In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

The Order of Precedence
The three original Guards regiments were raised under different circumstances and by different heads of state. The 1st Guards was raised by Charles II in 1656, the 2nd (Coldstream) Guards was raised by Oliver Cromwell in 1650 and the 3rd (Scots) Guards was raised by Charles I in 1642. Regiments are usually numbered according to their seniority determined by the date they were raised. So why was the 1st Foot Guards the senior regiment?

The Scots guards, although raised first, was ordered to be disbanded after the battle of Worcester in 1651 and was not re-formed until 1662. The Coldstream Guards still regard themselves as 'Second to None' because, although they were officially disbanded in 1661, they never disbanded in reality. The date of their becoming household troops was the same as their disbandment which was 14th February 1661. In the years that followed there must have been much argument about which was the most senior regiment because by 1685 a royal warrant declared that the King's Regiment of Foot Guards was to be the First Foot Guards.

Raising of the Regiment
The regiment was raised in Bruges by Charles II whilst in exile. At that time Bruges was in the Spanish Netherlands. The exiled King had allied himself to the Spanish whilst Oliver Cromwell took sides with Louis XIV of France. Charles managed, in 1656, to raise 5 regiments, one English, one Scottish and three Irish. The English regiment was to be commanded by Thomas, Lord Wentworth and consisting of 400 of the King's most loyal supporters. They were all officers and had made great sacrifices to follow their King into exile.

Their first action was in the Battle of the Dunes near Dunkirk on 24th May 1658. They fought bravely but were deserted by their Spanish allies and were forced to lay down their arms to the French. The regiment remained as part of the garrison in Dunkirk when Charles returned to England in 1660 after death of Cromwell and the monarchy was restored by parliament.

On the 23rd November 1660 Charles raised an additional regiment of Guards in England. Colonel John Russell was commissioned to raise The King's Regiment of Guards. This consisted of 12 companies each of 100 men. In 1664 Dunkirk was sold to the French and Wentworth's Royal Regiment of Guards returned to England. When Lord Wentworth died in 1665, the two regiments amalgamated under the title of King's Regiment of Guards. There were now 24 companies.

Dutch Wars
Soldiers were required to serve on board Navy ships at this time and the King's Regiment of Guards fought in several naval actions during the 1665-7 war including an action off Lowestoft in which they were victorious, and the battle of Sole Bay. During the 1672-4 Dutch War the regiment combined with the Coldstream Guards to form a composite battalion. It was in this war that John Churchill, later Colonel of the Regiment, served as an ensign.
Tangier 1680
When Charles II married Portuguese Catherine of Braganza in 1662 he received as a gift, the Moroccan city of Tangier, just across the Straits of Gibraltar. This proved to be more trouble than it was worth because it was constantly under threat from its Moorish neighbours. The composite battalion of 1st and 2nd Guards were sent there in 1680 under Colonel Sackville. They defeated the Moors in a battle in that year and forced them to make peace. Both regiments bear the battle honour TANGIER 1680 on their colours etc. By 1684, Charles had given the city back to the Moors, having spent too much money and effort on the place.
In 1678 the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Guards each received a grenadier company. This was the first time that grenadiers came onto the regimental strength and the Guards pioneered this type of soldier for the rest of the army. Grenadiers were tough troops, armed with a bag of grenades, a hatchet, a firelock musket and bayonet. The diarist, John Evelyn, described them as wearing 'furred hats with coped crowns which gave them a fierce expression... their clothing was piebald yellow and red.' Unfortunately there is no known picture of these troops but we do have a fine portrait of a their commanding officer. See Captain, Grenadier Company 1685. Their special role was to lead the assault on fortifications, hacking away any obstacle with their hatchets. It was a demanding task so the men were tall and strong.
Sedgemoor 1685
This was the battle on 16th July 1685, between The Duke of Monmouth's rebels and King James II. The King's army was led by Louis de Ourfort, Earl of Feversham and John Churchill (later Duke of Marlborough). It consisted of 5 regiments, making 34 companies. The 1st Foot Guards had 2 battalions each of 6 companies, one of which was a grenadier company, 350 men in each battalion. They were led by the Duke of Grafton and Major Eaton. Regiments were deployed with pikemen in the middle, musketeers on the flanks and grenadiers in front and on the wings. Sedgemoor is a few miles south of Bridgewater in Somerset. Monmouth's army was undisciplined and lacked officers. He unwisely chose to fight at night but his men could not negotiate a ditch in the dark and the element of surprise was lost. They were massacred by James's men and Monmouth was captured and executed.
The War of the League of Augsburg 1689-1697
Steenkirk 1692

