History of the Foot Guards

First World War

Britain entered the First World War with experience from the Boer War and was better prepared than many other nations. At the First Battle of Ypres in late 1914 three Guards Brigades helped stop the German advance but took heavy casualties. Early battles devastated the small British army and large numbers of recruits were sought to man expanding Guards Regiments. The allies stopped the German advance into France but the war settled into trench warfare with the two sides facing each other across fortified defence lines. 

In 1915, with the nation fully involved in the war but with Wales lacking a Guards Regiment, the King requested that a Welsh Guards Regiment be formed.  Later in the year the Guards formed their own Guards Division, which went into battle at Loos. Marching uphill into heavy fire the Guards discipline and courage saw them take Hill 70 but such tactics against modern weapons took a heavy toll. It was becoming clear that the war was going to be a long and costly one, with weapons such as the machine gun, artillery and gas changing the way battles needed to be fought.

In September 1916, as the Battle of the Somme continued nearby, the Guards Division attacked at Ginchy. A small number of tanks were used here for the first time but failed to achieve much. After taking their objectives at high cost the Guards had to pull back from some of them due to lack of reinforcements. 

Life in the trenches was hard with poor living conditions and the constant threat of artillery or gas. The Guards became known once again for their discipline while holding the line and despite the conditions refused to let their high standards slip. Other units were encouraged when a Guards Company was next to them. Winston Churchill trained with the Grenadier Guards for a month to learn about trench warfare.

At Passchendale in August 1917 the Guards took part in an advance of two and a half miles, a major achievement in this type of war. But heavy rain turned the battlefield into impassable mud. The Battle of Cambrai is commonly known for its use of tanks but when 2nd Guards Brigade attacked Bourlon Wood they had no tank support. Once again after initial gains they were forced to pull back but despite their losses stopped a German attack. 

The Guards evolved again forming a Regiment from its machine gun battalions including the Foot Guards. The Germans major offensive in 1918 broke through allied lines and made major advances. The 4th Guards Brigade at Hazebrouck fought for two days to prevent the Germans breaking through to the coast. They stopped the advance but were no longer a fighting force by the end. 

The Guards Division then advanced as the allies launched the major offensive that was to finally defeat the Germans. By now the allies had perfected their tactics but losses were still heavy and casualties were 50% when the Guards crossed the Hindenburg Line in September.

Following the Armistice in November the Division moved to Cologne as part of the Army of Occupation.