Royal Horse Guards

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Royal Horse Guards
File:Royal Horse Guards Cap Badge.jpg
Royal Horse Guards Cap Badge
Active 1650–1969
Country  Commonwealth of England (1650–1660)
 Kingdom of England (1660–1707)
 Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800)
 United Kingdom (1801–1969)
Branch  British Army
Type Cavalry
Role exploitation and armoured assault
Size Divisional
Garrison/HQ Windsor
Nickname(s) The Blues
Motto Honi soit qui mal y pense
March Quick March: Grand March
Slow March: Regimental Slow March of the Royal Horse Guards
Mascot Newfoundland dog
Engagements See Battle honours list
Richard Howard-Vyse
Aubrey, Earl of Oxford
Robert Hill
John Manners, Marquess of Granby
John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough

The Royal Regiment of Horse Guards (The Blues) (RHG) was a cavalry regiment of the British Army, part of the Household Cavalry.

Founded in August 1650 at Newcastle upon Tyne by Sir Arthur Haselrig on the orders of Oliver Cromwell as the Regiment of Cuirassiers, also known as the London lobsters, the regiment became the Earl of Oxford's Regiment during the reign of King Charles II. As the regiment's uniform was blue in colour at the time, it was nicknamed "the Oxford Blues", from which was derived the nickname the "Blues." In 1750 the regiment became the Royal Horse Guards Blue and eventually, in 1877, the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues).

The regiment served in the French Revolutionary Wars and in the Peninsular War. Two squadrons fought, with distinction, in the Household Brigade at the Battle of Waterloo.

In 1918, the regiment served as the 3rd Battalion, Guards Machine Gun Regiment. During the Second World War the regiment was part of the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment.

The RHG was amalgamated with the Royal Dragoons (1st Dragoons) to form the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons) in 1969.

Origins and History

File:Royal Horse Guards uniform (1826).png
Member of the Royal Horse Guards, 1826

Restoration: Catholics v. Protestants

The Royal Regiment of Horse Guards began life after the Venner Riots. It suited the new King Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York, so as to make a force from expediency. Colonel Unton Croke's Regiment of Horse was used, a former Commonwealth officer, to found the Royal Horse Guards. Cromwell's officers were well-drilled, the horses cared for, and properly trained. James Berry replaced Sir Arthur Haselrig in the brutal pillage of Scotland in 1651, but the efficiency of his command, made The Blues most reliable and trustworthy for General Monck at the Restoration. In 1653 Berry's Blues had seized power for the Protector in a military coup. They suppressed the Wagstaffe rebellion, and then the rise of Quakerism in Scotland. The change of leadership came in 1658 when Berry was cashiered for supporting Lambert's rebellion. Unton Croke led the regiment when King Charles arrived back in England in 1660.

Known as the Blues after the colour of the uniform, they first paraded at Tothill Field in London on 6 February 1661. They differed from the previous Blues, who were parliamentarians of the civil wars. However they were identifiably Protestant, although influenced by the French mousquetaires.

Early duties included escorts. There were three Troops: King's Troop was at Canterbury, but one was usually at Southwark. Henry Compton's Troop, posted at Bagshot, was responsible for protecting the Navy Office at Portsmouth. They were used to round up prisoners. Early policing included the arresting of contraband tobacco smuggled from the colonies. Sir Henry Jones was a puritan dismissed from the service, but returned to London in 1673, raised a regiment to go to the Siege of Maastricht, where he was killed.[1]

The Royal Horse Guards were wealthy gentlemen, sons of the well-to-do, not controlled by parliament. By 1685, Charles II was paying the guards £283,000. But the Blues deployed almost entirely outside London; in 1666, the Duke of York's Articles and Rules of War attempted absolute royal control over the army. In disciplinary disputes officers appealed to the Privy Council, the highest executive body in the kingdom. The Earl of Oxford was Colonel of the Blues when the Army Board met for the first time on 5 August 1670.[2]

In 1670, a scandal broke: Captain Gerard, who had assaulted Sir John Coventry MP for sneering at the Court's mistresses, was found to have misappropriated large sums of pay for 'false musters'. The Life Guards were more catholic and under York's influence, whereas the Protestant illegitimate Duke of Monmouth by 1674 was Commander-in-chief. The champion of Protestantism had more support in the country and amongst the Blues. However fears of absolutism and dismissals of catholic officers undermined morale "they being incapable of employment."[3] The successful police work of the Blues may have saved the Treasury money and urged upon the King abandonment of a Pro-French foreign policy. Monmouth's popularity and support of the Blues, led to his dismissal in 1679; and probably directly to the Rye House Plot. A chief conspirator was Sir Thomas Armstrong of the Blues, who had served in Holland with Earl of Oxford, Colonel of the regiment.[4] Armstrong fled abroad, as did Lord Grey. The plotters and former Guards officers William, Lord Russell and Algernon Sidney were escorted to the scaffold by sentries of the Life Guards.[5] But some like Henry Cornwall adhered to principle during the reactionary era, resigning in 1689 because his loyalty to the Crown was not a religious conviction.[6] Nonetheless The Blues had been with Captain Churchill on the Field of Sedgemoor; and Captain Sandys was treated to a conversion lecture on Catholicism from King James.[7] On 23 July as Monmouth arrived in Glastonbury, The Oxford Blues on an exceedingly rainy day, scouting from Langport came across a rebel horse and beat them back to camp. Earl Feversham and the household brigade were stationed as pickets across every main road, while Captin Upcott of the Blues had a "grand guard" of 40 troopers as a sentry party on the moor beyond Panzoy Farm.[8] 100 Blues were in Colonel Sir Francis Compton's screen. It was rumoured that "On sunday night most of the officers were drunk and had the manner of apprehension of the enemy."[9] Despite the urge to defect Compton held fast, and did his duty. At the Glorious Revolution the Earl of Oxford was restored to the originally Protestant regiment. For example, John Coy had fought on Parrett Bridge for King James, but was later promoted to Lieutenant-colonel to replace a Catholic battalion commander.[10]

Prince of Orange and Protestant Blues

Under the new instructions started by William Blathwayt, Secretary at War, the Blues became a very respectable regiment, its commissions sought after. Officers were encouraged to move around with the regiment to avoid fraternization with the locals. But the attraction of commissions led to purchasing. Preference and place were dependent on private means. The Blues ranked as the second Cavalry regiment, so on the death of Charles II in February 1685 it was recalled to do policing duties in London.[11] John Churchill, later Earl of Marlborough deserted the royal household to greet the Prince of Orange in 1688. The following year The Blues were part of the allied army that defeated the French at Walcourt, near Charleroi, when they charged the best French infantry, leaving 2,000 dead.[12] On 23 April 1689 The Blues were rehabilitated to a strength of 450 men and ordered to Holland.

Wars of succession

During the early eighteenth century the Blues were widely dispersed throughout the north country. They had some distinguished commanders, the Compton brothers, and during the Jacobite risings the Duke of Argyll. But the Dukes tended to be imperious; real leadership came from George Fielding, Francis Byng, and John Wyvilles as battalion commanders. In 1740, the Royals moved from Worcestershire to Windsor Great Park for training with The Blues in preparation for the fields of Flanders. Together they formed General Honywood's brigade. Finally in August 1742 they arrived in Flanders across rough seas from Gravesend to Ostend.[13] An account of the campaign was provided by Dr John Buchanan, the regimental surgeon.[14] During the War of Austrian Succession accounts filtered back of great suffering at the hands of the surgeons, venereal disease, colds and ague. But the main problem was the heat, and soldiers were often fat and unfit.

Officers were encouraged to keep copious notes to be assessed by staff officers, but more importantly as an aide-memoire.[15] All regiments were reviewed by Lord Stair and the Prince of Hess.[16] The Blues moved to Brussels to await the King. Squabbles broke out as to who should be commander-in-chief, but it was agreed they should march north to meet the Hanoverians and Hessians at Hanau. The opportunity had been lost in a defeat to Marshall Noailles in May. In the heat, the problem for the English was that forage was nowhere to be had. The French King tried to force the English army through a forest, trapping them in a narrow corridor. The French bore down on their position; across the river they had artillery, behind they had occupied the village of Aschaffenberg. That night on the eve of battle the Earl of Stair formed the battle lines before the village of Dettingen. The Blues were in the second wave of attacks to the left, called up in support of infantry.

Noailles failed to rally the French infantry, and many were drowned in the River Main. Hemmed in on all sides, the English could only attack. The Blues joined the front line of seven infantry battalions, one Austrian brigade, and the Household units. As the French faltered, the Household cavalry were ordered on the offensive, as their enemy fell back to the village. At the Battle of Dettingen, the Blues were in the frontline; incorporated with The Royals they numbered five battalions. Only eight men were killed in the Horse Guards regiment. They returned to Brussels where ill-discipline, they spilled into street causing brawls; and two desertions. Even more common was the drunkenness.

Thereafter the Household Cavalry Brigade was formed for the first time: The Life Guards, Horse Grenadiers, and Blues, under Lord Craufurd. "On leaving Brussels: and we have many accidents nixt day and much confusion in passing the Gates. Attended with many inconveniences, carriages are overturned, broke down, men hurt and horses lame".[17]


The Blues were gallant in the defeat at Fontenoy under the leadership of Lord Craufurd near the village of Vezon. "The behavior of The Blue Guards is highly to be commended which must in great measure be attributed to the conduct of their Major Jenkinson and his care of them".[18] But the Blues still suffered the worst allied casualties. At Barri Wood the French cannon had ripped through their ranks causing terrible damage. Morale was a critical factor. The Duke of Cumberland transferred many regiments including the Household Cavalry to the disturbances in Scotland, but leaving The Blues behind in the more familiar territory of flat plain country.

Granby and Seven Years' War

During the Seven Years' War, the Blues fought alongside Prince Ferdinand. The largest cavalry regiment, The Blues colonelcy was assumed by the Marquis of Granby. This great soldier understood the importance of morale. In the mould of Ligonier, a predecessor, he established a brave and efficient force. His successor, Henry Seymour Conway was one of the greatest colonels the regiment ever had over a 25-year period. Granby however, retained a passionate interest in the welfare of The Blues; his generosity and hospitality expressed later in a legion of public houses. Granby was in charge of the second division at Battle of Minden Heath. The Blues posted sentries called Vedettes, who were so close when the French attacked that the regiment was thrown back. The Blues were eager to charge in after the infantry surge to Minden walls, but owing to Sackville's orders the reinforcements were delayed. His court-martial was difficult for the regiment, whose officers were called on to give testimony.

The allies had saved Hanover, and driven Marshall Contades back towards the Rhine. By December 1759 The Blues were exhausted looking forward to a winter break at Osnabruck. Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston went to recruit in England; and found the Dragoon Guards who wanted to join for the superior conditions in The Blues. Granby was depressed by his son's death and that of his wife too, and the loss of his stud, so he decided to set up a Widows' Fund, and to provide better regimental medical care. His cousin, Russell Manners was raised to battalion command; and King George II's interest in The Blues was inherited by George III. Granby commanded The Blues and The Royals on their march south from Paderborn. At Warburg on 31 July 1760, The Blues lined up in the centre. The British force of 8,000 stole a march on the French positions, and charging headlong into the enemy dispersed a force of 24,000. The famous 'Charge' on trumpet and bugle sent Granby's men into history.

"For we Rout'd all before us – Down precipices, over hollow ways we went like a torrent as the French general term'd it, which struck such a panick so that they [led] without firing a shot. The Marquis of Granby persued the enemy above 10 miles".[19]

The regiment's casualties were one cornet, six corporals, and twenty-three troopers.

In February 1761, The Gold Stick, Granby led The Blues and others in a brilliant campaign. The French were hunkered down when surprised by the allies on the march, driving them back 50 miles over muddy roads. The regiment was present in the summer at the Vellinghausen when they took a force twice their size led by Marshall Soubise, with the flexible use of artillery fire; the cavalry unable to gallop in the terrain. 15th Light Dragoons and The Blues encountered a skirmishing force at Wilhelmstahl on 1 July 1761. The cavalry realizing the enemy's presence took the initiative, demoralizing the French while the infantry finished. ADC Henry Townshend wounded at Vellinghausen, was killed with a trooper and three horses. Henry Seymour Conway marched the regiment to a triumphal return to England in March 1763. On demobilization, the troopers were reduced from 52 to 29 men per troop.[20] Granby used his considerable wealth to endow inns and orphanages, although was unable to prevent the reductions to the regiment.

If Granby's grief at his son's loss was saddening, the crippling reductions to The Blues, according to William Pitt the Elder doomed "the bravest men the world ever saw to be sent to starve in country villages and forget their prowess."[21] The harvest failures of the 1760s were compounded by rioting. The Blues were depressed to leave ex-comrades in Germany; they were used as militia for policing duties. Granby died in January 1770, to be replaced by General Seymour Conway as Colonel. A riding-school was built at Nottingham. The Blues were still the biggest cavalry regiment on the bigger horses at 16 and a half Hands, which posed difficulties in provisioning and logistics.

Reform at Horse Guards

Through the revolutionary period the Gold Sticks still had direct access to the king. The regiments developed very differently as The Blues were always away from London. In 1788 a Committee drew up the cost of commissions; the pay rates being the highest in the army. The cost of horse and equipage was prohibitive for all but the aristocratic elites. The rank of cornets were abolished to be replaced by second lieutenants.

The Guards were deployed to keep the King's peace. Life Guards in London feared rioters backlash; and civilians were controlled in Nottingham's 'Framework-Knitters' riot' of 1783 by a detachment of The Blues. No violence was used, but 37 protesters were arrested.

On returning to civil duties again in 1795 The Blues were expected to maintain public order in Loughborough and Coventry; developing the doctrinal laws of absolute military necessity. They also patrolled the shoreline for smugglers. The Blues for the most part remained in the East Midlands.[22] In 1788 and 1789 The Blues were required to come to London to mount up the King's Life Guard, as there were inadequate personnel in the Life Guards thanks to reorganization and reform. The lack of recruits threatened the Expeditionary Forces viability in Holland. The Blues were part of a contingent of 3,500 cavalry who departed Northampton with Sir Charles Turner.