King William sent a force to Flanders in 1689 under the command of Marlborough. All three Guards regiments saw service on this campaign. Very little happened until the Battle of Steenkirk on 3rd August 1692. The King was in overall command, as Marlborough had been deprived of his post due to political intrigue back home. The 2nd Battalion of the 1st Guards was chosen to lead a dawn attack. They were successful at first but the French were reinforced so that they now had 53 battalions to the British 13. They desperately need help from their Dutch allies but Count Solmes the Dutch General refused, saying "Damn the English. If they are so fond of fighting, let them have a bellyful." They were saved by the cavalry but lost the battle, thus receiving no battle honour.

Landen 1693

It has long been a tradition for the Guards to form their own brigades on active service. The first time this occurred was at the Battle of Landen on 29th July 1693. There were two Guards brigades with a battalion of the 1st Guards in each. They shared a defensive position with a few other battalions but were heavily outnumbered by the French. They suffered enormous casualties and ran out of ammunition. The life Guards and five regiments of dragoons checked the French advance and they eventually retreated across the river at Neerwinden under cover of darkness.

Namur 1695

The second battle honour to be won by the 1st Guards was at the capture of the fortress of Namur on 30th August 1695. They were the assault troops and their grenadiers preceded them across half a mile of flat country under fire from the French defenders. On reaching the palisades, they thrust their flintlocks through the gaps, firing a volley, then flung themselves over the ramparts. A Marshal of France was captured in this battle and victory achieved at last. The Guards brigades returned home in September 1697.

The War of the Spanish Succession 1702-1715
The Schellenberg 1704

On 20th may 1704 The Duke of Marlborough began his march to the Danube. On 2nd July, after a particularly tiring 16 hour march they reached a fortified hill called the Schellenberg overlooking Donauworth on the north bank. Marlborough realised that the French/Bavarian defenders would be reinforced the next day so there was no option but to attack immediately. The British/Dutch force consisted of 16 battalions. The 1st Battalion of the 1st Guards were the only household troops in Marlborough's army for the first 6 years of the war. It was their grenadier company under Colonel Lord Mordaunt that was chosen to lead the assault. It was a suicide mission, regarded as a 'Forlorn Hope'. Indeed of the 82 grenadiers, only 21 survived, including Lord Mordaunt. They struggled up a steep hill under heavy fire, but holding their own fire until they were within 80 yards. When all seemed lost, however, they pressed on. Their perseverance paid off because they reached the enemy and repelled a counter-attack. The main part of the army attacked the enemy flank. The French were cut off and suffered heavy casualties. It was Marlborough's first victory of the campaign and the first time the French had been defeated for 40 years.

Blenheim 1704

Battle of Blenheim
At Blenheim
Blenheim is a town 10 miles west of the Schellenberg where the grenadier company had been decimated 6 weeks earlier. On the 13th August 1704 the army of Marlborough and Prince Eugene confronted Marshal Tallard's French army. The Guards are normally held in reserve in battle but Marlborough attached them to Row's 5 battalions which needed all the men it could find to achieve it's objective. They were required to advance across open ground against elite French troops to force them out of their fortified position in Blenheim. They were unable to penetrate the French defences but they paved the way for the cavalry who inflicted a crushing defeat on the enemy. It was a stunning victory which confirmed The Duke of Marlborough as the most effective military leader of the age.

