The King's Royal Rangers - A real regiment?
Several readers of Better to Die have asked me if the King’s Royal Rangers – the regiment that forms the main backdrop to the novel – is a fictional unit. It is indeed! It joins a long line of proud imaginary regiments of the British Army: a quick scan of Wikipedia shows 19 fictitious cavalry regiments and 89 infantry regiments from various books, movies and TV shows. The exotic titles range from the ‘Queen Charlotte's Own South Wessex Dragoons’ to the ‘Duke of Clarence's Own Clanranald Highlanders’. Regal, aristocratic, antiquated, slightly comical… and entirely made-up.
In the Sharpe novels, we find Captain Richard Sharpe attached to the ‘South Essex’ – a fictional line regiment which quickly finds itself in disgrace for losing its colours. Only Sharpe’s courage and military skill enables it to eventually to regain its honour.
Alan Judd’s novel, Breed of Heroes, follows the fictional ‘No. 1 Army Assault Commando (Airborne)’ during a tour of duty in Northern Ireland. As a former Parachute Regiment officer himself, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that Judd dreamt up a very similar regiment for this, his first novel.
As for the ‘King’s Royal Rangers’ of Better to Die, they may be fictional, but they follow closely the history and traditions of British light infantry units. We can assume that they were formed in North America during the French and Indian War of the 1750s with the intention of acting as skirmishers and forest fighting experts. In Better to Die, it is mentioned that their nickname is ‘The Soldier’s Regiment’, because, on the first day of the Somme, almost all of their officers were killed or wounded, and the soldiers had to take charge. It is a regiment with a proud history – but, as Jack Adair, the novel’s hero, quickly discovers, it has little room for outsiders.