In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

1788 was a year of drastic change in the British Army. The disaster in North America had demonstrated that the army was falling badly behind the times. The Private Gentleman's club of the Horse Guards were converted into the two regular cavalry troops of Life Guards. Both Regiments received an establishment of 230 men between the strict height regimens of 5' 11" and 6'1".

Barracks were a perennial problem for the Life Guards. The British Public were deeply suspicious of armed encampments and regularly objected to having a Praetorian guard in their midst. As such the initial Life Guards regiments had their headquarters in Knightsbridge and King Street, Portman Square but all the cavalrymen were required to find private lodgings euphemistically within a bugle calls distance of the headquarters. Parliament and the Press hotly debated the prosposed move of the headquarters to Regents Park Barracks. Additionally, in 1801, the strength of the Life Guard regiments was reduced to a quarter of its initial size. However, the continuing Napoleonic Wars were to reverse this reduction in size when the unit was sent overseas to battle Napoleon's armies in Spain.

The Peninsula
The Life Guards spent what must have seemed like an eternity waiting to be called out to fight in the Napoleonic wars. It was not until 1812 that a Household Brigade was raised and despatched to Lisbon. This was something of a historic event in itself what with being the first time that the two Life Guard regiments had ridden together with the far more battle-experienced Blues. However six months of virtually ceremonial duties in Lisbon helped acclimatise and prepare the Life Guards for their first campaign in 1813 against Napoleon's brother Joseph. The Life Guards were part of the central column under Wellington's direct control that entered Salamanca and went on to do battle at Vittoria. Unfortunately for the Household Brigade it was twice denied its prey. Once by a deep ravine and the other time by the headlong flight of its foe before it could come into contact with them. Still, the Household Brigade was acquiring valuable experience and not an inconsiderable amount of booty, both at Vittoria and later with the fall of San Sebastian. There was now only the natural obstacle of the Pyrenees to stop the British from invading France proper. This did little to slow the British forces and on April 10th the British fought and won the totally unneccessary battle of Toulouse. Neither side had heard that the war had been concluded and that Napoleon was in the process of being deported to Elba. The Life Guards took no part in the battle other than being part of the reserve force that was never called upon.

On June 21st 1814, the Life Guards began being shipped back to Britain. It was true that they had not yet covered themselves in glory at this point, but they had garnered valuable horsemanship and organisational skills that were to be put to good effect in the very near future.

The establishment was obviously not expecting any resurgence of trouble and dutifully went about scaling back the operational effectiveness of the Life Guards with their numbers being greatly reduced. The reappearance of Napoleon changed all that. the Household Cavalry Regiment was quickly reformed and sent over to Belgium at the earliest opportunity. Lack of time for organisation meant that virtually the entire British cavalry contingent was grouped together under the command of Lord Uxbridge. The force was rushed to the battlefield that Wellington had chosen to meet Napoleon. But, even before the battle begun, the First Life Guards were involved in a serious skirmish with scouting Lancers of the French Guard. These French lancers were already pursuing the 7th Hussars and 23rd Light Dragoons. It was left to the Life Guards to retreive the situation and to drive the French Lancers back to their own lines, killing a Lancer colonel as they went. They were now blooded and ready for the battle proper.

The battle raged from 11:30 to 2pm before the Household Brigade was called upon. Lord Uxbridge had been given a free hand with his cavalry. He told the Union Brigade to charge whilst he took the Household Brigade to releive the pressure on the beleagured La Haye Sainte. The Second Life Guards were on the left, the King's Dragoon Guards in the centre, the First Life Guards on the right and the Blues in reserve. The force swerved to the left of La Haye Sainte engaging the Carabiniers, Infantry, into two cavalry divisions, put 15 guns out of action, took two eagles and even reached the wagon trains of the French forces. Unfortunately, in doing so the Household Brigade had dispersed itself as a coherent force. Uxbridge himself retired in an attempt to round up some fresh reserves but found few cavalrymen uncommitted. Many Lifeguardsmen had advanced so far that they had a difficult time breaking back through the French lines to return to their countrymen. The fighting continued for some time yet, and packets of Household Brigaders rode between the defiant British squares and even helped to rescue the endangered 5th Battalion of the King's German Legion.

