From: Ich Dien, Journal of thew 4th/19th Prince of Wales's Light Horse (reprinted with permission)

Founding of the Victorian Light Horse


by Lieutenant Lisa Kennedy and Lieutenant Andrew Oldfield


The 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment (PWLH) has a proud history and can trace its origins back 160 years to at least 1860, when existing Victorian militia units were amalgamated and named the PWLH.  This was also the year that the last British Imperial Troops left Victoria, with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment leaving on 8 October.  As these Imperial units left the colonies, the militia became the only readily available military force in the colonies.  Despite the different conflicts and many different role, equipment and organisational changes of the last 150 years, the Regiment has maintained this important Reserve role for its entire history.

Pre 1854: Early Units

Before 1870 there had been a variety of British Imperial and local militia units in Victoria, beginning in 1803.  These very first European soldiers were the fifty Royal Marines under Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins that unsuccessfully tried to establish a colonial presence at Sorrento, before giving up and going to Tasmania.  Even when a permanent European presence was established in Victoria it didn’t necessitate a militia being formed and maintained – certainly not immediately. 

By 1854 the conditions were set for the establishment and maintenance of a permanent militia force, even if the beginnings were a far cry from what we have today.  First, the European population of Victoria had exploded after the settlement of Melbourne in 1835 and the start of the Victorian Gold Rush in 1851.  Second, the Crimean War (1853-1856) and an increasingly assertive United States of America increased the perceived threat of Great Power conflict and an external security threat, while the influx of wealth and immigrants due to the gold rush created fears in internal instability.  The final condition precedent to militia formation was met as government support materialised with Britain sending Sir Robert Nickle as the new Commander in Chief of all Troops in Australia to Melbourne, and on 3 November the Victorian colonial legislature gave him authority over the Victorian Volunteer Yeomanry Corps, with a maximum strength of 2000 men. This act of the colonial parliament in fact assumes that there are already extant volunteer forces, but it’s not clear if there was anyone actually in uniform, and if they were their dress was certainly not consistent!  A truly dark time before the ADM that would soon be corrected!

1854 – 1870:  Systemisation of the Militia

These early units that the 1854 Act referred to fade in and out of written history, and most of them have left very few records. There were apparently units of light horse, or mounted rifles, in many country centres, but little is known of these units and it can be assumed that they faded away as the alarm of the 1850s subsided.  The act itself did not officially give authority for or over mounted Troops, which no doubt contributed to the short lifespan of these early units, and apart from the cost of supplying your own horse, explains why there seem to have been more infantry units than cavalry. After 1854 the units become more organised and systemised and the records become clearer.

On 1 October 1860 the first officially recognised Cavalry unit, which is most clearly the ancestor of today’s Regiment, the Kyneton District Mounted Rifle Corps, was raised with 64 members, precipitating an amendment to the colonial Volunteer Forces Act so that it covered mounted Troops.  Several more units were raised in the following months, including the Castlemaine Dragoons and the Victorian Mounted Rifles. 

These early units were more than volunteers; they paid for their own uniform, horses, and, initially, arms!  On the formation of the Bendigo Cavalry in 1861 this cost amounted to 16 pounds per man for uniforms and accoutrements alone! In keeping with the focus of Victorian Troops on drill, the main training obligations were mounted and dismounted drill parades, and the annual inspection. Musketry wasn’t compulsory for the mounted Troops who were expected to use sabres. The only expectation of pay was a loose understanding that they would be paid if they were called out, or if they were required to travel to Melbourne for the annual inspection.  Another enormous difference was that officers were elected, and it may please the reader to know that the first elected senior officer (Cornet) of the Bendigo cavalry in 1861 was Mr. S.F. Bastard.  

The impression left of these units is somewhat of a private club, and there seemed to be a rivalry between the units more akin to that between sporting clubs than intra service rivalry.  One example of this is the Queen’s Birthday review of May 1861. Early in the day a Negligent Discharge in the rear rank at the ceremonial rifle salute wounded one of the soldiers in the front rank, something of an omen for what was coming.  Later, during the demonstration attack the zeal of the participants caused the demonstration to descend into carnage, with volleys of blank rounds (with no BTBFA) causing powder burns when they were discharged from a few feet away as the lines closed, rifles began to be used as clubs, one man was shot across in the hand, another in the neck, and one horse was shot in the head!

