There have been 'light troops' in the British Army since the 1740s, such as the Highlanders at Fontenoy (1745), it was the colonial war between France and England in North America, which established the concept of 'Light Infantry' in the British Army. Prompted by these experiences General James Wolfe (1727-59) and Lord Amherst (1717-97) realised there was a need for a new approach in the Infantry. A small corps of 'Light' troops, recruited from the settlers, was formed in 1755. It consisted of specially trained men, carefully selected for their toughness and intelligence, able to scout and skirmish, concentrating and dispersing with great stealth and speed. Their dress, equipment and tactics were adjusted to meet this new role.
So effective were these 'Light' troops that steps were taken to increase the number available. Regiments formed 'Light Companies' of soldiers specially selected for their toughness, intelligence, military skills and ability to act on their own initiative, within the framework of a broad tactical plan. The bugle horn, which subsequently became the emblem of light troops, replaced the drum as the means of communication for the often widely dispersed Light Companies.
By the end of the eighteenth century it was not unusual for commanders to group the various Light Companies together for specific tasks. The invasion of Spain by Napoleon in 1802 was to cause a further, rapid evolution of the Light Infantry concept under the leadership and training of the brilliant young general, Sir John Moore (above).
John Moore joined the 51st Regiment of Foot, later to become The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, as an Ensign at the age of fifteen. In 1790 at the age of thirty he was appointed to command of the 51st serving in Ireland, Gibraltar and Corsica until 1796, when he was appointed to command of a Brigade. He became a Major General in 1797. It was in 1802 at Shorncliffe in Kent that he began to develop further his ideas for the training of infantrymen, grouping regiments to fight together as Light Infantry and eventually forming the Light Division which fought with such distinction in the Peninsula War.
Sir John Moore has been described as "the greatest trainer of troops that the British Army has ever known" and "the father of the Light Infantry". He discarded the then existing disciplinary system, largely maintained through fear and brutality which, in his view, also stifled individual initiative, and replaced it with a system based more upon self-discipline, mutual respect and trust. Sir John Moore died at the battle of Corunna in 1809, but his influence and the concept of the "thinking soldier" have been fundamental to the conduct of Light Infantrymen ever since.
Throughout the Peninsula War Light Infantry and Rifle Regiments Royal Green Jackets were regarded as the elite of the British Army. These regiments were attached to each of the divisions as riflemen and skirmishers and so took part in every major engagement against the French. The most famous of all the divisions during the Peninsula War was the Light Division. The Division still survives to this day and remains the elite of the Army.
During the early nineteenth century it became the practice to grant, as an honour, the much-coveted title of "Light Infantry" to regiments, which particularly distinguished themselves in action. The regiments which were to form the present Light Infantry were all granted this distinction and subsequently incorporated it into the Regiment's name when, in 1881, the system of numbering regiments was discontinued.