The 1st and 2nd Life Guards

1st Life Guards
Up to August 1914, the Life Guards were stationed at barracks in Hyde Park, handily placed for the many royal guard and ceremonial duties that they were called upon to perform in London. However, despite the finery, this prestigious regiment – formed in 1788 as the principal mounted guard of the monarch – the Life Guards were always an active service unit whenever required. It was, of course, a regiment of the regular army.

Soon after the declaration of war, one of the squadrons was detached to help form the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment, which moved to France with 4th Cavalry Brigade and saw action at Mons and in the subsequent withdrawal to and beyond the Marne, the decisive battle of the Marne, and later at Ypres. The Composite Regiment was broken up on 11 November 1914, and the squadron rejoined the regiment, which was by now itself on the Western Front.

The main body crossed to Belgium, landing on 8 October 1914. Other than in the first two weeks when it was used in the traditional cavalry, for mobile reconnaissance, it fought most of the war as a dismounted force.

The regiment was heavily involved at the First Battle of Ypres (October – November 1914); Second Ypres (April-May 1915); Loos (September-October 1915) and Arras (April 1917). At other times, it took its turn in holding various sections of the front line trenches, and at other times prepared to exploit breakthroughs in battle, but opportunities rarely presented themselves.

On 10 March 1918, it was detached from 7th Cavalry Brigade, with which it had served from August 1914. It was formally dismounted, and converted into the No 1 (1st Life Guards) Battalion of the Guards Machine Gun Regiment.

It was while this unit was being trained at the great base camp at Etaples that it was hit by an enemy air raid – a very frequent occurrence in the densely populated coastal area behind the front – on 19 May 1918. The raid lasted from 10.30pm to 1am on 20 May. Shortly before midnight, two bombs fell on the Life Guards camp. No fewer than 42 men were killed, and 83 wounded, in this incident.

2nd Life Guards
August 1914 : at Regent's Park in London.
Record same as 1st Life Guards..
10 March 1918: left the Division and converted into No 2 (2nd Life Guards) Battalion of the Guards Machine Gun Regiment.
23 May 1918: moved as Army Troops to First Army.

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Related information

The 1st Life Guards parading (at Hyde Park Barracks) before leaving for France: a photograph taken by Mrs Albert Broom. Image Q66223 courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, with my thanks.

The badge of the 1st Life Guards as depicted on a CWGC grave headstone. Author's collection.


See more regimental titles here


Tip for family historians

If you are searching for the army service record of a man who served with the Life Guards, you may be in luck. They escaped the 1940 fire that destroyed many such records and are still held separately. Some are at the National Archives, in document series WO400, and others held at the regimental museum.

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