In June 1793 The Blues were royal reviewed at Northampton. Commanded by Lt-Colonel Sir Charles Turner, they disembarked at Ostend on 15 June. They marched to join the allied army at Valenciennes, being besieged by the Duke of Coburg.[23] The Blues and The Royals encountered the French at Dunkirk in a sea board march. Lieutenant Board was unhorsed and killed by a cannonball. Skirmishes continued all year, and by November they retired to winter in Ghent. The new Depot System worked well, and 1794 started with promise of success. The Blues were in Major General Mansel's brigade, as the allies laid siege to Landrecies. Mansel was criticized as being slow to engage the enemy, when a large French force left Cambrai on 23 April 1794. Mansel was still in command when the allied army took a position north of Cambrai on the Beaumont road. Mansel vowed to avenge the shame of 24th, he told the Duke of York, which he did charging and scattering the enemy, but was killed. The French line caught totally offguard were broken in the open, losing 5,000 men. The Blues lost 15 men, Quartermaster John Kipling, and 25 horses. In total allied casualties were 150. The regiment earned the epithet "Immortals" in this action.[24]

Now commanded by Ralph Dundas The Blues and The Royals pursued the French infantry northwards from Beaumont trapping them in a quagmire near the village of Baisieux. A French general was fought to a standstill and run through by Private Joseph White. The battered French army retreated to Tournai. York moved into Roubaix, but the Austrian Emperor had run out on the allies, and returned to Vienna. The Blues returned to the depot at Northampton.

The Blues find a permanent home at Windsor

In 1796 The Blues received new weapons – the curved sabre, and the Nock Pattern Carbine. A reorganization at Horse Guards posted The Blues to a new base at Windsor. George III liked the regiment, who acted as royal bodyguards. A new barracks was built on 14 acres at Clewer Park in 1800, where a permanent barracks was built over a period of four years: 62 eight-bed dormitories for the men. Whilst life in the mess got more expensive and sociable, rates of pay stagnated. It was even more a requirement that all officers came from a moneyed background. By 1790 Cornets were required to be aged eighteen, stabilizing entrants qualifications, and enabling purchasing to advance promotion rapidly. Quartermaster purchases attracted very modest incomers, raising a prospect for class mobility. And by 1800 only nine regimental commissions had transferred out in 20 years. But recruitment of Cornets remained difficult in peacetime.[25]

Recruits had to pay as much as 5 guineas for a riding lesson. Officer cadets would study Regulations for the formation and Movement of the Cavalry, spending a year at regimental HQ. In 1802, The British Military Library journal was established to educate on military tactics. Stable parades happened four times daily, and great care was taken of horses. Field day drills took place in Windsor Great Park or on Winkfield Plain every Friday. Quartermaster became an increasingly responsible rank. Wives were permitted to share at Clewer Park. Messes were created for NCO's. During the Peninsular campaign gambling became fashionable amongst Blues' officers; and several ran up huge debts. They became a popular regiment in a royal location. Duelling was common and sent up in a number of parodies as described in the Blueviad.

Under the Regency Act, the King was frequently incapacitated. The Prince Regent demanded The Blues turn out in its smartest dress with the Life Guards. They were on crowd control duties on 19 June 1811. When Princess Amelia died, they escorted the coffin. On the opening of parliament in 1812, they marched with the Regent to Westminster. More serious was the rioting of 1810 which ended in the attempted arrest of Sir Francis Burdett MP. The mob cried out for the Radical Burdett cajoling the government into ordering troops in from Clewer Park.

With Wellington's Peninsular Army

Detachments of Blues were increased from six to eight, as four troops embarked at Portsmouth for Portugal in October 1812. Their new Colonel was the rich Duke of Northumberland, who used experience, had served in the American wars, and now wished to spend a small fortune on the regimental Band. Unfortunately he clashed with Horse Guards over the modernized regimental kit, which the duke wanted to ditch for the traditional. The youthful troopers dispatched, they travelled with light camping equipment, and acquired a regimental mascot, a Newfoundland dog.[26]

In April 1812 General Wellington aimed to make a decisive assault on Madrid. To capture the Spanish capital he sent a cavalry division, including The Blues under General Rowland Hill to the south to prevent Massena from coming up from Granada in support.

In 1813, Major Packe took temporary command. They were involved in the Battle of Vitoria, traversing a deep ravine along the Pamplona road. The Blues, with Household brigade already enganged, wheeled right across the ravine. Bivouacked on the road, General Hill had orders to hold it. The deftness of the manoeuvre embarrassed the French generals: the defeat ended Napoleon's grip on Spain. The Blues were sent home in 1814. Demobilization was a painful experience: one officer per troop was shed to the half-pay list. The Regent ordered all regiments to act through Silver sticks and Gold sticks. A new barracks was built at King Street, Chelsea, Middlesex.


Robert Hill was appointed to command The Blues in his brother's stead. The eldest was ennobled, and the youngest was ADC. They were in Lord Uxbridge's Cavalry corps of 14,550 troops. Not Wellington's first choice, Uxbridge was richly attired, powerful, with influential friends, and a showman to boot. The Blues were in the mid-column when they marched in the early hours of 16 June 1815 towards Quatre Bras via Enghien down narrow Belgian lanes. They spent an uncomfortable night; the weather was hot and humid. It rained all night. As dawn broke, heavy rain made the ground a quagmire.[27] On the day of battle, The Blues drew up in the second line behind the Life Guards. They should have held the formation, when Uxbridge gave the order to charge. Robert Hill was wounded in the clash with the 4th Cuirassiers, shot by a chasseur. Major Packe was run through and fell dead off his horse. Charging through the regiment was in danger of going too far from La-Haie-Sainte, they were rescued by General Somerset. They fought Ney's cavalry to a standstill, until Blucher's Prussians appeared to the left.

One historical record that emerges is the perfunctory effectiveness of the surgery on the battlefield of Waterloo. For example, only six of the wounded fifty Blues actually died. They lost 44 killed. Some reported barbarism by the French upon prisoners. Waterloo proved the Guards were fit for active service.[28]

...when we was about two hundred yards from the French lines a cannon ball came and took off my horses leg so I dismounted but looking around I saw a horse that somebody had been killed off so I soon got another. So we continued in that state until night the Prussians came up and began to work and the French began to run and a happy sight it was.[29]

Trumpeter Tom Evans who had saved General Robert Hill's life, retired to start a pub in Old Windsor, called the Oxford Blue. The Cavalry left Brussels and rode on to Paris. By February 1816, they had returned to barracks in Windsor. The Blues received five standards emblazoned with battle honours won.

On 22 June 1815, Napoleon abdicated having lost the support of the Assembly. All was lost for the Emperor. Grouchy's corps was still intact, and Marshall Davout in Paris was willing to fight on, but France was beaten. The Household Brigade reached Poissy, a town already looted by the Prussians, only 12 miles from Paris, and the war was already over. The Union Brigade reached Nanterre.

Until early 1816, the British were an army of occupation on French soil. They took time to recover, and restock the regiments, recruit more men, and promote survivors. The Blues returned to the barracks at Windsor. The decisive point for the Cavalry at Waterloo came when the Household and Union Brigades had charged d'Erlon's Corps, making the cavalry brigades national heroes for a few years afterwards. On Lady Day, 25 March 1816, a medal was struck for "Waterloo men", the first to be so since Battle of Dunbar in 1651. It started a Victorian tradition rewarding gallantry, bravery and valorous conduct has remained to this day, through a system of medal awards as commemoration.

The Household Blues

The Prince Regent made himself Colonel-in-Chief of Life Guards and The Blues on 29 January 1820. The Blues pay remained lower. They rotated between Windsor, Regent's Park, and Knightsbridge from 1821. On 24 October 1818, The Gold Sticks were ordered to cut 104 men from The Blues – they were to pick only the strongest, fittest and best appearance in the troops.[30] At George IV's coronation on 19 July 1821, he ordered the Household Cavalry to wear bearskins, which were not ditched until 1847.

The new King insisted on bright showy parades; shiny tack, and all horses must be black in colour. New and elaborate saddlery, and even golds reins for 1st regiment of Life Guards were introduced; the acorn motif was used to hark back to the royal blue of Charles II. In 1805 The Blues had been presented with two kettle-drums, which the Life Guards now had to have in 1831 at a cost of £950. On 7 August 1821 only weeks after the coronation, from which she was excluded, the Queen Caroline died, having first expressed her wish to be buried in her native Brunswick. On 14 August, a squadron of The Blues arrived, led by Captain Bouverie to take her body to Romford. They pulled up at Brandenburg House, Kensington to meet the local magistrate Sir Robert Baker. The mob planned to hijack the procession in The City, but when the hearse arrived to go through Hyde Park, the gates were slammed in their faces. The Life Guards came to their aid. The mob blocked Hyde Park Corner and Park Lane, so Baker had to change the route to Piccadilly. The Cortege reached Tyburn gate but it was barricaded. The Life Guards were involved in containing the violence; whilst the Blues still faced escorting through hostile crowds of belligerent Londoners.

In January 1830, The Blues' entire regiment escorted the funeral cortege for George IV to St George's Chapel, Windsor doing homage to a grateful king.

The Colonels-in-chief

Wellington was the first Blues Gold Stick and was Colonel of The Blues until 1827. This put the regiment on a similar parity with Life Guards in terms of access to the king. The Duke however did not believe in bucking the chain of command, and declined to exercise extraordinary influence outside the fact that The Blues had become part of the Household Cavalry on 29 January 1820.[31] Wellington did approve of the appointment of Lord Combermere to the Life Guards, but when the Duke of York died in 1827, the Iron Duke was finally made commander-in-chief. When Wellington became Colonel of Grenadier Guards (previously 1st Foot Guards) he was made to give up the Gold Stick. His successor was Ernest, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover. The royal Duke believed the Gold Sticks-in-waiting should have absolute authority over their regiments. But the old Duke of Northumberland had resigned over this very issue; and the new King William IV had the last word. He ruled that in all operational matters beyond ceremonial duties, the Household Cavalry would fall into the Commander-in-chief's care and command. Cumberland angrily resigned in a huff.

The youngest of the three Hill brothers, Clement Hill who had been Rowland, Lord Hill's ADC, now the Colonel of The Blues, became commanding officer. The trend was moving towards choosing operational commanders as Colonel who would be fit for active service. To that end General Lord Hill, Commander-in-Chief that a cricket ground be built adjacent to every barracks.[32] The new Queen in 1837 strongly approved of a policy of meritorious promotion. In 1842 she selected Lord Uxbridge, now Marquis of Anglesey to succeed Hill as Colonel of The Blues. He had spent 45 years in 7th Dragoons and did not really want the job. For their part the Blues did not want the Tory Lord Londonderry. The Victorian colonels were all former serving soldiers. In 1895, the most famous soldier of the age, Lord Wolseley was appointed Colonel of the Blues at Queen Victoria's insistence.

Soldiers' well-being

The cost of commissions for The Blues were broadly the same as Life Guards. But the costs of uniforms, horses and mess bills meant a private income was essential. India was the only opportunity for active service. But Household officers did not often want to transfer there. One Blues officer, Captain Baillie kept his mistress, Lady Glintworth in Clarence Crescent. But the quality of life for officers, and their level of pay differed markedly with NCO's. In Windsor, the soldiers were by mid-century living in chronically overcrowded rooms. They slept on straw palliases, and there was no running water, nor private bathrooms. The transmission of disease became epidemic at Knightsbridge barracks, because there was not proper toilet paper. It took the revelations during the Crimean war for army reforms to introduce changes. Dr Logie was the crusading Medical Officer, of The Blues, who wrote a letter condemning Windsor barracks as unfit for human habitation in 1870. GOC Home district could only say it was not the place of a doctor to comment on army accommodation.

The Blues ignored existing regulations allowing wives of 96 families to live outside Clewer barracks by 1841, although poor rented quarters were still all they could afford. An 1836 regulation authorizing good behaviour badges before marriage was permissible, it was scrapped in 1849, when a 2d marriage allowance, and the commanding officer's timely approval became sufficient. By 1851, separate marriage quarters were introduced in full, except the NCO's mess. Queen Victoria inspected these in 1864 and ordered them to be rebuilt. Many soldiers preferred to leave their families when they rotated. Private Charles Wooldridge left his wife at Alma Terrace, when he went to Knightsbridge barracks with The Blues in 1895. She started an affair, and when he found out he stabbed her to death. Wooldridge was sent to Reading Gaol, and executed there. Oscar Wilde wrote in The Ballad of Reading Gaol of his bravery.

There was no tradition of flogging in The Blues. Between 1816 and 1827 there were about four floggings a year, but thereafter it became rare.

Troubles in the Crimea

Lord Raglan was Colonel of The Blues when he sailed for the Crimea in 1854. He had lost an arm at Waterloo, and was a successful Staff Officer on the Peninsula. But at sixty-five he had not led an operational army. He was brave, charming, but incompetent. He jumped in the mess when the French arrived, forgetting that they were allies. Horse Guards had thought a Transport Corps unnecessary, and now men lay dying of cholera through lack of provision for fresh food, and clean water. Moreover, all the horses were dying from glanders and farcy. Many horses were shot dead.

The Household Cavalry had not intervened in the Battle of Alma, although Lord Lucan had sworn they would. They could have taken Sebastopol there and then, but as it was they waited, and now had to besiege it for the long haul.

At the Battle of Balaclava, Sir Colin Campbell commanding the Highland Brigade, reinforced by Raglan's infantry, at 5 am had heard the Russian General Liprandi was moving 25,000 cavalry in 35 squadrons forward to take the Allied positions in front of Sevastopol. At daybreak, Raglan left the Light Brigade under Cardigan in reserve, whilst going with General Scarlett's Heavy Brigade and horse artillery to meet the Russian move.

