History of the Grenadier Guards
This article outlines a brief history of this most famous of British Guards Regiments from its formation to the present day.
The earliest reference to this proud Guards regiment can be traced back to 1656 when a regiment was raised in Bruges, Belgium by Lord Wentworth in order to serve as the bodyguard for the exiled King Charles II of England. Following the restoration of King Charles to the throne in 1660 a second regiment of guards was formed and following the death of Lord Wentworth in 1665, the units were combined and renamed 1st Regiment of Foot Guards.
The regiment began to forge a name for itself in the 1700s, where, under the command of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough they took part in the great victories of the Wars of the Spanish Succession. Marlborough, who had joined the regiment initially as an Ensign was to blaze a trail across Europe with victories at Belheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709). The 1st Regiment of Foot Guards was prominent in many of these victories.
The Revolutionary and Peninsular Wars
In 1793, the regiment found itself in the vanguard of the British Army fighting in Holland. Leaving Holland in 1795, it was return in 1799 in a second unsuccessful attempt to liberate the country from French rule. By 1808 the regiment was fighting on the Spanish Peninsular under Sir John Moore and was subject to the arduous marching retreat employed by Moore in the mountains before partaking in the Battle of Corunna, where men of the 1st Foot Guards bore the body of the dying Sir John Moore from the field. Following this hardfought retreat from Spain, the regiment returned a year later under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. Under Wellesley, the British Army drove the French Army from Spain and ultimately back into France whereupon the Emperor Napoleon was deposed and exiled.
By 1815 however, Napoleon had returned to Paris and once more the French army was on the march. The 1st Regiment of Foot was dispatched to the European Mainland where Napoleon was seeking to divide the allied British and Prussian armies before beating each in turn. Following an initial engagement at the Belgian village of Quatre Bras, Wellington withdrew to Waterloo where one of the most famous battles of all time would take place.
Although elements of the regiment had been involved throughout the battle, the biggest test came towards the end of the day when Napoleon launched his famed Imperial Guard into the battle. The 1st Regiment of Foot Guards faced the Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard and the French assault was stopped dead, resulting in the ultimate capitulation of the French Army. As a mark of honour to this famous victory, the regiment was renamed First or Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards.
Crimea and Boer Wars
By the mid-1850s the regiment found itself in Russia where it would fight at the siege of Sebastopol and defence of Sandbag Battery. The latter action was a bloody affair indeed with the Brigade of Guards suffering heavy losses. The regiment was also present at actions in the Boer War
World War I
The bloodiest war in history took its toll on the Grenadier Guards. A mainstay of the British force, the regiment added The Marne, the Aisne, Ypres (twice), Loos, the Somme, Cambrai, Arras, Hazebrouck and the Hindenburgh Line to its list of honours but at a high cost. The 4 years of war cost the regiment 12,000 casualties.
World War II
World War II saw an expansion of the regiment to 6 Battalions. The 1st, 2nd and 4rd Battalions of the regiment re-created the steadfast retreats of the Low Countries and Penisular Wars when retreating to Dunkirk in1940. The regiment also featured heavily in North Africa and Italy where the 3rd, 5th and 6th Battalions saw action. The 1st, 2nd and 4th Batallions partook in the invasion of France and advance on Germany.
1991 Gulf War and beyond
After World War II, the regiment was invovled in many of the smaller and lesser known conflicts as well carrying out the honour of guarding Queen Elizabeth II. It was also fought in the 1991 Gulf War and has subsequently served in Northern Ireland and again in Iraq in 2006. Most recently, the Grenadier Guards have deployed troops to Afghanistan. Since 1656 the regiment has gained 79 battle honours, 13 members have been awarded the Victoria Cross and 1 the George Cross. The regiment, which is the senior infantry regiment of the British Army remains a proud and loyal unit, famed for their discipline and steadfast ability in both combat and ceremonial duties.