The Green Howards - a British Regiment with a Scandinavian Twist Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Green Howards - a British Regiment with a Scandinavian Twist

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The Green Howards insignia

The county of North Yorkshire, England, shares a long history with Norway. It has a coastline which suffered continuous Viking raids until the raiders settled there. Once settled, the raiders named many of the coastal features which continue to confuse the English due to their decidedly Scandinavian lilt. For example:

  • Hvitbir (literally 'the white farm') is now known as Whitby.

  • Loup ower stell an gan alang trod is the local dialect for 'jump over the ditch and go along the path'. This is again very similar to Norwegian.

Most of the coastal features got their names as navigational markers, with the odd religious name here and there1. In 1066, Harald Hadraði, in partnership with Harold Godwinson's treacherous brothers, raided the coast on his way to the Humber and his battles at Fulford Gate and Stamford Bridge where he lost his crown and his life. This ended the reign of terror on the Viking Coast.


The modern link between Yorkshire and Scandinavia was initiated in 1875 when Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, presented the 19th (North Yorkshire) Regiment of Foot with new colours. Alexandra was born in Copenhagen, the eldest daughter of Prince Christian. In 1863, she married Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, and in the same year her father became King Christian IX of Denmark. She adopted the regiment, designing the regimental badge, an A interleaved with the Dannebrog (Danish Cross) surmounted by a coronet, and giving them the title Princess of Wales Own.

In 1896 Alexandra's daughter Maude married the second son of the King Of Denmark, Prince Carl. In 1905, Norway became independent of Sweden and, in a popular vote, Prince Carl was invited to become King of Norway. He took the name Haakon, becoming King Haakon VII of Norway.


The Regiment's title changed in 1900 to Alexandra, the Princess of Wales Own Yorkshire Regiment. The whole of this was added on a scroll under Alexandra's badge. It was a bit of a mouthful for a messenger in battle, so the regiment was usually known as The Yorkshire Regiment. Edward became King in 1901 and Alexandra became Queen. Edward VII died in 1910 and in 1914 Queen Alexandra, as she remained, became the first Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment - the first lady to be granted that distinction in the British Army. She was much loved, and had been associated with the regiment for 50 years before her death in 1925. In 1920, after more thought on naming, the old 18th Century nickname of 'The Green Howards' was accepted as the shorter version of the full title of 'The Green Howards (Alexandra, the Princess of Wales Own Yorkshire Regiment)'. This shorter title was added to Alexandra's regimental badge, replacing the older title.


In 1940, as part of 15 Brigade, the 1st Battalion, The Green Howards were sent to Norway to help stem the German advance. It was too little, too late but 15 Brigade distinguished themselves by delaying the German advance along the Gudbrandsdalen2. At the Battle of Otta on 28 April, they were attacked from the air, then by tanks and then infantry in typical Blitzkrieg fashion. Lacking effective heavy support, they waited until the enemy came within 400 metres then opened fire with controlled and accurate rifle fire. Despite greater numbers and equipment, the Green Howards held their position until nightfall when they retired. The Germans were unable to press an attack due to casualties and poor morale, which was acknowledged in their dispatches. They acted as rearguard until they were evacuated from Åndalsnes.

1942 and Beyond

After evacuating the Royal Family, the Government and the gold reserves, King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav went north where fighting was continuing. However, the Allies retreated from Narvik and both rejoined the family in Britain on 7 June, 1940. Given the family connections with the regiment, he followed his mother-in-law and became the Green Howards's second Colonel-in-Chief in 1942. This honour was passed on to his son, King Olav V in 1959 and, in turn, to his son, King Harald V, the present King of Norway in 1992.

Richmond, Yorkshire, is the spiritual home of the regiment and has the Regimental Museum in Trinity Church Square. This was opened by King Olav in 1973 and this regimental link has forged other community links between Richmond and Nord Fron Kommune. Nord Fron Kommune is in the Gudbrandsdalen and includes the town of Otta.

Related Links

1For example Ravenscar - the raven being Odin's messenger.2Strictly speaking, it should be the Gudbrandsdal, but most maps show it with the -en added which is the definitive article in Norwegian.

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