The Russian cannon decimated the Allied horses. They successfully occupied the redoubts before launching an attack on the British positions at Balaclava. The horse artillery did return fire, but since the heavy horses had been sent back for supplies, there was no way of getting more ammunition. The 93rd Highlanders stood in a "thin red line" as the Russian Hussars charged down on towards them. The British waited until the last minute to give the order to fire. Almost upon the bayonets, the Russians wheeled first left and then right before disappearing towards their own lines. The Union Brigade (Heavy) of Scots Greys, Inniskillings, Dragoons and Blues were formed up by Scarlett as the black looking mass of 2,000 Russian Hussars and Lancers appeared over the hill. 300 of them charged the Russian lines and despite being heavily outnumbered managed to push the Russians back. Casualties were relatively light on both sides. This action was a relative success in contrast to the Light Brigade's charge against artillery led by Lord Lucan.

The Russians attacked the British trenches at Sebastopol on 5 November 1855, but cavalry were not involved. On 14 November the Allied camp was destroyed by hurricane winds. Ten ships were destroyed by fire, the road became muddy, and the rain came down in torrents. Then it began to snow. Allied soldiers were expected to sleep outdoors without proper equipment, and began dying in their hundreds.

The British cavalry moved to near the town of Balaclava, and were not as badly off as the infantry in the exposed trenches. More tragic for the cavalry was the loss of their horses as transports. On 12 December they were ordered to produce 500 mounts every day. By January 1856, the cavalry had managed to construct small wooden huts, and life slowly began to improve.[33] In February 1856, a light railway was built, which aided the arrival of remounts and recruits. A supply enquiry commission was despatched from London to investigate. Thereafter conditions began to markedly improve. To many, Campaign medals looked out of kilter with what they knew. Sebastopol fell in September 1855 with heavy losses to Allied infantry. In March 1856 a peace was negotiated in Paris.

The Cardwell Reforms

See main article Cardwell Reforms

Before the war in 1853, the sandy land near and around Aldershot was acquired by the War Office. When the Cavalry returned some of the regiments were sent back to that town. A permanent camp was ordered to be established here after the war. More garrisons were established at Colchester, Essex, Shorncliffe in Kent, and The Curragh, County Kildare, Ireland. From 1868 Edward Cardwell began a series of significant Liberal government reforms to the War Office and the army. He faced considerable opposition from the royal Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-chief. Cardwell's reforms were impactful for a generation. One important change was abolition of the purchase system. Cambridge led a spirited defence of it in parliament. The barrier in the cavalry to advancement was not so much purchase of a commission as the high cost of horses, uniform, and mess life.

From 1850 to 1899, 39 peers' sons served in The Blues: the highest concentration in the regiment's history (77 in Life Guards). John Brocklehurst was the son of Henry Brocklehurst a successful Macclesfield silk miller, who went on to be a major-general. It was typical of industrial classes 'in trade' to be contributing to the ranks of The Blues.

The problem was that the failure of the Crimea was down to a lack of professional education amongst the General Staff. One failing was that the legislation did not adequately replace the purchase system with an excellent substitute. So seniority became the main decision-maker when determining promotion. In practice promotion by merit on experience rarely happened. It was not until the Boer War that the chain of command itself was examined for weaknesses; and a committee established that laid the blame on insufficient officer education. In 1872 the system that Charles II had introduced in which Household officers automatically assumed a rank above other regiments was finally abolished.

Other reforms included making the C-in-C subordinate to the Secretary for War. In 1868 Cardwell abolished flogging and reorganized the regimental system. Cardwell recognized the advantage of a territorial army system. He realized the success of the German army in 1870 was due to speed, artillery, and the more efficient German breach loaders. He introduced 156 more artillery; but the officers could not agree that breach loaders were more efficient that the old muzzle loaders. The cavalry were increased by 1,700; rifled carbines were introduced, and the squadron replaced the troop as the main administrative unit during peacetime. Troopers had always been more respected than infantrymen on the field, stemming from the fact that as men of substance they provided their own horse. But since 'Waterloo men' had received a medal, more substantial changes had occurred: statutory periods of service allowed soldiers to serve for shorter periods, introduced a proper career plan, formalized record-keeping, and regularized pensions. Every soldier killed after 1870 had a headstone. Cardwell moved the C-in-C to the War Office, and the Financial Secretary and the Surveyor-General to War Office in Pall Mall, and then placed the QMG under the Adjutant-General; but stopped short of the 'Chief of Staff' option. The Cardwell reforms showed palpably in the defeat of the Mohammed Arabi revolt in 1882.

A Nile Expeditionary Force

In an 1871 speech to the Commons a Liberal MP hinted that due to the success of German Uhlans in defeat of the French, the era of Heavy Cavalry was over. He urged a radical solution of scrapping them as they were too costly to the Exchequer at £100 per man. Captain Reginald Talbot MP retorted that Uhlans at 20 1/2 stones were little lighter than the British Heavies at under 23 stones. But this remark referred to the Life Guards only. Talbot also pointed out that a cavalryman was on duty almost twice per every week, and in fact as to the allegations of drunkenness, the Guards were a very disciplined soldiery. He quoted the Duke of Cambridge, a former Commander-in-Chief that the guards were the flower of the imperial army. Sarcastic articles appeared in the press impugning their ability to stand in the rain without umbrellas.

The Arabi revolt was provoked by the overthrow of Khedive Tawfiq in Cairo, and the massacre of the British residents of Alexandria. The Life Guards lobbied for a return to the Waterloo system of a composite regimental system; one regimental battalion doing ceremonial duties, the other operational. The Adjutant-General and Colonel of The Blues in a famous letter of 7 July 1882 explained to Horse Guards that they could raise 450 officers and men for the Egyptian expedition, and that a squadron from each of the Household regiments would make up the force. This consisted of the two Life Guards squadrons and The Blues squadron. The latter was led by Lieutenant-colonel Milne Home.

As the Duke of Cambridge diary remarked on August 1, 1882 – "Went by special train to the Albert Docks to see 1st Life Guards and half the Royal Horse Guards embark in the Holland. Mr Childers went with me. All passed off well. Men in excellent spirits, and ship good and roomy".[34] As they departed Southampton Water under the overall command of Sir Garnet Wolseley, they sent thanks to the Queen at Osborne House. On 24 August the Household Cavalry were in action for the first time. They took the towns of El Magfar, "the Household troops made a fine charge with great success" on 16 August, Mahsamah. At Kassassin Lock Graham held his own "till the Cavalry came up and under Lowe, by moonlight, made a brilliant charge, destroying all before them, riding over 12 guns and entirely routing the Egyptians".[35] They were very short of food, and it was very hot. The huge British cavalrymen and horses towered over their enemy. They carried razor-sharp sabres on the 1848 steel pattern, Martini-Henry carbines, and pistols. There was a false alarm before the cavalry saw action at Mahsamah, charging Arabi infantry, who were supported by cannon. "Then the cheer we gave, then the few seconds of silence, and then the havoc and slaughter.".[36] The Blues on the left "For the first few minutes it looked as if they meant to shoot us down; and then it was our men's turn to butcher them."(John Brocklehurst).[37] One casualty Private Bennet was killed. The Blues were part of Wolseley's laudatory summation for the War Office.