Gibraltar 1704-5

Meanwhile, in another theatre of war, the Rock of Gibraltar was captured by a detachment of Marines in 1704 and re-inforcements were needed to defend it. A composite battalion of 200 1st Guards and 400 Coldstream Guards was sent out and repelled several attacks by the Spanish, thus gaining a battle honour. They joined a larger contingent in a campaign in Spain starting with the capture of Barcelona in 1705 but ended two years later with a defeat at Almanza. The British were forced to surrender.

Ramillies 1706

Back in northern Europe, the French treated Marlborough with more respect after Blenheim and became less complacent. This made them an even more difficult enemy to fight than before. The Battle of Ramillies (23rd May 1706) fought this time against Villeroi, again involved the 1st Guards as the only household troops. The French were outwitted and suffered another terrible defeat.

Oudenarde 1708

The next two years were not good for the Alliance and not good for Marlborough personally. At Oudenarde (11th July 1708) the 1st Guards battalion were joined by a composite battalion of 1st and Coldstream Guards to form a Guards Brigade. This was a bitter and confused battle, but Marlborough whose health was poor had the advantage because the French, this time were commanded by two leaders, the able Vendome and the less able Duke of Burgandy who failed to agree on a plan. The French were defeated and forced out of Flanders.

Malplaquet 1709

The final battle was Malplaquet (11th Sept 1709) and a victory for the Alliance. This time the French were led by Villars who was wounded in the knee and replaced by the duc de Boufflers. Both were able commanders and the battle was hard fought, resulting in heavy casualties for Marlborough's army. The war petered out and the Guards were required to stay abroad until March 1713.

War of the Austrian Succession 1740-48

Dettingen 1743

Dettingen is famous for the fact that it was the last occasion when a British monarch was involved in a battle. The war was between France and an alliance of Britain, Austria and Hanover. This time, the Scots Guards were involved so it was the first time that the Brigade of Guards consisted of the 1st battalions of all three Guards regiments. Because it was a victory, all three units have this as a battle honour. Dettingen is near Frankfurt on the banks of the River Main. On the 27th June 1743 the allied army was under the command of the Earl of Stair but King George II took it upon himself to take over and was responsible for taking the army into a trap set by General Noailles. The trap was sprung prematurely and the Allies managed to turn the situation around, driving the French into the river. It was more of a cavalry battle than infantry so the Guards did not have much to do. British casualties were much higher than those of their allies but it was a victory for the Alliance. King George had exposed himself to great danger; when his staff remonstrated with him he replied, 'Do you think I came here to be a poltroon?'

Fontenoy 1745

Battle of Blenheim
At Fontenoy
The king gave overall command to his 25 year-old son, the Duke of Cumberland. His second in command was the 73 year-old Austrian General Graf von Konigseck. The Brigade of Guards had very much more of a fight than they did at Dettingen. The brigade advanced across open country in their usual order, ie 1st Guards on the right of the line, Coldstreamers on the left and Scots in the middle. They were exposed to heavy fire until they reached a ridge which, when they came over the top, revealed massed French infantry waiting for them. They were four battalions of the French Guard. The British Guards had not fired their muskets so the two sides were prepared to open fire on each other. Just then, Lord Charles Hay of the King's Company, 1st Guards, stepped forward and took off his hat. He pulled out a flask and drank a toast to the French, saying: 'Gentlemen of the French Guard, I hope you will wait for us today and not escape by swimming the Scheldt as you swam the Main at Dettingen.' Then he turned to his Company and said: 'Men of the King's Company, these are the French Guards and I hope you are going to beat them today.'

The French opened fire first but must have been distracted by Hay's performance because most of their shots went high. Then it was the turn of the British and their fire was withering. They killed 19 officers and 600 men. They kept up a constant volley by firing in sequence. This would have won the day but they needed reinforcement from their Dutch allies but it never came. The Guards withheld the repeated charges of enemy cavalry and acted as rearguard to the British withdrawl which was covered by their own cavalry. Fontenoy was a defeat for the British and their allies so the brave action of the Guards brought them no battle honour. Lord Charles Hay was wounded but survived to fight another day.

