97 Battery (Lawson's Company) Royal Artillery

97 Lawsons Company Battery Crest.

The Beginning

Early 1800's were a difficult time. The upheaval from the 'Little Frenchman' Napoleon Bonaparte was increasing each passing month, a near hysteria was upon the English peoples as the newspapers continued to publish bad news from overseas. All sides appeared not to be complying with previous treaties signed after the last campaign.

Pressure grew inside parliament, and so the Army and Navy were again put on a War footing and began another recruiting drive. Captain H. Douglas was put in command of two new troops of guns on the 13th September 1803. As was the custom at the time, the battery was refereed to by its commanding officers name to ease communications.

Thus, 97 Battery was born as Captain H. Douglas' company and was affiliated to 8th Battalion Royal Artillery stationed at Woolwich. Here it stayed until November 1805, after which it marched to Exeter and then onto Plymouth in May 1807, Captain TS Hughes then commanded the Battery for the subsequent embarkation to Gibraltar.

Unfortunately Captain Hughes died in Gibraltar on the 18th May 1808 which left a vacancy for Captain Robert Lawson Royal Artillery who embarked almost immediately from England to join his command. That same month however, the Battery split  with half of the company being ordered to Sicily under command of the 2nd Captain HT Fauquier, whilst the remainder temporarily under the command of Captain W Morrison - despatched themselves to their eventual end at Mondego Bay on board the Transport Hornby.

Unfortunately, the half company sent to Sicily never rejoined Lawson's Company, but where posted to other units on the island. Captain Morrison's half company, however, where brought up to establishment by the use of men previously on strength to other units on the campaign.

The Peninsular War

Lawson's Company holds the unique record of having been the only artillery unit to serve throughout the entire Peninsular War, from 1808 till 1814. During those years it experienced a good deal of hard marching and fighting in a campaign which perhaps, beyond all others, saw the Field Artillery established on a proper footing. The ill equipped batteries of 1808 - bullock drawn, and with no spare stores - were changed by 1814 into efficient, highly mobile units, which could keep up with the Army in almost any country or terrain.

As previously stated Captain Morrison embarked with General Spencer's expedition to Cadiz, but in August was transferred to Sir Arthur Wellesley's army in Mondego Bay, Portugal. Owing to the shortage of draw horses and stores, it was found impossible to equip this half company, so the 6-pounders were left in store in Mondego Bay. The officers and men made amends with a hotch potch of ordnance - some captured enemy pieces - with the army advancing against the French towards Lisbon.    

After manoeuvring Marshal Junot out of Lisbon, the British attacked and defeated the enemy at Rolica, where the guns fought most gallantly. On the 21st August the Battle of Vimiera was turned into a British victory largely through the destructive fire of the guns, which shattered the enemy's attacking columns before they could reach the infantry.

The Company took part in the famous crossing of the Douro river, the capture of Oporto, the pursuit of Marshal Soult's army to Braga and finally, in the desperate fight at Talavera. On the 27th and 28th of July during this battle the 2nd Captain Taylor, (the then BK), was severely wounded and captured.

The Winter of 1809 was spent at Badajez, but the next year the Battery accompanied Lord Wellington in his campaign, which included the stern encounter at Busaco and also the retreat to, and occupation of, the famous Lines of Torres Vedras. In 1811, Lawson advanced the Company from the Lines and was in action at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro in May, Later, in January 1812, was employed in the trench warfare during the siege and subsequent storming of Cuidad Rodrigo as siege artillery.

It is uncertain how or when, but somehow the Battery was replenished six months later with 6-pounders, and fought a bloody battle at Salamanca, suffering casualties whilst in action here, and at Brgos, and the retreat to Portugal.

The field batteries of the Peninsular army were by then becoming very efficient units, and many of the obvious defects in their original equipment had been corrected. At the commencement of the 1813 campaign Lawson's Company was part of the 6th Division during the advance of the Army that summer, through at the battle of Vittoria it was with the 5th Division.

At this decisive battle the French lost every gun they had in the field (over 150), and the massed fire of the British artillery was undoubtedly the factor which contributed chiefly to the victory. Then followed the siege of San Sebastian, at which the assaulting infantry were supported by the covering fire of artillery shooting just over their heads - the first attempt at a barrage.

