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Grenadier Guards

Last updated: 30 June 2014

Other ranks' cap badge, 1st (or Grenadier) Regiment of Foot Guards, c1870Other ranks' cap badge, 1st (or Grenadier) Regiment of Foot Guards, c1870
NAM. 1970-12-162-16

Introduction

The Grenadier Guards is the oldest foot guard regiment in the British Army. It traces its lineage back to a regiment formed in Bruges in 1656 by Charles II to act as part of his bodyguard during his exile, under Lord Wentworth's command.

When he was restored to the British throne in 1660, Charles also instructed John Russell to form a foot guards regiment and after Wentworth's death five years later the two regiments were merged to form the two-battalion 1st Regiment of Foot Guards.

It saw early engagements in Tangier and as marines during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. In 1667 John Churchill (later the Duke of Marlborough) became an ensign in the regiment, later rising to be the its colonel from 1704 to 1711 and 1714 to 1722.

The unit fought at Ramillies, Malplaquet, Dettingen and Fontenoy and returned to northern Europe in 1793, 1799 and 1809. This period also saw it facing the Second Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 and raising a third battalion in 1760.

It suffered the lowest losses by desertion or sickness of any unit involved in the 1808 winter campaign in Spain and men from the regiment bore the mortally wounded Sir John Moore off the field at Corunna the following year. It returned to the Peninsula in 1811 and fought at both Quatre Bras and Waterloo in 1815. At the latter engagement the unit defeated the French Imperial Guard's grenadiers, not only assuming that unit's title and bearskin headdress, but also taking a flaming grenade as its cap badge.

Four members of its 3rd Battalion gained the Victoria Cross for their conduct during the Crimean War. Soon afterwards, in 1861, the 1st Battalion was briefly deployed to Canada during heightened tensions between Britain and the Union states in the midst of the American Civil War. However, the regiment spent most of the century after Waterloo on garrison and ceremonial duties in London, Windsor and Dublin, though it did deploy individual battalions or detachments to the Suakin expedition in 1885, the Ashanti War in 1895, the Sudan in 1898 and the Boer War in 1899.

Two Grenadier Guards making a last stand in the Crimea, c1855Two Grenadier Guards making a last stand in the Crimea, c1855
NAM. 1998-06-128-95

In 1901 Edward VII became the unit's colonel-in-chief, a tradition continued by each reigning monarch ever since, whilst in 1905 the 19-year-old Lord Gort was commissioned into the regiment. He went on to win the Victoria Cross in 1918 and commanded the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from its inception in September 1939 to its evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940.

The regiment spent the entire First World War on the Western Front and fought there again in 1940. That year also saw the raising of a 4th Battalion, which became a tank unit, as did 2nd Battalion, with 1st Battalion being motorised. These three battalions returned to North West Europe in 1944 and remained there until being returned to their infantry role in June 1945. In the meantime the regiment's 3rd, 5th and 6th Battalions fought in North Africa and Italy.

In 1947 the regiment was reduced to three battalions, serving as occupation troops in West Germany and peacekeepers in Palestine, Cyprus and Northern Ireland as well as fighting in Malaya, Tripoli and the First Gulf War. It is now only a single battalion regiment after 3rd Battalion was placed in suspended animation in 1960 and 2nd Battalion in 1994, though both these battalions' traditions are continued by a single company each in the regiment's 1st Battalion.

Most recently it has deployed as light infantry in the Falklands, Bosnia, Afghanistan and both Iraq Wars as well as serving as ceremonial troops in the UK. It last led the Trooping the Colour in 2010.

Key facts

Motto:

  • 'Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense'
    (meaning 'Shame On Him Who Thinks Evil Of It')

Titles to date:

  • Lord Wentworth's Regiment
  • John Russell's Regiment of Guards
  • King’s Royal Regiment of Guards
  • Royal Regiment of Foot Guards
  • 1st Regiment of Foot Guards
  • 1st (or Grenadier) Regiment of Foot Guards
  • Grenadier Guards

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