Jacobite Rebellion 1745
With the threat of the Jacobites moving south from Scotland, the grenadier companies of the Guards joined a force assembled to defend London. The Guards Brigade in Flanders was ordered home. The Duke of Cumberland rushed north with a mounted army, mostly cavalry but augmented by 1000 mounted infantry. The Foot Guards provided 400 of these so they went into action on horseback. The only other time the Guards have been mounted was in the Boer War 1901. They helped relieve Carlisle but did not join Cumberland in the battle of Culloden.
St Malo 1758
The Seven Years War did not involve the Guards initially but in 1758 a Guards Brigade composed of the 1st battalion of each regiment took part in several abortive raids on the French Coast. In an attack on St Malo in September, four companies of the 1st Guards plus the Grenadier companies of the three regiments was cut off. They fought until their ammunition ran out and finally surrendered. The casualties were high, 800 killed or wounded and the same number taken prisoner.
War of American Independence 1775 - 1783
A composite battalion of Guards from the three regiments sailed to America in March 1776 but didn't reach there until August. They were immediately required to help capture New York. They then fought in most of the battles until the following year when they spent two years garrisoning New York before going south to Carolina to fight under Lord Cornwallis. In 1781 they distinguished themselves when they waded 500 yards across the flooded Catawba River under heavy fire.
Light Company
The war in America was not fought in the way that previous wars had been fought. Pitched battles with ranks drawn were less likely to happen against the unorthodox fighting methods of the American settlers. The introduction of light companies was a recognition of the changing way of war. Men chosen for these companies were trained and equipped for skirmishing to protect the battalion ranks. After the war these companies were disbanded but in 1793 they were raised again on a permanent basis. On parade the Grenadier Company took up position on the right of the line and the Light Company on the left with the Battalion Company in the middle. The Grenadier and Light Companies were known as flank companies.
The Gordon Riots 1780
A March to The Bank
A March to The Bank
In June 1780 Lord George Gordon agitated against a pro-Catholic bill and caused mobs to roam the streets of London for four days, shouting 'No Popery'. Troops were moved into the capital and the Guards were encamped in St James's Park. Detachments patrolled the streets but the Bank of England was attacked and things were so bad that the soldiers were ordered to open fire on the mob. 300 people died. After the riots the Foot Guards provided a nightly picquet to guard the Bank of England. This continued for nearly 200 years until it ended in 1973.
French Revolutionary Wars 1793 - 1802

Lincelles 1793

Under the command of General Lake they marched to Lincelles to retake the fortified village which was on a hill. The Prince of Orange's force had been driven from there but were not around to help re-take it. Lake had only 1100 men against 5000 Frenchmen but they attacked uphill under fire from artillery and muskets taking the village with great bravery, earning themselves a battle honour.

The Helder 1799

The Helder 1799k
The Helder 1799
This was a combined British and Russian expedition which failed in it's objective to oust the French from Holland. The country was under the control of the Batavian Republic (1795-1806) which was a puppet of Revolutionary France. The Allies had decided that French occupied Europe should be attacked on two fronts. Austria and Russia were to drive the French from Italy while Britain and Russia would invade Holland. The British force was led by the Duke of York but it was split into two parts. The first was under the command of Lt-General Sir Ralph Abercrombie was made up of two Guards Brigades, one of which was composed of the Grenadier Companies of all the Guards regiments plus the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Guards.

The fleet appeared off Texel on 20th August 1799. The intention was to land the troops on 22nd August but bad weather prevented any landing until dawn on 27th by which time the element of surprise had been lost. The Dutch must have been pleased to see the fleet because they only put up a token resistance before withdrawing. The crews of the Dutch ships refused to fight at all and the Admiral struck his flag and surrendered 6 line-of-battle ships and 6 frigates. Despite all this the expedition ended in failure because of lack of back-up from the Russians.

