Early in March 1854 the regiment had assembled at Exeter and was formed into six service troops and two light (Depot) troops, the latter, shortly after the 8th had sailed, being removed to Newbridge Barracks in Ireland, where they remained throughout the war.
The establishment at the commencement of hostilities was 336 men and 371 horses. The order was to take abroad 295 men and 250 horses and under the circumstances even the band was broken up and put into the ranks. But even then the requisite number could not be made up. Young horses were exchanged for seasoned ones from the 3rd Light Dragoons (then also at Exeter), and the final figure which embarked upon the five large sailing ships provided comprised 20 officers and 293 other ranks. The men were ordered not to take shabraques and white covers for peaks for the busbies and forage caps were issued. The ships provided exclusive accommodation for the regiment, the horses all being carried below decks in the holds.
The first three ships, the "Echunga," "Mary Anne" and the "Shooting Star", sailed from Plymouth on the 19th, 21st and the 24th of April and all three arrived at Constantinople on the 20th of May.
On arrival, these men were under the command of Major de Salis and here they found the 17th Lancers, who had sailed from Southampton a few days before the 8th. Hardly had they disembarked when secret orders were given to re-embark with the expedition to Varna [on the west coast of the Black Sea, in modern Bulgaria] to assist the Turks. Although the 17th had arrived first, they were not selected for the advance guard, the 8th going instead, being armed with carbines and so better adapted for this service. Accordingly the three ships were towed by steamer up the Bosphorus and arrived at Varna on the 30th of May.
On the 6th of June, with the 8th acting as advance guard, Sir George Brown's Light Division moved to Aladyn and then on to Devna, some 16 miles west of Varna.
In the meantime the "Medora" and the "Wilson Kennedy" had sailed from Plymouth about the 1st of May and without stopping anywhere arrived at Varna on the 10th of June and at Devna about the 17th. Thirteen troop horses and 3 officers horses had been lost.
On the 20th of June a squadron of the 8th, composed of four officers and 121 men and some 80 men of the 13th Light Dragoons accompanied Lord Cardigan in the hope of discovering what the Russians were contemplating on the river Danube. (This has been dubbed the "Sore-backed Reconnaissance".) Returning on the 9th of July, they had not met with a single Russian. The horses had had a very hard time of it, 80 of the 121 troop horses remaining on the sick list until well after the 1st of August.
Further reconnaissance patrols were the order of the day for some time to come until when, on the 31st of August and the 1st of September, Lord Cardigan and his staff, with half of the 17th Lancers and four-fifths of the 8th Hussars embarked for the Crimea.
Landing on the 16th September 1854, their valises were left on board, never to be seen again. Only three days' provisions, a shirt, a pair of socks and a towel wrapped in a blanket, were taken. Dysentery and diarrhoea were already rife among them and by the time they disembarked in the Crimea 93 men out of their original number were already non-effective or dead.
Near the Bulganak River the regiment came under fire for the first time, losing one horse killed and two wounded.
On the 20th of September the whole army closed in on the river Alma, the cavalry being in open column on the left. Apart from skirmishing with opposing Russian cavalry the 8th took but little part in the battle and suffered no casualties.
On the 28th September, following a report that Russian troops were out in front (outside of Balaclava town) the troop of the 8th which made up Lord Raglan's escort (under Captain Chetwode) was thrown out in skirmishing order, the Horse Artillery then coming up and opening fire, causing the Russians to abandon all their wagons and flee from the scene. Some seventy wagons and carts were captured, some only containing small arms ammunition, which was useless, being destroyed. The rest of the wagons contained black bread for the troops, again of little value. The troops were allowed to pillage such of the wagons as did not contain anything of value to the Commissariat. Consequently in a few minutes the ground was strewed with clothes of all descriptions - Hussar uniforms, fur cloaks, wigs, and French novels of a highly improper nature. The carriages were said to belong to the suite of Count Menschikoff.
From then on to the 25th of October the regiment furnished patrols and outpost duties, being billeted close to the most beautiful gardens and vineyards full of the ripest and luscious grapes on which all ranks made a raid. There was also plenty of water, corn, hay and fuel.
Of the charge at Balaclava much has already been written. The 8th were in line with the 4th Light Dragoons and advancing in support at a steady pace when they came under fire. Wounded man and horses from the leading squadrons kept dashing out, making the lines unsteady.The pace increasing, the 8th, who were on the right, directing, were checked by the officers, but the 4th did not check and continued on at the utmost speed, the two regiments forming into separate lines and advancing separately, the pace of the 8th not exceeding a good trot. In spite of the fall of men and horses, the regiment passed the remains of the battery in the valley and halted some 300 to 400 yards beyond. They had passed completely through the crossfire of the infantry and the batteries on the hills, losing about half their men.
Here they formed up to their front, and being out of fire waited some three to five minutes for orders. They were so diminished in numbers that they formed less than one squadron. Joined by a few others, chiefly from the 17th Lancers, the remains formed up on the left, making in all about 70 men. Deciding to attack the Russian lancers in their rear the squadron came round as if on parade. Two Russian squadrons were faced, some of them going off before they could be reached, but the remainder waited, received the attack and were overthrown.
The ground was now opened up for the Brigade to retire. The 8th now pursued their course to their original position, followed by all the other horsemen of the other regiments, and as their horses became blown or wounded, they tailed. The Russians now recovering confidence, individually or in small parties, pursued the dismounted men and securing many of them. On being called off by their officers in order to allow their own artillery full play, many of our wounded and dismounted men who were already surrounded, were able to escape. 2 officers and 19 other ranks were killed and 2 officers and 18 other ranks were wounded. 1 officer and 7 other ranks were taken prisoner-of-war.
A dog belonging to the 8th, named Jenny, a rough-haired terrier, went all through the charge of the Light Brigade, where she was wounded by a splinter of shell in the neck. She returned to England with the regiment and at Dundalk Colonel de Salis gave her the collar which is still in the Officer's mess. On the collar are the five clasps awarded to her for war service at the Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, Sebastopol and Central India. She embarked with the regiment for India and marched with it daily until after the action on the 14th of August 1858. She was drowned whilst crossing the river Chambal in September of that same year, the current proving too strong for her.
At Inkerman the regiment, in common with the others in the Brigade, had to endure the fire of long-hopping shells from the Russian ships in the harbour, but as soon as the brunt of the attack was over were moved back out of reach of the guns, losing only one horse.
The trials and tribulations of the winter of 1854-55 have been adequately described elsewhere.
The spring of 1855 brought changes in the officer grades and the commissioning of the R.S.M. and a Troop Sgt Major and the Expedition to Kertch.
On the 22nd of May a detachment of 50 mounted men under Colonel de Salis accompanied the expedition to Kertch aboard the the sailing transport, "Warcloud". The Russians had only sea-board defences and when the disembarkation had commenced in earnest, they blew up about 30 guns which commanded the Straits, and withdrew inland. Little fighting was done, but Somerset Calthorpe related, "We destroyed about four months rations for 100,000 men." Left behind was the remainder of the regiment, which on the 10th of August 1855 numbered 266 other ranks and 328 horses in its ranks.
On the death of Lord Raglan [29th of June 1855], Colonel Shewell had asked for the return of Captain Chetwode's Troop, which had formed his escort. Soon after its return, however, Raglan's successor General Simpson required them, and on the 29th of October Captain Naylor, with two subalterns and 70 other ranks were sent to act as an escort and provide orderlies for all the other divisions. This was not a popular duty, the experience of the previous winter inducing a belief that such a detachment tended to become non-effective, and reduced the strength of the regiment.
With no way of confirming those who formed the first escort troop (excepting in one or two known instances) it not known whether these men also received the clasp for Balaclava although not participating in the Charge.
Being joined in winter quarters at Ismail in November of 1855 by the detachment from Kertch the regiment passed this period happily enough in houses which the Turkish authorities had obliged the local inhabitants to give up and as the men had been seventeen months under canvas, keenly enjoyed their new abode. Food for both men and horses was abundant, and the whole Brigade was well prepared to renew the campaign in the spring, when news of peace arrived.
Embarkation orders being received, all horses considered not worth keeping were sold by auction, and on the 25th of April 1856 the ships "Oneida" and "Norman" sailed for England.
Brought back were one field officer, three captains, nine subalterns, six Regimental staff, thirty-five sergeants, six trumpeters, twenty-four corporals, three hundred and ninety-three privates, and one hundred and fifty-six troop horses as well as officers' horses "nearly to the number regulated." Of the two hundred and ninety-three other ranks who had set out for the Crimea with the regiment, two were promoted to officer rank, forty-two were invalided, sixty-eight died of wounds or disease, twenty-six were killed in action or died immediately afterwards. One private deserted to the Russians [PB: who?] and one hundred and fifty-four returned with the regiment to England, including sixty-five who had been to the Danube. Of the 230 troop horses which had set out for the Crimea with the regiment, only 30 were brought home, including 13 which had been to the Danube.
Although orders had been received to proceed straight to Dundalk, on arrival at Portsmouth Queen Victoria signalled her wish to see the officers and men who had so distinguished themselves in the Crimea and on the 16th of May 1856, she, attended by Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal, arrived from Osborne House and walked down the ranks of the regiment.
Then the regiment defiled past her in sections of threes, first in slow and then in quick time.
The 8th Hussars would seem to have been the only regiment in the Brigade to have had an interpreter "on the strength" in the Crimea. This man, described variously as Tomson Nazaret or Thomas Nazareth, joined the regiment in England on the 24th of May 1854 and served with them throughout the campaign. He is shown on a separate medal roll, dated the 19th of March 1855, as being entitled to the medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman. Presumably he received that for Sebastopol also, but it is not shown. A foot-note to the roll states, "When the lists for Balaclava were sent out it was not observed that this man had not been previously returned for the medal and two clasps (i.e. Alma and Inkerman rolls (which were made out separately) to which it appears he is entitled - an addition of one."
During the preceding twelve months, the regiment had, besides the discharge of the sick and un-wanted men, given some 40 volunteers to the 2nd and 3rd Dragoon Guards who were going out to India on normal relief and a further ten to the 7th Hussars, when ordered out to India. The 8th, in their turn, now received 108 volunteers from the 10th, 11th and 15th Hussars, the 4th Light Dragoons and the 16th Lancers.
Twenty-eight officers and 489 N.C.O.s and men embarked for India. None of the officer's horses were allowed to be taken and the troop horses were distributed amongst the other regiments of cavalry, including 15 troop horses that had gone through the Crimea. The soldiers' wives and families were also left behind, each wife receiving six-pence a day from the Government.
Going by rail to Cork and thence to Queenstown by steamer, the regiment boarded the S.S "Great Britain", on which 1050 N.C.O's and men and over 50 officers from various regiments finally sailed.
From Mrs. Duberley, wife of the Paymaster of the 8th:
On embarking with the 17th Lancers, each had brought its own band, furnished with new instruments since their return from the Crimea, and from half-past two until four o'clock, the musicians completed the luxury of the day...
Sailing on the 8th of October 1857, the S.S."Great Britain" coaled at St Vincent and Capetown, reaching Bombay without any other casualty than one man who fell into the hold and lived to disembark on the 16th of December. (See record of 1245 Alfred Hoare of the 8th.) On disembarking the 8th encamped on the esplanade between the Fort and Back Bay.
Colonel de Salis, three other officers and four men had travelled overland to India to purchase horses in advance, but this had been without result. Only 100 horses were secured at Bombay and on the 3rd of January 1858 a sailing transport carrying these and some of the officer's horses left in tow of a steamer carrying the men and baggage, bound for Deesa.