Lawson's Company - then equipped with 9-pounders - took a leading share in the famous passage of Bidassoa in October 1813, and in the battle of Nivelle. 2nd Captain Mosse was in command of the company when it repulsed the French attacks on the 10th and 11th December, and received special thanks for its service. Thus ended the campaign of 1813, during which the army in six weeks had marched 600 miles, crossing six great rivers, and driven 120,000 French troops over the Pyrenees.

Captain Robert Lawson's Company, 8th Battalion Royal Artillery left Spain on the 22nd July 1814 on board HMS Hydra bound for Plymouth. The following year, on June 4th 1815, Major Robert Lawson received an award from the Prince Regent. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath, a subsidiary of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, awarded for his outstanding service and command during the campaign.

General Duties 

The post war period was thankfully a quiet one for a number of years following the service in the Peninsular. All was very calm for the battery and the list of posting, both unit and personnel, reads as documentary evidence, but still cannot be dismissed as mere time off as we know to this day what is required of Regimental duty.

The 'Brigade' was not sent overseas to the Waterloo campaign, but moved in 1821 to Gibraltar and then later to Corfu. The company was then afterwards stationed at Woolwich, Leith, Bermuda, Ireland and Ceylon, returning to Woolwich in 1856.

On the introduction of the Brigade system, the Company was converted into a field battery as 'H' Battery, 8 Brigade in 1861. The Company then went to India in 1867.

Ten years later the Company became 'H' Battery, 3 Brigade Royal Artillery, and in 1884 was converted into a Depot Field Battery for 3 Brigade at Hillsea. Not until 1895 did the Company recover its status as a service battery under the designation of 87 Field Battery Royal Artillery. From here the battery went out to South Africa for the Boer War in December 1900 and was engaged in the Eastern Transvaal mostly by sections or single guns working with small mobile columns.

In 1914 the Battery - then equipped as a howitzer battery - went to France again with XII (12th) Brigade.

The First World War

The 87 Field Battery once again distinguished itself during the Great War, taking part from beginning to end, although this time was not alone in this fact. the battery spent all of the war within the relatively small battlefields of France and Belgium, fighting in extremely poor conditions in the appalling trenches of Aisne, Somme, Ypres, Cambrai and the Hindenburg Line.

19th September the Battle of Aisne started, the battery fired though-out the day night for 48hrs carrying actions on the Aisne heights. A month later, on the 13th October the Battle of Amuentierres began and lasted till the 2nd of November.

In August of 1915 the Company fired at the Battle of Hooge. Then the battery moved to fight in the desperate battles for the Somme, firstly however, in May of 1916, 87th Battery,s Brigade changed from the XII to the II Brigade Royal Field Artillery. Unfortunately the Battery split again as it had done in Gibraltar prior to the Peninsular Campaign, one section was peeled off to form D Howitzer Battery after joining with another section from 43 Howitzer Battery.

The Battery then fought in the Battle of the Somme on the 15th September 1916 to the end on the 22nd April 1917. The names of the engagements should not be forgotten: Battle of Flers Courcelette, Battle of Morral, Capture of Lestoeufs, Battle of the Troustoy Ridges and the Fighting on Hill 70.

The Battle of Cambrai started on the 20th November and lasted to the 3rd December 1917, first tank attack that lasted for a full 24 hrs. Then on the 23rd till 28th we engaged in support of the Capture of Bourbu Wood, and continued to engage throughout the German Counter Attack from the 30th till the 3rd December.

In 1918, on the 21st and 22nd March we revisited the Somme as the tide of the war was turning. We helped win a crushing defeat on the Kaiser's army at St Queatin. From here we moved onto the Battle of the Lys, which started on the 13th April.

With the IX Corps we helped hit the enemy hard at Bailleul and at Kemmel Ridge, however, IX Corps suffered greatly and had to withdraw to allow XXII Corps to take the lead and the ridge finally fell on the 26th April. Battle of Scherpeutery which lasted the full day of the 29th April.

On the 18th September we moved to engage the enemy at Epehy, and then to the St Quentin canal on the 24th - 30th September. Finishing again at Cambrai, with a huge battle on the 8th - 9th October, ending what was to become known as the Battle of the Hindenburg Line, fighting for and with the Fourth Army, although now with the IX Corps.

87 Field Battery took part in the Final Advance in Picardy, notably at the Battle of the Selle, which lasted a week and a day, from the 17th - 25th October 1918, and saw the Great War coming to an appropriate end. The peace treaty being signed soon after on the 11th November at 11 a.m. much to the relief of a ragged and torn Europe.

The most notable events of the whole desperate war happened during the roughest of times, when the courage and bravery of the Battery Officers and men showed through. Sometimes in appalling conditions of mud, rain, shellfire and mustard gas attacks selfless acts of sacrifice occurred.

2nd Lieutenant Hayter died bravely in March 1918, along with a number of his comrades, here follows a brief account as published in the London Gazette, 18th November 1918:

"87th Battery The O.C. 2nd RFA Bde considers that perhaps to this Battery is the honour of having put up the finest achievement of all under his command. Every one of the nine officers on the strength of the battery became casualties, thus the battery command devolved on a Corporal Martin until the arrival of a former subaltern of the 87th - a Captain Gee - now with the 42nd Battery, some few hours later. (details) it became obvious that to hold on to the gun position was serving no useful military purpose, in the face of the Hun infantry attack. Every round of gun ammunition had been expended. Only during that morning had the gun ammunition been replenished, all the rifles ammunition had been expended by about midday and no weapon of offence left except the bayonet and the officers revolvers. 2nd Lieutenant Hayter met his death standing up, part of his right hand blown away by a shell splinter, wounded on the face, his revolver in his left hand firing at the advancing German infantry then in pistol range."

General Duties

Once more the battery stepped down from a war footing and tried to relax as best they could, whilst reconstituting and retraining with the constant tactical and equipment changes that were to be provided in the coming 40 years.

The Second World War

Once again, the battery history book makes excuses for poor war diaries such as rapid turn over of all ranks for more gaps to appear in our history. However, the outline is correct, and fairly documentary.

1939-40.           In France as part of I Corp with the new 25 pdr guns. Evacuated from Dunkirk on HMS Worcester, having destroyed the guns and handed over all ammunition and rifles.

1940-42.           In the UK firstly as the
1943-44.           On campaign service in North Africa with General Montgomery. Little evidence exists for this rime period

1944-45.            Tunisia and Italy. Only mention is that the Battery was continually in action, in support of 3"1 INF BDE, during the Anzlo bridgehead and die runner push north through Florence towards Bolgna.

1945-47.            Was withdrawn from the front line to concentrate at Lake Trasinene for a while and then moved with the rest of the Division to be employed on IS duties firstly in Syria and then Palestine.

General Duties

On the 1st May 1947. the Battery became known as 97 (Lawson's Company) Airborne light Battery in recognition of the old 87th and 212th Airborne Light Battery with which we successfully merged. The Battery
formed part of 33 Airborne Light Regiment and stayed on IS duty in Palestine till the spring of 1948 where we were stationed at Flensburg and after that joined the rest of the Regiment at Fallingbostal. Things were destined not to be rosy for long. the President of Egypt, Abdul Nasser had his own plans for the Suez Canal which had been built using British Engineering brains and money.

SUEZ - The Forgotten War

President Nasser annexed the canal for Egypt, and proposed to charge all shipping passing through the zone for the use of the canal. This incensed the Western states as it was the life-line for oil at the time, and political hostilities started soon after.

Once more Lawson's Company faced mobilisation. The Battery loaded onto transport ships, in our case HMS Theseus on the 5th August to Cyprus. The BCs' party, with the CO and his group, left Nicosia to fly out on De Haviland aircraft and parachute on Gamil Airfield at the start of the action on 4-5th November 1956.

The Battery loaded on LSLs and transport ships and sailed for Port Said at the same time. The holding of Gamil field was an overwhelming success, as indeed, was the whole campaign, let down only by the tide of public opinion against the action, coupled with Nassers' use of the world media.

Meanwhile, the BC and party on Gamil field managed to spot and engage targets with Naval gunfire which was reported to be superbly accurate. The Company eventually landed at Port Said. The forces advanced south along the line of the canal at breakneck speed, much like that of the German Blitzkrieg facing the Battery before.

On the evening of the 6th November a cease-fire was ordered as the attacking forces had reached Kilometre 99. A little peeved, the company settled down and dug in for what was believed to be a long wait.

However, this was not to be as the Battery was ordered home with the rest of the Airborne forces, almost in disgrace, with the land forces following on shortly after. What was on for a resounding military success turned into a political mess, and it was not surprising to find the government trying to sweep it all under the carpet.

General Duties

The Battery moved back. to the home of the airborne soldier in Aldershot. where it stayed until 1961, barring tours to Cyprus, Jordan and Hong Kong. In June 1961, 33 Para Lt Regiment passed into history and the Battery joined 4'th Field Regiment and almost immediately set off for a long 3-year tour of Hong Kong till January 1964.

After the eastern delights of Hong Kong the Battery was invited to stay at Bullfold before taking part in the Borneo campaign around the 1st April 1965. Again little fact has so far been uncovered about this fight in the jungle, and again the only evidence is outline and very brief.
In 1971 the Company pulled a tour in Londonderry, which saw a number of casualties - due to shootings and
bombings • by the PIRA. Again a year later Lawson's Company returned to Northern Ireland this time to the Long Kesh prison and surrounding area. during this tour three soldiers were seriously injured, and one killed as a result of a direct mortar hit on an OP sangar.

After returning each time to Munsterlager, Lawson's Company seemed to find itself back in Ulster shortly after, as yet again the Company were sent to Belfast The only difference being that we returned instead to Catterick in North Yorkshire.

There we stayed till 1977 where another Regimental move put us back in Aldershot. However, things never stay quite for long. this lime the Argentineans decided to reclaim the "Malvinas" after a hundred years or so.

The Falklands Campaign

The Battery set sail to the Falklands in spectacular surroundings - on board the QE II. The long journey to the southern hemisphere was taken up by endless fitness sessions around the decks, small arms training including live firing into the sea, first aid. and other ATD tasks.

By the time the Company arrived at South Georgia it was in great shape and ready for a fight, they had been  in cramped conditions for 8000 miles and the time to get off was approaching fast. Rumours that the war might be over before the lads got there were rife - would we haw travelled all this way without firing a shot?

The Battery cross decked to me P&O Cruiser Canberra and headed for Port San Carlos, just inside the Falkland Sound, which made it for the 2th June 1982. The next day the Canberra began to unload 5 Infantry Brigade and the boys were elated to be off the ship at last landing onto Blue Beach in one landing craft.

The Company quickly established itself at Head of the Bay House, with great patience due to a whole heap of blunders. All in spite of losing 3 light guns in the confusion of unloading the transport ferries, also apparently much of the Battery gun CES appeared to be astray,

The Battery fired its first round on the 7th June, with this morale soared in spite of knee height freezing water in the trenches.

The boggy ground meant that on occasion a gun would move sometimes up to seven or eight feet. Apart from image lost or the need for check bearing every two hours we found that we would bend around four or six hand spikes digging the gun back out of its trench. The gun line commander decided to dig two dead anchors and chain the platform to them, this system, although hard work solved the problem whenever it reoccurred.

The Campaign ended 14th June, the only casualties were minor injuries such as frost nip or spanner rash, the Company managed to escape relatively unscathed. One of the youngest men in the Falklands had also survived intact - Gunner D. Dixon - now W02 D. Dixon.

General Duties

The Battery remained in Aldershot after the campaign until 1st February. The Company then moved with the Regiment out to Germany, in particular to Osnabruck, swapping airborne role and equipment's with 7 RHA.

In the time since, Lawson's have augmented 4 RTR on a Cyprus tour and undertaken a further tour of Northern Ireland at Middletown and Keady. Also carrying out exchange trips with 1" Batterie d' Artilterie d' Marine (a French Battery) and sent two multiples to other gun Battery's for the Regimental Belfast tour in 1994.

In 1997 the Regiment was ordered to Bosnia-Hevegovina to help stabilise the peace established by the Dayton Agreement. Lawson's deployed as a Battery group with a troop from 88 (ARRACAN) Battery to Sanski Most Coal Mine, to provide rte SFOR commander's insurance policy with our AS90 guns.

During all this time the Battery has been gunnery training in Germany as well as at BATUS in Canada. the Troops have been Adventure training to Corsica, Gibraltar, Spain, Canaries, France, Belgium, Netherlands and the United Kingdom plus the list goes on. 97 Battery (Lawson's Company) Royal Artillery has been in existence for 195 years to date, we can only look forward to the next 195 years and more.


Source: MOD

This page was last updated on 29 June 2015

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