It was not until the arrival of Blucher's Prussians that the battle was finally deemed an Allied victory. By this time, the Household Brigade had taken heavy losses and were finally disengaging to allow the Prussians the spoils of the pursuit. They were exhausted but more than pleased with their performance in what was one of the defining battles of history.

Return to Ceremony
For the next sixty-six years, the Life Guards were to avoid active duty and to return to guarding the monarchs of Britain at their palaces and in their travels about the country. Soon after their return to London, the Prince Regent declared his eagerness to become the Colonel-in-Chief of the Household Cavalry regiment in appreciation of their gallantry at Waterloo.

This period was not completely without events for the regiment. On several occasions they were called out by the authorities to help quell civic disorders. Indeed the nickname of 'Piccadilly Butchers' dates from this era.

The Egyptian War of 1881-2 was to provide the next overseas action for the Household Cavalry regiment. Again, the force was raised from the three household cavalry regiments. In actual fact, Adjutant General Wolseley was against the inclusion of the big horses of the Household Cavalry regiment. Queen Victoria herself had to specially request the inclusion of this regiment in the expeditionary force being sent to deal with Arabi Pasha. As it stands, this campaign was actually the last time that the British Army ever made a distinction between heavy and light cavalry.

The brigade was in action almost immediately upon landing in Egypt. Kassassin Lock was being defended by 2000 troops but coming under intense pressure from Arabi Pasha's forces. The Household Cavalry, the 7th Hussars and the Royal Horse Artillery had to quickly cover the 4 miles to the site of the battle and swing immediately into action. This was despite the fact that night had already fallen. Undeterred, the Household Cavalry swept around the left flank of Arabi Pasha in bright moonlight. They received devastating fire, but still proceeded with their 'moonlight charge'. This was so successful that they cut their way through the Egyptian infantry to reach a battery of guns behind them.

The Household Cavalry proceeded to take part in the final battle of the campaign at Tel-el-Kebir. The infantry's dawn attack was followed by the charge of Cavalry who ultimately dashed the full 39 miles to Cairo to put the Khedive back on the throne. This was the last battle in which the regiment wore its Scarlet and Blue uniform. Impressed by the appearance and practicality of the Indian Army's Khaki uniforms, efforts were made to convince the Queen that this change really would be for the best. It took her some time to get used to the idea, but she ultimately relented.

It was not to be long before some of the men of this regiment were back in action. The situation in Sudan detiorated markedly in the years following Tel-el-Kebir. The Liberal government of the day had made a difficult political situation for themselves by placing General Gordon in charge of the evacuation of Khartoum. He refused to carry out his initial orders and eventually forced the British government to come to his rescue. A special camel corps was raised specifically for this task. It was formed from men throughout many of the British cavalry regiments. The Household Regiments each supplied forty men to the unit.

The force had to travel through hostile territory over some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world. On January 17th, 1885 the force nearly came to grief when it was attacked by a force of over Dervishes that outnumbered it 8 to 1. Their square was actually penetrated at one point, but discipline held and the force was able to recover the situation. The force continued to fight its way toward Khartoum only to hear the news that General Gordon had already been killed. There was now no rationale for the force so it retreated back to the safety of Egypt. Eventually, the entire force was recalled back to Britain.