On the 4th of March 1858 the regiment left, in company with a native infantry regiment and crossed the mountains by the Chatterbooj Chat, the first European regiment ever seen there.
Proceeding to Kotah on the 28th of March, all the cavalry that could be spared, including 300 of the 8th, proceeded to try and block the exit from the fort of the Rajah at Kotah. On arrival the place was deserted, and Major Clowes, whose "E" squadron was present, made some outspoken comments:
When our infantry attacked the town the enemy, hearing that our cavalry had crossed the river, and fearful of losing their treasure, made a bolt for it without firing a shot and got clear away whilst our cavalry and guns, enough to stop the whole the lot of them, or at any rate to take the treasure and have such a strong cut at them as we shall never again, were feeding their horses and resting under the trees, six miles from the place.
The next action was at Gwalior where Brigadier Smith had sent forward the cavalry to the head of the pass to Kotah ke Serai which lies three or four miles south-east of Gwalior. He directed a squadron of the 8th, under Major Heneage, to charge two or three squadrons of the enemy horse who were being formed in front of Gwalior. The squadron debouched from the pass in file, formed at a gallop after 500 yards and then charged and were upon the foe in a moment. Many of the rebels were cut down and the rest fled towards the town.
As the ground was difficult, and intersected with nullahs, a third of the squadron diverged to their right under Lieutenant Harding, the remainder going a little to the left and continuing the attack, came shortly into the midst of the enemy camp. Here they took three guns, cutting down the gunners and completely clearing the area but coming under a heavy fire from the guns in the fort and the field guns on the right and left. On passing through the camp and crossing the road from Gwalior to Morar the squadron came upon a large force of hostile cavalry attempting to escape in a disorganised mass into the fort. Here they made a determined stand, but the Hussars never slackened their pace and dashing into them, cut them down in scores and taking two large guns continued the charge right through the Phul Bagh encampment. (Here, too, the Rani of Ghansi, dressed as a cavalry leader, was cut down by a Hussar, and on her death the rebels lost their bravest and best leader. That night her devoted followers, determined that the Eighth should not boast that they had captured her, even dead, burned her body.)
For this action four Victoria Crosses were awarded - one for the officers, one for the senior non-commissioned officer and two for the corporals and privates. They were selected by their comrades in each rank for the honour, the first instance of the warrant for the V.C.s being so applied and was done at Colonel de Salis's request.
On the 5th of September 1858 a squadron of "D" Troop of the regiment caught the mutineers at Bejapore, inflicting heavy losses on them. Of the 850 enemy troops, no fewer than 450 bodies were counted dead on the field.
From then on, until the 21st of May 1859, when the Headquarters Troop reached Nusserabad, all Troops had been in endless search of the ever elusive rebels.
The regiment had gone through two hot-weather campaigns since it landed in India. H.Q. Troop alone had shifted camp some 300 times and marched over 3000 miles, some of the other Troops marching close to 4000 miles.
Reaching Meerut in February of 1861 there was an epidemic of cholera in which the regiment lost two officers and thirty-one men.
In 1863 it was reduced to seven service troops and five hundred horses and in November of that same year received orders to embark for England. Now allowed to give volunteers to only three other units, 133 men went to the 19th Hussars, 54 to the 20th Hussars, and 6 to the Queen's Bays. All the horses and saddlery were handed over to the 5th Lancers.
Embarking on the 12th of January 1864 aboard the "Renown", the regiment was back in England by the 2nd of May, remaining dis-mounted at Brighton until the middle of June before going to York, via Norwich, Ipswich and Northampton.
Service in various English stations followed until 1869, when for a period of three years the regiment was in Ireland.
Trouble in Aghanistan took the regiment again to India on the 16th of December 1878 for the third time that century.
Only two men of the regiment who were with it in the Crimea and during the Mutiny were still with it, Colonel William Mussenden and Quartermaster J. Hefferon (formerly in the ranks as a Trumpeter.)