The Peninsular War 1808-1814
At the beginning of the 19th century, Britain was busy preparing for Napoleon's invasion, but after Trafalgar the government felt confident enough to send a force to occupy Sicily in 1805. This force included the 1st Guards Brigade (1st and 3rd Battalions 1st Guards). But in 1808 there was more important work to be done. The Brigade, part of a 13,000 strong force, was sent to the Peninsula to reinforce Wellesley's army which had successfully driven the French from Portugal. They landed at Corunna and marched inland to join up with Sir John Moore's 20,000. They then moved north to fight Soult's army beyond Valladolid but on Christmas day news arrived that Napoleon himself was leading a superior force to cut them off from their base at Corunna. Moore had no choice but to retreat to Corunna and save the Army.

Corunna 1808

The story of the retreat to Corunna is a harrowing one. It was the middle of winter and they had to cross mountainous terrain with little food and tattered clothing. The trek took nearly three weeks and there were successful rearguard actions by the cavalry. The two battalions of Guards arrived at the port, apparently marching in step behind their corps of drums, setting a fine example to the rest of the army and helping to raise morale. A few days later the battle of Corunna started when the French took advantage of the late arrival of the British fleet, and attacked. Soult's men were strongly resisted and eventually retired but not before Moore was fatally wounded on 17th January 1809.

Walcheren 1809

The 1st Guards only had a few months to recover from their exertions in Spain. By late summer they were packed off on the ill-fated expedition to the Dutch island of Walcheren with the objective of capturing Antwerp. The attack failed and the whole army was struck down with a terrible fever. The expedition was abandoned and they returned home.

Barrosa 1811

The 1st Guards returned to Spain in 1810 where they found themselves besieged in Cadiz. The composite brigade was commanded by Major-General Dilkes of the 3rd Guards. There were 6 companies of the 2nd Battalion and 3 companies each from the other two Guards regiments. On the 5th March 1811 they, with some Spanish troops, were sent up the coast to attack Victor's army. They were separated from the Spanish so had to fight two French Divisions alone. They had just completed a 15 hour march but managed to defeat a force of cavalry and infantry from a strong defensive position. The attack was headed by the 1st Guards and cost them a third of their number after an hour and a half of bitter fighting.
San Sebastian
San Sebastian
When the two year siege of Cadiz was lifted the Brigade made their way to join a further influx of Guards who were wintering at Cuidad Rodrigo. They were the 1st Battalion of the 1st Guards. Wellesley, now the Duke of Wellington was in command of the army and formed two Guards Brigades: 1st Brigade under Maj-Gen Howard of the Coldstream Guards to consist of 1st and 3rd Battalion 1st Guards and the composite battalion of Coldstream and 3rd Guards. 2nd Brigade under Maj-Gen the Hon E Stopford of the 3rd Guards, to consist of the 1st Battalions of the Coldstream and 3rd Guards. The army moved north to drive the French from Spain. There was a 3 month delay while they besieged San Sebastian.

Nive 1813

When the French retreated into France the British followed and forced crossings of the River Bidossa on 7th October, the Nivelle on 10th November and finally that year, the Nive. The battle on the Nive lasted 3 days and cost the British 1,500 lives overall but cost Soult's men 3,500 lives. The 1st Guards gained a battle honour from this. The following year saw the crossing of the Aduor on 23rd February 1814 and the end of Napoleon's ambitions. Or was it?

Bayonne 1814

Napoleon abdicated on 5th April 1814 and was banished to Elba. But the news did not reach Wellington, or Soult in Toulouse, until a week later. So the Battle of Toulouse was fought unnecessarily. The Guards were not in that fight but they suffered very badly when the French made a night-time sortie from Bayonne and attacked the British with 6,000 men. The two Guards Brigades fought very hard in a confused battle in the dark and sustained 506 casualties. The irony was that the French commander, Thourenot, had heard of Napoleon's departure but refused to accept it. There is still a Guards cemetery at Bayonne.