The dual motivations for the establishment of Militia units are highlighted by the ‘calling out’ of 60 Mounted Rifles by the local police magistrate in 1861, in order to quell rioting railway gangers who were striking against a 2/- per day reduction in wages. Although there are no records of serious violence, the militia was first used domestically just as the British Imperial Troops were used at the Eureka Stockade in 1854.  In 1862, in accordance with the increased systemisation of the Militia all mounted units in Victoria were amalgamated into the Royal Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The same year they applied for and received permission to use the ‘Prince of Wales’s’ and adopted the crest and motto that the regiment has preserved to this day. 

Uniforms changed multiple times but were gradually standardised on that worn by the British 19th (Princess Alexandra of Wales’ Own) Hussars in the 1870s. However, it seems no one had seriously grappled with the utility of using a European uniform (including heavy coat and a fur busby headdress) in the Australian bush, and it continued to be adapted in steps to something more practical. Amazingly, the risk of new European kit overheating in Australian conditions is still a problem today! With their new Hussar uniform they were known as the Founding of the Victorian Light Horse

Other anecdotes hint of the limits in the development of the militia.  In 1867 the first Brick orderly room in the colony was built in Bendigo, which seems telling that this level of support for the militia was notable in what was the richest city in the British Empire at that time!  Similarly, in the same year the Bendigo Troop ‘acquired’, (we are not told how), a field gun and were able to claim a horse artillery capability. A good example of initiative and drive from the militia, and also of the low levels of funding when a single gun is the entire OS of a regiment.

The Black Prince

The emblem of the Regiment, three ostrich feathers rising from a crown, and the motto ‘Ich Dien’ traces its origins to Edward, Prince of Wales, (1330 - 1376).  There are two alternate stories of where he got them from. One is that they came from his mother, Phillipa of Hainault. Hainault is a province of the Low Countries that was culturally and linguistically French, but was a part of the Holy Roman Empire for much of the middle period, which may explain the German motto. The other story is that  after the Battle of Crecy, (a decisive victory over the French in 1346), Edward took the crown that became his emblem from the body of King John of Bohemia, who had fought and died in the battle, despite being blind, by tying his horse to his attendants and having them take him to the front. Edward was so impressed by his bravery that he took on his emblems. 

Edward was also known as the Black Prince, and again there are alternate stories as to why. One is that he had a black shield or armour – in particular his jousting armour. The other is due to his ‘black reputation’ for his brutality toward his enemies and civilians during his fighting in France. 

Through the Wars and Reconstitution

Tracing the Regiment through three major wars that it participated in is extremely difficult, as for the Boer War and both World Wars Australia sent dedicated formations. In the Boer War Australia sent Imperial Bushmen Contingents from each colony. So many men from the PWLH were part of these contingents that the PWLH was awarded battle honours for the war, even though the unit did not serve there as a whole.  In the First World War the Australian military had been expanded beyond the old militia units from 1909 by conscription, the 1st Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed for overseas service, and the 4th Light Horse was raised from Victoria. Thus, today the Regiment traces its lineage through the 4th Light Horse Regiment of the First World War.  In the Second World War the status of the militia versus the 2nd AIF, local and overseas service, and where to use Australian armoured units were the subject of the highest level of political and strategic discussion. Eventually the 2nd/4th Armoured Regiment continued the service of the 4th Light Horse Regiment in the South West Pacific. 

After the demobilisation at the end of the Second World War, in 1948 the Citizen’s Military Forces were re-formed. This was the start of the modern Army Reserve system, and it sought to carry on the tradition of service of its militia and AIF forebears. The 4th/19th PWLH Regiment was constituted to perpetuate the traditions of the 4th Light Horse (Corangamite Light Horse), the 17th Light Horse (Prince of Wale’s Light Horse), and the 19th Light Horse (Yarrowee Light Horse). In 1992 the Regiment also included the 8th/13th Victorian Mounted Rifles (VMR) perpetuating the 8th Light Horse, 13th Light Horse and the 20th Light Horse.


4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment. The Regiment: A brief account of the history of the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment (2018, 2nd ed., 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment, Macleod Victoria).

Holloway, David.  Hooves, Wheels & Tracks: A History of the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment and its predecessors.  (1990, Regimental Trustees 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment, Macleod Victoria.