By 12 September 1882, Wolseley was prepared enough to plan an attack on the strongly fortified Tel-el-Kebir.[38] He had 30,000 Sudanese and Egyptians, and 70 guns. Wolseley planned a surprise night march, and a dawn raid. On the 13th at 5 am they attacked with the Household cavalry on the right rolling up the flank, causing panic in the Arab ranks. They rode 60 miles in 24 hours, reaching Cairo the following day. On 20 October The Blues landed to a triumphal reception at Southampton. They processed amidst cheering crowds towards Regent's Park barracks. The Queen was relieved Arthur, Duke of Connaught had returned. Both Victoria and the Prince of Wales, who was temporarily staying at Bad Homburg wrote the regiments with congratulations[39] On October 21, Cambridge went to "Regents Park barracks to inspect the Squadron of the Blues. The men looked thin but in perfect health, and for the horses, though ragged, looked quite fit for work, and better than I expected".[40] The problem of enough suitable remounts remained with the army throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

In 1884 Mahomet Ahmed, a tribal leader claiming to be the Prophet Mahdi, led a Nationalist rising. General Hicks defeated the Khedive's troops at Kordofan in October 1883. But Valentine Baker was defeated by the Mahdi's General Osman Digna near Suakin. An expedition by General Graham from Cairo won two victories at El-Teb (February 1884) and Tamai (March 1884). Wolseley was called upon to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum. But the loss of Suakin made it impossible to execute operations on the River Nile. Wolseley took the radical step of forming a Camel Corps from the Household Cavalry regiments and The Royals totalling 200 hand-picked men. He also picked a light Guards regiment as infantry. They had left Aldershot via Southampton for Alexandria by 24 September, travelling down the Nile to Aswan, and thence by Camel they reached the big bend in the Nile by Christmas.

Imperial Heroism

The Blues were led by a renowned officer, Fred Burnaby. At 6 ft tall, and 20 st he was very strong, a weightlifter. Joined the Blues in 1859, paying £1,250 for a Cornet's commission. He achieved fame by travelling to Khiva in the Russian Steppes. From "forbidden" Khiva, he went to Bulgaria campaigning with his friend Pasha Valentine Baker. He was involved in the Carlist revolt of army officers in Spain. He crossed the channel by balloon. The Times reported on Gordon's plight, and Burnaby was their reporter in the Sudan. He stood in Birmingham as a Conservative against Joseph Chamberlain. Some officers complained that their extra marital affairs were being made public: but Burnaby was admired by the men in the regiment. In 1884 Burnaby was wounded at El Teb. But the public were dismayed to learn that he had fought in 'civvies' armed with a shot-gun. Leading the charge over the ramparts, blasting his shot-gun as he went, he was wounded in the arm, but rescued by a Highlander.[41] Burnaby again stood for parliament in Birmingham in 1883. He was determined to join the regiment and rescue his friend General Gordon. The War Office prohibited it: and so he announced he was going on holiday to South Africa, joining the Camel Corps at Korti, Sudan on 30 December 1884.

Wolseley detached the Camel Corps under Sir Herbert Stewart to march across the desert to Metemma, securing the wells at Gadkul on 12 January 1885. Having learnt how to handle camels in the saddle, they were expected to employ carbines and full kit as mounted infantry. They then had to secure more wells, and eventually encountering on foot, the enemy at Abu Klea, where 700 Mahdists charged them. The Gardner machine-gun jammed. They formed a defensive square, during which hand-to-hand fighting Burnaby fell, defended to the last by Corporal Mackintosh, who was killed. Lord Binning crept out twice to give Burnaby water. Major Lord Arthur Somerset of The Blues squadron wrote commanding officer to inform him of the heroic actions. On the second occasion Burnaby had been speared. In total 9 Officers and 65 men were killed, 94 wounded. As the British made their way to the Nile they were constantly harassed, exhausted and thirsty. As they boarded boats Sir Herbert was killed; and his Intelligence Officer to whom command was devolved dithered. Sir Charles Wilson reached Metemma on 19 January but was not able to repair down the Nile; Gordon was killed and Khartoum taken on 26 January 1885.

                       The soldier's friend, the best of men
                          Beloved of all his corps
                       So mourn you Royal Horse Guards Blues
                          Brave Burnaby no more.[42]

Twentieth century warfare – Boer War

Charles Villiers joined The Blues in 1887, was fluent in Swahili and Arabic, was a veteran of the Unyoyo campaign, East Africa, decorated by the Sultan of Zanzibar. He was seconded to Rhodes, and then took part in the Jameson Raid on 29 December 1895. Villiers was returned to the Blues with a promotion, and in 1899 was given command of South African Light Horse. In 1901, Major Hanbury-Tracy was eager to get into action, with a personal retinue of 50 men and 45 camels.

Since being made Colonel of the Blues, Lord Wolseley took great care to ask the Queen permission to send a squadron from each of the three Household regiments to South Africa. In total 35,000 men left, a Corps, trained at Aldershot in summer 1899 making it a foregone conclusion, they thought of a quick victory. Many of the leading officers were aristocrats.

The Tugela River posed a natural boundary to the Boer Republics to the north. Sir George White had unwisely tried to defend a line on a broad front, that was easily outflanked. The Boers had occupied British towns in the Cape and Natal. When Buller's expedition arrived in Cape Town Harbour in December 1899, his 30,000 troops faced a well-organized guerilla kommando of 40,000 Boer farmers. He appointed Lord Dundonald and Lieutenant-colonel Burn-Murdoch as commanders of the two cavalry brigades. The Blues found their horses were exhausted when they arrived off the train at Rensburg. Untrained, unused to the heat, under-fed, and over-worked the incidence of casualty for horses on the Veldt was exceptionally high. The enemy were faster and better adjusted to the landscape. In August and September 1900 the Cavalry were involved in chasing down the Boer General de Wet's army. They held the pass at Olifant's Nek in the Magliesburg mountains, just as Lord Kitchener was about to encircle and finish off the enemy's force of 2,600 Boer kommando. But General Sir Ian Hamilton ordered them to leave their positions and de Wet escaped. In November 1900, after parading in new kit at Pretoria, they arrived back in England, dressed in khaki, lending their appearance to the General Election of 1900.

In India, the lifestyle of soldiers had changed little since the Cardwell reforms. And the pay in 1910, for example for a Lieutenant was still only £230 per annum, whereas the average mess bill was £300. The common ground lay in the fact that officers men were drawn largely from agricultural communities[43] After the Boer War the 'privates' originally an abbreviation for 'private gentlemen' was formally a designation for the lowest rank, and instead Kitchener ordered trooper as the cavalryman's rank. The Blues were to share royal duties in London with Life Guards and the duties of Silver Stick, now designated for the commanding officers to share. The Composite regiment's war time footing, was also based at Windsor, whenever any one of the regiments was there. The Household regiments trained with the Cavalry division perfecting rifle musketry. They composite wore blue uniforms, which did not change until 1913.

In a famous judgement known as the Esher Award, Viscount Esher, Master of the Rolls awarded precedence to Household Cavalry over the Foot Guards (Grenadier Guards), although their colonel was known as "in brigade waiting", Esher found for the cavalry. The matter was then passed to Tory Lord Chancellor Halsbury who decided it was up to the King. The period between Boer and Great Wars was a happy one for the regiments in India. The Kaiser sent out the Crown Prince to visit the regimental HQs. But most jobs were mundane and rather dull.