Waterloo, 1815
Napoleon's last hundred days brought about the most famous battle in European history. When he escaped from Elba on 26th February and entered Paris on 20th March, he was able to raise an army of 123,000. Wellington had to work fast to raise enough seasoned troops to stop him but he was disappointed with the men available. There were not enough 1st battalions from the infantry regiments. His final tally of 106,000 was made up of Belgian, Dutch and German allies as well as the British troops. The British infantry that fought at Waterloo numbered 17,000. Of these, 3,836 were Foot Guards.

The Guards were organised in two brigades in the 1st Division. The 1st Brigade was made up of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Guards, and the 2nd Brigade consisted of Coldstreamers and Scots Guards. Major-General Peregrine Maitland commanded the 1st Guards Brigade whose strength was: 2/1st Guards, 29 officers and 752 men, and 3/1st Guards, 29 officers and 818 men. Each battalion had about 40 sergeants and 20 drummers.

Quatre Bras, 16th June

It was on the evening of the Duchess of Richmond's ball, 15th June, that Wellington discovered that Napoleon had 'humbugged' him. The army had to be mobilised that night so nobody had much sleep. The Guards were camped at Enghien and received the order at 0130 hrs. They marched out at 0400 and were force-marched all day in hot weather. At 1700hrs, as the 1st Guards arrived at Quatre Bras they were thrown in to the battle and drove the French back out of a thick wood. They suffered heavy casualties. The two 1st Guards battalions lost 3 officers, killed and 43 other ranks. Wounded: 10 officers and 491 other ranks.

17th June

The allies retained control of Quatre Bras but Blucher's Prussians had been hit hard at Ligny and forced to withdraw. The following day was spent withdrawing to Mont St Jean. There was a cavalry battle at Genappe but the Foot Guards were not involved. The heavy rain started at midday and continued through the night. The Light Companies of both Guards Brigades, under Lord Saltoun, were ordered to secure the Chateau of Hougoumont while the rest of the Guards took up positions behind Hougoumont.

Battle of Waterloo 18th June

The actual battle of Waterloo was fought between 72,000 of Napoleon's French troops and 68,000 allied troops under Wellington. Blucher's Prussian army did not arrive until it was almost all over.


Lord Saltoun commanded the two Light Companies of the 1st Guards who were ordered to hold the garden and orchard of the chateau while the other two Light Companies of the Coldstream and Scots Guards were commanded by Lt-Col James Macdonnell, responsible for the buildings. The night had been spent by all of these men busily fortifying the buildings ready for an attack early on the 18th. But Napoleon delayed his advance on the allies so the first attack did not happen until 1100 hrs. The 1st Guards held the orchard but the brunt of the attack was taken by the Coldstream and Scots Guards who fought with great heroism all afternoon.

The Imperial Guard

The Guards were again in the thick of the battle at the climactic confrontation with the famed Grenadiers of Napoleon's Imperial Guard. Marshal Ney led the assault which began with a French artillery barrage. Wellington ordered his men to lie down on the reverse slope to reduce casualties. Some of the 1st Guards even managed to snatch some sleep as the shot whistled overhead. At 1930hrs the advance began. There were 6,000 Grenadiers, seasoned veterans, moving in two massive columns on a frontage of 70 men shoulder to shoulder.

One column was heading towards the 1st Guards who numbered around 1,000. They lay out of sight but could hear the sound of thousands of marching feet and roars of 'Vive l'Empereur'. When they were 40 paces away, Wellington shouted 'Now Maitland. Now's your time!' When the Guards sprang to their feet they were in four ranks. The front rank opened fire, killing 300 Frenchmen. The other ranks repeated this, combined with a barrage of grapeshot from the artillery, the Imperial Guard wavered and tried to fall back. Then Lord Saltoun led a charge of the 1st Guards which routed their French counterparts. The 'invincible' Imperial Guard was routed. The cry went up throughout the French army that the Guard were retreating. The whole of the British force swept forward and drove the enemy back across the valley and up the opposite slope. Cavalry and infantry, tired as they were pursued them off the field of battle. Even the weary Guards from Hougoumont joined in.

