front in the Great War, with a total of over 5,000 men killed in all theatres.
The 2nd Division Ox and Bucks, forming part of I Corps, was one of the first divisions of the British Expeditionary Force to head to France, in August 1914. After taking part in the first battle of the conflict at Mons, the Ox and Bucks were forced into a 220-mile retreat, stopping just short of Paris, and took part in the first battle of the Marne.
In the first battle of Ypres, the 2nd Ox and Bucks sustained heavy casualties while attacking the ridgeline at Passchendaele. Over 150 men were either killed or wounded.
After a series of attacks and subsequent counter attacks, the Ox and Bucks had taken heavy casualties. By the end of 1914, some 600 men were killed or wounded from the regiment, and the structure of the regiment that had begun the war, was very different already.
In May 1915, to support the French attack at Vimy Ridge, the British engaged in their first night time action of the war at Festubert. During this action some 400 men were killed or wounded, the highest sustained by the regiment in well over 100 years.
Heavy losses would be a tragic theme for the rest of 1915 also, seeing heavy casualties at the Battle of Loos, coincidentally where Rudyard Kipling’s son, John, also lost his life.
1916 would turn out to be one of the most tragic and costly not just for the Ox and Bucks, but the entire British Army. The 2nd Ox and Bucks were again called into action on the first day of the Somme, where the British encountered casualties of up to 60,000 men in a single day. They would continue to see plenty of action throughout the Battle of the Somme, right through until November 1916, adding Mametz Wood to another of their battle honours.
The start of 1917 saw the Ox and Bucks ordered back to Arras, where they would play a pivotal role in the Arras offensive of May 1917. They would also go on to fight alongside the Canadians at the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele.
The last major offensive of 1917 was fought with tanks, at the Battle of Cambrai, the 2nd Ox and Bucks providing infantry support for the attack.
In March 1918, when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive, their last-ditch attempt at success in the war, the Ox and Bucks were situated at Ytres, North-East France. Due to go into reserve when the offensive started, the Ox and Bucks were called into defensive action. The German’s huge offensive began to pay off, inflicting heavy casualties on Allied positions, including the Ox and Bucks. The British were pushed back to Ancre, across the old Somme battlefield.
The Ox and Bucks would hold the line against a series of German offensives, that slowly began to lose its momentum so that, by August 1918, the British were able to counterattack. After a series of attacks in August and September 1918, the Ox and Buck’s last piece of action was at Escarmain at the end of October.
With the signing of the Armistice on 11th November 1918, the Ox and Bucks formed a large part of the occupying army in Germany, stationed just outside Cologne. By the end of the war, just 39 men of the original 1914 regiment, had survived serving with the Ox and Bucks till 1918.