First World War

When war broke out the regiment was at Combermere Barracks, Windsor (renamed after Clewer was demolished and rebuilt). One squadron came under the order of the Composite Household regiment. The Blues expeditionary element was commanded by Lord Crichton, known as "Pompey". On 14 August 1914, The Dowager Queen Alexandra said goodbye to the Blues in Regent's Park. As part of the Composite Regiment they were part of the 4th Cavalry Brigade, with the 3rd Hussars, and 6th Dragoon Guards, under a former Life Guard, Brigadier Cis Bingham. On 1 September, some were sent to Ludgershall on Salisbury Plain to train under orders of the 7th Cavalry Brigade.

The horses were less weighed down than during the Boer War; equipment included bandoliers, the 1913 pattern 'short' .303 Lee–Enfield, and a sword. The troopers wore khaki cap, pantaloons, puttees, black ankle boots, and spurs; water bottle and haversack, mess tins, horse feed, spare horse shoes, bucket, greatcoat and cape; two blankets. A limber carried two Vickers machine guns in a troop of 25 men. They were involved in skirmishes for four days from 20 August, and then on 27th, Allenby, GOC Cavalry division, ordered them to withdraw, after a chaotic battle at Mons.

Main article Battle of Mons

They withdrew at night, unaware of where the enemy was. Lieutenant 'Volley' Heath was exhausted in the saddle, when The Blues ran into German machine gun fire near the village of Nery. They surprised the Germans, but Heath was wounded and died that afternoon. On 4 September they stopped at a Chateau to catch some rest. After two days the German advance reached its apogee. The French stopped them at the Marne, and ordered the cavalry onto a counter-offensive. They attacked every day until on 12 September came across the Germans dug-in at Soissons. The German counter-attack on the Aisne included a heavy artillery bombardment. In October the BEF moved north, and the Household cavalry took over the village of Messines by 18th. According to the 1914–1918 website the Royal Horse Guards did not land at Zeebrugge until 7 October. But the advanced guard of elite forces fought in both Mons and Le Cateau whence they received the Mons Star, which has since been valued above the DCM.

On 30 October the Blues were operating in the zone around the village of Zanvoorde when the Germans attacked. On 20th the Cavalry Corps had joined up with Allenby's 3rd Division in the Ypres Salient, a front line that went east of Zonnebeke, around Polygon Wood, over the Menin Road (the road from Ypres to Menin) and then west of Zanvoorde towards Wytchaete and Messines, an area known as the Ypres Salient. From whence the Composite regiment (Life Guards 1 and 2 ) resisted an offensive on 31st.[44] A French cavalry brigade was sent east of Hooge as a dismounted detachment in support of 7th Cavalry Brigade at 5 pm.[45] The action had begun on 25 October when the Blues staging a daring operation covered the retreat of 20th Infantry brigade, on horseback. They galloped out to draw German shell fire. On 21 November 1914 the Royal Horse Guards were moved to the 8th Cavalry Brigade, which had only been formed the previous day. On Boxing Day (26 Dec) 1914, Sir Douglas Haig, a cavalry officer, took command of 1st Army BEF[46]

Table showing the structural dispositon of Royal Horse Guards
Unit Commander Dates
3rd Cavalry Division Major General Julian Byng 1914
7th Cavalry Brigade Brigadier Charles Kavanagh 1914
Royal Horse Guards Lt-Col G C Wilson (killed in action) 1911-Nov 1914
Royal Horse Guards Lt-Col Lord Tweedmouth Nov 1914-Feb 1922
Royal Horse Guards Hon H Dawney (k-i-a) Oct 1914-Nov 1914
8th Cavalry Brigade Brig Bulkeley-Johnston Nov 1914-Apr 1917
8th Cavalry Brigade Brig A Seymour Apr 1917 - Mar 1918
2nd Cavalry Division Maj Gen Hubert Gough Aug 1914 -
4th Cavalry Brigade Hon.C.E. Bingham Aug 1914 - May 1915
Composite Regiments Lt-Col T J J Torie Nov 1914-Jan 1915
Composite Regiments Lt-Col A F H Ferguson Jan 1915-May 1915
Composite Regiments Lt-Col T G J Torie May 1915-Dec 1915
Composite Regiments Lt-Col A F G Ferguson Dec 1915-Jan 1916
Composite Regiments Lt-Col T G J Torie Jan 1916-June 1916
Composite Regiments Lt-Col The Hon A F Stanley June 1916-1920

On Weds 11 April 1917, "A brigade of cavalry was then sent up to pass through... The cavalry then had to come back. 2 cavalry regiments were now holding Monchy village dismounted... General Bulkeley-Johnson commanding the 8th Cavalry Brigade (Vaughan's division) was killed near Monchy by machine gun bullet from north bank of the Scarpe. He was well behind his reserve regiment at moment. Kavanagh also feared that a good many horses had been hit... [General McCracken GOC 19th Div] ... one of his battalions took Monchy village yesterday and had been fighting for it all day, the Enemy having received orders to retake it at all costs...."[47] Haig recalled..."i rode out along the Cambrai road to see the HQ 3rd Division but went beyond the Faubourg St Saveur without finding it. I saw a number of cavalrymen marching back on foot having had their horses killed...."[48]

The dispute with Kavanagh: Machine Gun Regiment

On 7 November 1917 the Blues were moved back to 7th Cavalry Brigade, as one of the few regiments that remained mounted, all British regular cavalry remained mounted throughout the war except the Household Cavalry, following total reorganization of tank and cavalry brigades; tanks were utterly separate to cavalry. In February 1918 it was decided to reduce the cavalry by two divisions, to just three divisions. The two former Indian army cavalry divisional corps were sent from France to the Middle Eastern front, and 3rd Cavalry Division was extensively reorganized. One cavalry division in France was disbanded altogether. The decision was taken to convert the Yeomanry regiment and Household Cavalry into a Machine Gun regiment. They would be posted to the pillboxes that peppered the landscape along the trench front, at once trained at Camiers Machine Gun School, north of Etaples. Haig remarked "They seemed a splendid lot of officers...", They were "selected officers" as skilled and experienced soldiers tasked to stop an en masse onslaught of German Stormtroopers.[49] They were inserted with the intention of causing minimum disruption to the infantry of the line regiments. In March 1918 the 3rd Cavalry division moved to 1st Army BEF. General Haig was the old commander of his 1st Army Corps, whose own experience of cavalry regiments in South Africa and India regarded the Household Cavalry as more ceremonial and over-privileged.

The 7th Cavalry Brigade is composed of 3 Household Cavalry Regiments Kavanagh says it is a weakness in the Division; the men are very heavy and use up a large number of horses; also these regiments are not getting as good officers as the others. Kavanagh wishes the regiments set free from the Indian cavalry Division to be organized as a brigade to replace the Household regiments. The latter to be reduced to one Composite regiments as was the case at the beginning of the war[50]

In order to escape life in the trenches, several NCOs of Household regiments volunteered in January 1918 for service to West Africa. Major Lloyd of Life Guards wrote:

not that we minded being machine-gunners or anything else. We has a taste of most things in the campaign; but parting with our horses who were almost part of ourselves, and who had shared everything with us for three years, was a heavy blow. We had never been given a chance as cavalry.