Africa was to call the Household regiment yet again with the advent of the Second Boer War. Once again, the force was a composite one of the Household Regiments. On its arrival in Cape Town it was brigaded with the 10th Royal Hussars and 12th Lancers and joined Sir John French's force as it attempted to relieve Kimberley. The size of the country meant that cavalry became an invaluable tool for the generals of both sides. A mobile force of British cavalry, Horse Artillery and Mounted infantry rode through the middle of two Boer armies to relieve Kimberley. Realising that the British were after Bloemfontein, Cronje retreated to the East. Reading the situation perfectly, French despatched a cavalry unit to intercept the Boers and to tie them down until the British force could arrive in full. When it did, the British won one of their most significant victories of the Boer War at Paardeberg.

The war quickly descended into a brutal guerilla war, with the British usually being on the receiving end. One such action was at Sanna's Post on the Modder river. De Wet successfully ambushed a British convoy as it forded the river, knocking out half of their available artillery. The Household division attempted to outflank the Boers but were eventually recalled as the casualties mounted steadily.

Perhaps fortunately for the regiment, it was soon recalled after the fall of the Pretoria. It did take part in one more significant action when it was called upon to successfully dislodge a Boer position east of the capital. But, the regiment played little part in the cat and mouse operations that were to last another two years in the dusty veldt.

The Great War
The Life Guards swung swiftly into action during this momentous war. The composite regiment joined the 6th Carabineers and 3rd Hussars to form the 4th Cavalry Brigade. This was despatched on August 15th and was coming into contact with German patrols by the 21st. The British fought outstandingly well in the opening moves of the war and it was only due to unannounced French retreats that they were continually forced onto the defensive. The 4th Brigade, who were on the left wing of the British Expeditionary Force, saw action at Halte, Saultain, Compiegne and Nery. Ominously, the regiment was already finding the worthiness and usefulness of trenches in defending against. Even strategic movement was being conducted far more effectively by using trains. When the Germans turned North, after their attack toward Paris had faltered, they were outrun by the British forces, including the Life Guards, effective use of the train. The days of the cavalry regiment were numbered. The last action of the composite regiment was at Wytschaete where they desperately defended their trench system from the Germans. They lost it for a while but counterattacked
The Bangers
The Cheesemongers
The Fly-slicers
The Piccadilly Butchers
The Roast and Boiled
The Ticky Tins
The Tin Bellies
The Patent Safeties
Honi soit qui mal y pense
Evil be to him who evil thinks
Regimental Marches
Millanollo (Quick)
Val Hamm
The Life Guards Slow March (Slow)
Regimental Anniversary
Waterloo Day 18th June
1788 - 1922
1788 - 1922
1788 - 1922
Campaign Dress
Boer War
1788 - 1922
1788 - 1922
Principal Campaigns and Battles
1812 - 1814 Peninsula War
1815 Hundred Days
1815 Waterloo
1882 Egypt
1882 Tel El Kebir
1884 - 1885 Sudan
1885 Khartoum
1900 - 1902 South Africa
1900 Relief of Kimberley
1900 Paardeberg
1914 - 1918 The Great War
1914 Mons
1914 Le Cateau
1914 Marne
1914 Retreat from Mons
1914 Armentieres
1914 Langemarck
1914 Aisne
1914, 15, 17 Ypres
1916 Gheluvelt
1916 Nonne Boschen
1916 St Julien
1916 Frezenberg
1916 Albert
1917, 1918 Scarpe
1916, 1918 Somme
1917, 1918 Arras
1918 Broodenseinde
1918 Poelcapelle
1918 Passchendale
1918 Bapaume
1918 Epehy
1918 St Quentin Canal
1918 Beaurevoir
1918 Cambrai
1918 Selle
Hindenburg Line
Predecessor Units
The Life Guards
1st Troop of Horse Guards

(1661 - 1788)
Successor Units
The Life Guards
(1922 - )
Suggested Reading
History of the Household Cavalry
by Sir George Arthur
(Constable: 1909, 1926: 3 vols)
The Story of the First Life Guards
(Harrap: 1922)
Historical Record of the Life Guards
(London: Clowes: 1836)
Regimental Museum
Household Cavalry Museum
Combermere Barracks

Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe