Middlesex had two county regiments: the 57th West Middlesex regiment of foot, nicknamed the ‘Die Hards’ after their commanding officer called to his men ‘Die Hard, Die Hard’ in 1811 in one of the bloodiest battles of the peninsular war. They stepped out to the strains of its quick march ‘Sir Manley Power’. In 1881 it was amalamated with the 77th (East Middlesex)Regiment of Foot to become the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, which was itself amalgamated in 1961 with county regiments from Kent, Sussex and Surrey. By yet another amalgamation, the county regiment for Midddlesex is now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment — named after Princess Diana in 1992.
The county forms a military buffer zone for London. It played a pivotal role in the first year of the First English Civil War (1642-1646) when the King’s army advancing from Oxford via Windsor under Prince Rupert of the Rhine met and routed a small parliamentary garrison in Brentford and then sacked the town. But the royalist army was turned back from London the following day, November 13 in the battle of Turnham Green in November by the Trained Bands. This citizen army made up the bulk of the 24,000-strong parliamentary forces, provisioned, this being a Sunday, with hot lunches supplied by their womenfolk.
The Trained Bands had been spending their time fortifying London against attack from Charles I’s Oxford-based forces ; between October and the following June they constructed trenches and ramparts around Mile End, Islington and St Pancras.
Hounslow is a settlement that grew around the barracks that were built in 1793 partly to concentrate forces against a French invasion, but also to police the heath, which was notorious for highway robberies. Private Frederick John White was the last British soldier to die following flogging, in 1846; he was based at Hounslow and is buried nearby in the cemetery of St Leonard’s Heston. White had been involved in a drunken fight and his sentence was doubled to 150 lashes after he shouted down his commanding officer. The vicar of St Leonards, Henry Trimmer, joined the successful campaign to outlaw flogging in the army. The barracks got its own railway station in 1884 creating the nucleus of an early London suburb. But by the early 21st century it had become notorious for the dilapidated accommodation it offered, and is currently being renovated following newspaper campaigns.
The Battle of Britain was directed in Middlesex from Bentley Priory near Stanmore (HQ of Fighter Command), RAF Uxbridge (HQ of 11 Group, responsible for defending London and the South East) and RAF Northolt, the Middlesex sector station. And the perimeter guards, like almost everyone else in uniform, carried the products of the Royal Small Arms factory from the Middlesex town of Enfield: the Lee-Enfield rifle, the Bren (Brno-Enfield) light machine gun, the Sten (Shepherd, Turpin-Enfield) submachine gun, etc. . . . Enfield was chosen as the site of a new factory after the Napoleonic wars because the river Lea offered both transport links and water as a mechanical power source. Its potential resources matched those of the river Crane at the west of the county (an old military industry zone specialising in gunpowder factories.)
Perhaps the most militarily significant building in Middlesex looks completely unremarkable: 35 Crespigny Road, Hendon. This was the wartime home of Juan Pujol (or Joan Pujol in Catalan), codenamed Garbo, the leading member of MI5’s double agents feeding misleading information to the Germans through the Double Cross system.
On 3am on the morning of D-Day, June 6 1944, Pujol sent a crucial message from 35 Crespigny Road telling his controllers of the time and place of the Normany landings, just too late for them to be able to act on them. This piece of genuine information preserved the double agents’ reputation and enabled them to continue to fool the Germans, make them believe that the Normandy invasions was a feint and that they should go on holding their main forces in reserve to counter a further crossing over the Pas de Calais. (The story has been most recently retold in Ben Macintyre’s Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies)