The Household Battalion

This unusual unit was formed as an infantry battalion at Knightsbridge Barracks in London on 1 September 1916. The troops were drawn from the reserve units of the Household Cavalry (the 1st and 2nd Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards). Much retraining and re-equipment was necessary to convert the cavalry troops into foot soldiers, capable of conducting the increasingly mechanised war on the Western Front.

It landed in France as a unit on 9 November 1916 and shortly afterwards was posted to join the 10th Brigade of the 4th Division, an experienced formation of the regular army that had been in France since August 1914.

The Division was heavily engaged for the first time in the Battle of Arras in April 1917. Later in the year, in September and October 1917, the 4th Division took part in the latter stages of the Third Battle of Ypres, which is more often called Passchendaele. Losses to the Household Battalion were particularly severe on 9 and 10 October 1917, when the battalion attacked near Poelcapelle.

On 10 February 1918, the battalion was disbanded as part of a widespread reorganisation of the army in France. The men went initially to the 11th Entrenching Battalion, where they became available for posting to any unit that required a draft.

The battalion is remembered in the form of a memorial: the altar rails at Holy Trinity Parish and Garrison Church in Windsor were unveiled on 6 October 1921 by Lieut. Colonel W. Porter, M.V.O. At the same place, the names of all those of the Household Cavalry, Household Battalion and Brigade of Guards who fell in the Great War are recorded in three books, which are placed close to the memorial. The books, containing 14,000 names of those who fell from the Brigade of Guards, were placed on the shelf of the memorial by H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught, K.G., Senior Colonel of the Brigade of Guards.

Household Battalion at Passchendaele

On 4 October 1917, the battalion played a minor part in a large scale action, a phase of what was later known as the Third Battle of Ypres but at the time was better known as “Passchendaele”. The phase is now officially called the Battle of Broodseinde and is considered to be a highly successful action. Initially in reserve as the rest of their Brigade went into action, the battalion moved up during the afternoon and established HQ at Iron Cross, at the village of Pilckem north of Ypres. Next day, the battalion moved forward to Au Bon Gite near Langemarck. Two days later the battalion was relieved and moved back to Leipzig Camp.

At 6pm on 8 October, the battalion moved back into the battle area, to Jolie Farm. Next morning, in support to the next phase of operations which is called the Battle of Poelcapelle, it moved up to positions near Bird House under heavy shell fire. On 10 October, the battalion moved again, this time coming under orders of 12th Brigade, and came under heavy barrage fire along the Poelcapelle-Schreiboom road. 45 men were hit by shell fire in this barrage. Battalion HQ was established at Ferdan House.

Next day, 11 October, the battalion received orders for a renewal of the attack, to begin next day. Things were not helped by it being simply impossible to make any form of movement by day, such was the observation enjoyed by the enemy across the British positions. The battalion moved quietly into the planned position of assembly for the attack by 4am on 12 October. This is described as being 150 yards east of the Poelcapelle-Cinq Chemins road (note: place names in the area are now known by their Flemish version. Cinq Chemins is Vijfwegen).

50 men were hit by shell fire at the assembly position before the attack went in at 5.25am, while an extra issue of rum was made. Despite the terrible ground conditions and a heavy enemy response, the battalion advanced according to plan and by 5.50am had achieved its first objective line, including the strong point of Requette Farm. From here on, German machine gun and artillery fire increased and little headway was made as the numbers of men available dwindled. Requette Farm was recaptured by a counter attack and fighting around it was intense all day. Prolonged and heavy shellfire fell on HQ at Ferdan House in the afternoon.

The battalion was relieved in part by the incoming 25th Northumberland Fusiliers in the night of 12/13 October, the relief being completed next day. Having gone into this action 498 men strong, the Household Battalion suffered 348 casualties. 13 officers were also hit. The majority of these men have no known grave.