The meeting at Leicester today stages the Leicestershire and Derbyshire Yeomanry Handicap Chase for amateur riders over a distance of 2 miles 4 1/2 furlongs. This territorial regiment of the British Army was formed in 1957, by merging the two separate county regiments, both of which had long records of service going back to the 18th century.
During the First World War the two regiments had very contrasting experiences. The Derbyshire Yeomanry was unusual, because it was one of the few regiments in the Great War that did not see any service on the Western Front. They began mobilisation training in August 1914 in Norfolk, and were posted to Egypt the following year.
Before long they sailed for Gallipoli, suffering heavy casualties at the Battle of Scimitar Hill on 21 August 1915. This was the last offensive mounted by the Allies during the infamous Gallipoli campaign. Their losses led to the regiment to be withdrawn back to Egypt, before moving to Salonika in Greece in February 1916, where they remained until the end of the war.
The Leicestershire Yeomanry were into battle soon after the war began, seeing service in the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914 and also at Second Ypres in May the following year. Here the regiment gained many battle honours, most notably during the Battle of Frezenburg where a small part of the regiment held the line for its entire brigade. The Leicestershires were so badly depleted here that they saw little significant action during 1916 as they went through a process of regrouping and training new soldiers sent to the regiment, though they were again active during 1917 and 1918.
During the Battle of Frezenburg amateur rider and secretary of the Cottesmore Hunt, Lt-Col The Hon. Percy Cecil Evans-Freke was killed, on 12 May 1915. He was one of 91 officers and 1,050 men of the third Cavalry Division, which included the Leicestershire Yeomanry, who lost their lives on that day.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of this particular engagement, "All the infantry losses, heavy as they were, are eclipsed by those the third Cavalry Division which bore the full blast of the whirlwind, and was practically destroyed in holding it back from Ypres. This splendid division, to whom, from first to last, the country owes as much as to any body of troops in the field, was only engaged in the fighting for one clear day, and yet lost nearly as heavily in proportion as either of the infantry divisions which had been in the firing line for a week."
A fellow officer who witnessed the death of Evans-Freke later recalled what happened. "I was in the fight in which Col Freke was killed, in fact, I had been in personal touch with him up to five minutes before I saw him fall. Things were rather hot, and I happened to be one of the small party, who, with Col Freke had become detached from the main portion of the squadron who are holding a length of trench. We were in touch by signal, however, and a message came across that Maj Ricardo was hit. Thereupon Col Freke walked out across the open to join the party in the trench about 80 yards away. He had covered the greater part of the distance when we saw he had been struck in the arm. He still went on to within five or six yards of the trench when he fell."
Tragic though it is, the death of service personnel is an inevitable consequence of war, and in more recent times of action to maintain the peace. There's nothing that racing can do to change that! But it is good to note that the British Horseracing Authority has announced that it is to continue its support of the charity Tickets For Troops for the third successive year.
Every racecourse in Britain is donating free tickets for their fixtures this year, and the total of over 78,000 tickets available is virtually double the figure they gave last year. Next week, Cheltenham racecourse has offered 150 tickets to enable members of the Armed Forces to attend the first three days of the Festival.
Cheltenham's managing director Edward Gillespie said, "Cheltenham racecourse is delighted to be taking part in this initiative as it gives us the chance to contribute in a meaningful way to such a worthwhile cause."
And it's good too that many racecourses, like Leicester today, honour and remember the troops from their localities who have given their lives in so many different conflicts over the years.