The casualty figures for the 1st Guards Brigade on the 18th June were, 4 officers and 131 other ranks killed, 11 officers and 346 other ranks wounded.

The Long Peace 1816 - 1853
James's Palace
St James's Palace
The main purpose of the Foot Guards was to guard the royal family in their residences at Buckingham House, St James's Palace and Windsor Castle. Also to provide a guard at the Tower of London. Until Sir Robert Peel introduced, in 1829, the Act which created the Metropolitan Police Force, the Guards in London, were responsible for the maintenance of law and order. Indeed it was a major role in peacetime, and troops were called out frequently to disperse crowds, protect property and provide escorts for bullion, prisoners and important visitors to the country, as well as dealing with riots. Some unusual tasks were required of them in that a picquet had to be provided to guard the theatres at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. This originated in 1755 after David Garrick was attacked by a rowdy audience. They were also employed as firefighters when the Houses of Parliament burned down in 1834.

It was also in 1834 that Wellington Barracks was built, marking the end of billeting out of troops in private homes and inns. The Foot Guards were housed in barracks either in the Tower of London, Wellington Barracks, King's New Barracks (near the National Gallery), Portman Street, Knightsbridge Barracks or Victoria Barracks, Windsor.

Canada 1839
The 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards and 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards were sent to Canada in 1839 to quell a rebellion by French Canadians. They did not see much action but remained there until 1842 until a boundary dispute had been settled.
The Crimean War 1854-55
The Guards Brigade assembled for this campaign comprised the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards and the 1st battalions of the Coldstream and Scots Guards. The Anglo-French force sent to the Crimea was commanded by Lord Raglan, a former Grenadier Guards officer, who had lost an arm while fighting the French at Waterloo. The British landed at Calamita Bay, 30 miles north of Sevastopol, which was their objective. They marched south until they encountered the Russian army entrenched on the heights above the River Alma on 20th September.

The Battle for Alma

The initial attack was by the Light Division which included the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment, who crossed the river and drove the enemy back but the Russians counter attacked. The Guards and Highland Brigades were then called upon to offer support. They waded through the river, the Grenadiers and Coldstreamers reaching the other bank before the Scots Guards. While they were forming up in parade ground lines, the Scots Guards came ashore and went straight into the attack. The tremendous efforts of the Guards and Highlanders as well as the French pressure on the enemy's left caused the Russians to withdraw to Sevastopol.


The Guards held positions around Inkerman in early November. On the 5th the Russians took advantage of a thick mist to close in on them. The nature of this battle was determined by the terrain which was an area of ridges and valleys. The fights were fragmented and not under central control.
The Grenadier Guards defended the Sandbag battery and beat off repeated determined attacks. The Colour Party was surrounded and they were reduced to 100 men. The fighting lasted 6 hours but they managed to fight their way back to the British lines. The Battery had changed hands seven times.

The hand-to-hand fighting was very intense and there were many acts of bravery so it is not surprising that The Grenadier Guards 3rd Battalion earned three VCs that day: Colonel The Hon Henry Percy, Major Sir Charles Russell and Private Anthony Palmer. The anniversary of the battle was celebrated in the Sergeant's Mess of the 3rd Battalion up until it's absorption into the other 2 battalions in 1961. From that year the left flank company of the 2nd battalion was given the title of Inkerman Company.


The siege of Sevastopol was a terrible experience for the troops. They were entrenched around the fortress for another year until the final Russian surrender on 9th September 1855. But the winter of 1854/5 was bitterly cold and the supply of food and clothing was cut off when a storm sunk 21 supply ships off the Crimean coast. Without winter clothing the men suffered frostbite and trench-foot as well as the ever-present Cholera and scurvy. Things improved after this first winter but they still had to endure a stifflingly hot summer and another cold winter before peace was signed in March 1856. One more VC was earned by Private Alfred Ablett of the 3rd Battalion on 2nd Sept 1855.

