The Essex Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army that saw active service from 1881 to 1958. Members of the regiment were recruited from across Essex county. Its lineage is continued by the Royal Anglian Regiment.
The Essex Regiment was formed in 1881 following the union of the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot and the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot. The merger was part of the under the Childers Reforms of the British Army.
The new regiment was designated The Essex Regiment. The Old 44th became the 1st Battalion of the new regiment and the Old 56th became the 2nd Battalion.
Irish War of Independence (1919-1921):
1st Battalion was stationed in Kinsale in County Cork during the Irish War of Independence.
Major Arthur Ernest Percival (later a Lieutenant General) served as the battalion's intelligence officer. Regarded by the British as an efficient counter-terrorist officer, Percival was regarded as a torturer by Irish Republicans. The men under Percival's command were referred to by Republicans as the "Essex Torture Squad". In July 1920 the Essex Regiment captured Tom Hales, commander of the IRA 3rd Cork Brigade, and Patrick Harte, quartermaster of the West Cork Brigade. Both men were severely beaten during interrogation - with Harte later dying as the result of his injuries. The IRA placed a £1000 bounty on Percival's head - a significant sum of money for the period - but attempts to assassinate Percival failed.
In March 1921 at Crossbarry in County Cork the regiment encircled the IRA "West Cork Flying Column" with 1,200 troops. The IRA flying column, under the command of Tom Barry, numbered 104 volunteers. In a successful guerrilla operation, the IRA column split into seven small groups and escaped through the encirclement. In total, the British Army stationed 12,500 troops in County Cork during the conflict, while Barry's men numbered no more than 110. The British Army failed to subdue the IRA flying column, and Barry's tactics made West Cork ungovernable for the British. In Tom Barry's book "Guerilla Days In Ireland" written in 1949, Tom Barry gives first hand account on the Essex collision with his flying column. In the first ambushes of the Irish War of Independence, captured Essex men were granted their lives and told to leave the Republicans be. The warnings were not met by the "ill-disciplined" Essex and Tom Barry gave a general order to shoot any Essex on the spot, while other garrison's soldiers were treated fine.