Umvoti Mounted Rifles marks its 150th anniversary


May 16, 1864 turned out to be a momentous day when a band of settlers, some short, some tall, galloped their horses into Greytown at the behest of the Lieutenant Governor of Natal, Sir John Scott, marking the birth of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles (UMR).

There were about 45 men in the original small unit under the command of Captain AS Wyndham, Magistrate of Greytown at the time. The newly formed unit was known as the Greytown Mounted Rifles.

After a few years the Greytown Mounted Rifles was affiliated with the Natal Hussars. In the years following there was a great deal of secession and amalgamation among the small units of Natal and eventually in 1893 the Regiment as it is known today emerged, being Umvoti Mounted Rifles commanded then by Captain H von Bulow. Among the units that formed Umvoti Mounted Rifles were the Zululand Mounted Rifles based in Eshowe.

In 1913 after the advent of Union, the Union Defence Force Act was passed and this led to changes in the entire South African defence force. Several regiments lost their identity but the UMR was fortunate in that not only were they able to retain their identity but were strengthened by the inclusion of the Northern District Mounted Rifles and the Zululand Mounted Rifles.

The Regiment has proudly served in various campaigns during the years, in so doing living up to its motto “Toujours Pret” (Always Ready).

Since 1910 the UMR under command of the Officer Commanding, Natal Command, served firstly as a mounted regiment on horseback and then, from 1935 as a motorised infantry unit. During World War II, the regiment served as an infantry unit. In 1954 it converted to a tank regiment and in 1962 the UMR became an armoured car regiment. During 1984 the UMR was brigaded as the armoured car regiment of 84 Motorised Brigade. This necessitated conversion from a counter-insurgency unit to a conventional force and ended 74 years of service with Natal Command. The unit was then the armoured car reconnaissance regiment of 8 South African Division and was then again brigaded under command of 74 South African Brigade based in Durban, Natal. In 1999, 74 South African Brigade was closed and the unit went under direct command of the SA Armour Formation.

The regiment was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Greytown in 1953. During 1964, when UMR celebrated its centenary the Freedom of the Boroughs of Empangeni and Eshowe was awarded and the regiment proudly received new Regimental Colours. During 1981 the Freedom of Melmoth was conferred on the regiment.

The regimental 125th anniversary was aptly celebrated in May 1989 by the exercising Freedoms of entry into Empangeni, Eshowe and Greytown with a marching and mounted parade being held at each centre.

The formation of the second battalion 2 Umvoti Mounted Rifles was implemented in 1989 under Eastern Transvaal Command but with the rationalisation 2 UMR was re-amalgamated with UMR with effect November 1, 1991.

In May 2004, the regiment’s 140th celebrations were held in Greytown with the consecration of the 1964 Regimental Colours into the St James Church, Greytown and the receiving of replacement Regimental Colours. This was followed by the presentation of the Freedom of Entry into the new Umvoti Municipality, the flying of the new colours and a marching and mechanised march past taken by Umvoti mayor, Petros Ngubane.

This month the regiment built on its long and illustrious history to mark its 150 years of existence with parades in Pietermaritzburg and Durban (Pinetown) over the period May 15 to 17. The parades consisted of a marching column as well as a motorised column and an equestrian troop.

The parade in Pietermaritzburg on May 15 proceeded down Church Street, where the City Mayor bestowed the Freedom of the City on the regiment and took the salute as the regiment exercised its Freedom of Entry into Pietermaritzburg.

The parade in Durban (Pinetown) on May 17 marched down Kings Road in Pinetown, where the City Mayor bestowed the Freedom of the City on UMR and took the salute as the regiment exercised it Freedom of Entry into Durban.