1856 - 1881
The years following the Crimean War saw changes to the uniforms and equipment of the whole army but more fundamental reform was needed and this was brought about mainly as a result of the efforts of two Secretaries of State for War, Sidney Herbert and Edward Cardwell. Flogging was phased out until it's abolition in 1881 and illiteracy reduced by better education. The practice of enlistment for life was also phased out and the purchase of commissions ended in 1871. Military training was changed drastically and the guards had to be housed near training areas outside London, at Warley until 1877, then Caterham until 1959, and Pirbright from 1882.

Canada, 1861 - 64
Overseas postings, on active service, continued through this period but not to India. Ireland was a frequent posting but a greater impact was made with another campaign in Canada involving the Guards Brigade which was made up of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and 2nd Battalion Scots Guards. See NCOs in Canada 1863. The British had been infuriated by an incident in mid-Atlantic during the American Civil War. An American ship had stopped a British ship and removed two people. The Guards Brigade was sent to reinforce the Canadian garrison. This was in 1861 and their brief was to protect the Canadian border whilst the war raged in the States. The time taken on their journey was an improvement on the 6 months taken to North America in 1776. The trip from London took just 44 days and this included 11 days spent travelling on open sledges between St John, New Brunswick and Quebec. The threat of war passed but Fenians in the northern United States, including a large number of civil war veterans of Irish descent, were causing trouble and the Guards remained in Canada until 1864 to support the small Canadian army.

This stay in Canada left its mark because the Canadian Grenadier Guards still exists today. This unit which started life as the 1st Company of Montreal Militia in 1764 and became the 1st Battalion Prince or Wales Regiment of Fusiliers was also involved with dealing with the Fenians in the 1860s. The regiment was re-organised in 1911 under Lt-Col John Carson who was keen to emulate the Grenadiers. And so at first it was called 1st Regiment The Grenadier Guards of Canada and adopted the uniform and equipment of the British Grenadier Guards. There was some difficulty with the British government because the Canadians failed to consult the Duke of Connaught who was not only the Commander-in-Chief of Canada's forces but also Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

The Grenadier Guards
From 1881, the regiment was officially redesignated as the Grenadier Guards.
Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense
The Sand Bags
The Coal Heavers
The Bill Browns
(3rd Battalion)
1660 - 1881
1660 - 1881
Commanding Officers
1830 - 1881
1660 - 1881
1660 - 1881
Corps of Drums and Musicians
1660 - 1881
Battle Honours
Defence of Tangier 1662-80

War of the League of Augsburg 1689-97
NAMUR 1695

War of Spanish Succession 1701-15
Gibraltar 1704-5

War of Austrian Succession 1740-48

French Revolutionary Wars 1793-1802

Peninsular War 1808-14

Hundred Days 1815

Crimean War 1854-5

1656 The Royal Regiment of Guards
1660 The King's Regiment of Guards
1685 The 1st Regiment of Foot Guards
1815 The 1st or Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards
Successor Units
1881 The Grenadier Guards
Further Reading
The Story of The Guards
by Julian Paget 1976

A History of the Foot Guards to 1856
by Major H L Aubrey-Fletcher 1927

The Colours of the Guards Division
by N P Dawnay 1975

The Origins and History of the Grenadier Guards
by General Sir F W Hamilton 1874

The Queen's Guards
by Henry Legge-Bourke 1965

The Grenadier Guards
by R H Whitworth 1974

Uniforms of the Foot Guards
by Brian Fosten and William Y Carman 1995

British Infantry Uniforms Since 1660
by Michael Barthorp 1982 Illustrated by Pierre Turner

A Bearskin's Crimea: Henry Percy VC and his Brother Officers
by Algernon Percy

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