The opportunity occurred more than once, but it had been allowed to slip, as at Cambrai, and we had been left in the lurch.Charles Kavanagh wrote about the changes although he regretted them, when he had advocated the move to machine guns. Colonel of the Blues, Sir Evelyn Wood, wrote Kavanagh: "You can picture my pleasant thoughts when i contrast the spirit of the BLUES turning to the duties of Machine Gunners, and the false swagger of the men a Light Dragoons".[51] There was always some regimental rivalry. The three regiments (and not just the one suggested by Kavanagh) re-trained as gunners at Etaples, and moved into motorized transport. In March 1918, the Germans broke through Gough's 5th Army lines and penetrated at least 5 miles, for the first time since 1914. It was clear the allied offensive would soon follow the faltering German advance, the 3rd Cavalry Division moved to 1st Army BEF, just as it was about to be dismounted.[52] On 3 March, General Haig had written Kavanagh explaining that

The situation with regard to manpower has made it necessary to convert to other uses certain units now in the field, and in consequence, the Army Council, with the consent of His Majesty the King, have issued orders that the three Household Cavalry Regiments are to be dismounted and converted into Army Machine Gun Battalions. I feel confident that since this reorganization has become necessary, it will be accepted with the loyalty and devotion with which every turn of fortune has been met by British Officers and men throughout the war, and that the Household Cavalry regiments will in their new role as Machine Gun Battalions maintain their old esprit de corps and add further honours to their very distinguished record. On the eve of the change, i wish to express to all belonging to these regiments my admiration of the fine services they have rendered since the beginning of the war.[53]

At Villeselve some HQ horsemen from Royals, Dragoon Guards and 10th Hussars saw some infantry in the sunken lanes "The Germans had taken up what positions they could in the open",[54] and wheeling round made, what was the last cavalry manoeuvre of its kind in Europe. As many as 70–100 enemy soldiers were killed by sabres.[55] In 1918 the regiment remounted on horses and were part of Allenby's army in Palestine mainly engaged in reconnaissance. On Monday 20 May 1918, Haig went to see Major General Deverell commanding 3rd Division, who complained of the lack of trained officers for battalion and company commanders in the fighting south of Arras and north of Lys.[56]

In June 1918 they re-formed the 3rd battalion (Royal Horse Guards) into the all new Guards Machine Gun Regiment. One squadron was reduced.

Main article Hundred Days Offensive

On 8 August 1918, Haig's "100 Days" began in front of Amiens when he ordered the attack that by the time of Armistice had taken the allies to the German border. But cavalry actions were heavily restricted due to the crater-pocked landscape of shell holes lined with barbed wire presenting "a death trap" to horses. White-Spunner calls the offensive "one of the most sophisticated ever mounted by the British Army, which saw for the first time the coordinated use of tanks, aircraft, cavalry and infantry".[57] Haig did not get along with Sir Henry Wilson, but in the Hundred days and later, Wilson was effusive in his praise of the Chief. Haig said "...I wrote you at the time and instead of attacking south of the Somme i started Byng's attack. I assure you I watch the drafts most carefully." As well as greater care shown to troops, the Great war years were most innovative of new technology, one of the most significant being the Stokes Mortar. "as early as Spring 1916, Haig was using cavalry in a sophisticated way, as part of an all-arms striking force, and in the looser warfare of the Hundred Days cavalry was an indispensable part of his range of resources.[58] Machine-gunners numbered 64 Vickers machine-guns per battalion. The Blues were ordered to support the 47th London Infantry Division, who later praised them for being mobile and tactically aware of their deployment to maximum effect. The gunners were desperately vulnerable to being exposed in the open by German artillery shell fire: 81 were killed in the 100 Days.

The Blues were located on the Sambre Canal and, on 4 November the last major British offensive took place. It was foggy weather enabling the men to get across the canal unseen along high hedged lanes. With no Germans to hold them back, all the reserves being committed, the attack advanced without further resistance. On Tuesday 5th, Haig offered Byng and Rawlinson Cavalry Corps in the direction of Maubeuge, but they both refused. The French however, the following day were much more positive about using Cavalry to force the River Scheldt. On Saturday 9 November, General Birdwood's Fifth Army cavalry received orders to cross the Scheldt, as the enemy was in full retreat. As the speed of advance accelerated more cavalry was required to join battle. On Monday 11 November at 11 am Haig had a meeting with all commanders at Cambrai, including General Kavanagh, when the Armistice already signed at 5 am, actually came into force. One Blues officer spoke of their emotional sentiments when finally the Armistice was called – and the silence[59] The Blues had lost 33 Officers and 140 men, plus eighteen officers and 420 men killed in the Household battalion.

Inter-War Years

On 10 February 1919 they were reorganized and permanently stationed in London throughout the Inter-war period. On 22 March 1919, the Household Cavalry in drab khaki, marched past King George V at Buckingham Palace. On 19 April a requiem was held at Westminster Abbey. 1st Life Guards went to Knightsbridge, 2nd Life Guards were at Windsor, and the Blues were sent to Regents Park barracks. In May 1921, they adopted the old rotation system again, but it only lasted for one year; and they were back to permanent barracks. As memories of the war melted away, the regiments lost their separate identities in civilian life. In the reorganisations that followed the Great War, the Life Guards 1st and 2nd were amalgamated with only two squadrons remaining; A and B being allocated to 1st, and C and D squadrons were to the 2nd Life Guards. General Allenby was Colonel of 1st and Sir Cecil Bingham of the 2nd were the Gold Sticks. This continued until they became the Life Guards in 1928.

The two Household regiments rotated the barracks at Windsor and Regent's Park barracks, and then when Regents Park became too cramped, from 1932, Windsor and Knightsbridge. In 1938 the Household Cavalry were ordered to Palestine still mounted as cavalry still actively engaged in ceremonial duties and with the 3rd Division, and did not arrive in Palestine until 1939. Horses still played a part in royal duties as well, but they saw no reason why the composite regiment could be mechanized.

Second World War

In 1918, Humphrey Wyndham who was with Life guards told Churchill that his preference was for Household Cavalry to become tank and not machine guns. "Then The Life Guards and Bluess would have led the way in the mechanization of the cavalry, instead of being made to follow it."[60] As it was they mobilized their horses in 1939; four of the officers in the Blues at that time were MFH.[61]"The horse, after serving as a medium of mobility in war from the earliest times, was in process of supersession by the internal combustion engine across the valley."[62] The Blues were at Windsor when war was declared on 3 September 1939. A reserve regiment remained in London to do ceremonials, whilst training regiments took place at Windsor. It was overcrowded when Regimental HQ Life Guards and two squadrons made their way there from London. B Squadron found accommodation at the Royal Hotel, and C Squadron went to the Old Etonian Club at Clewer Barracks, Windsor. 100 Reservists were drafed from other regiments for a full complement.[63]

King George VI was instinctively biased for the favour of the Household Cavalry expressing a wish to see both regiments involved in battle and doing ceremonial duties. From 30 September the king inspected the Composites and then each unit in turn. Remounts Depots were established to keep the regiments on horseback, but the Composite was short of horses. But it became clear from advice received from Bernard Law Montgomery that Remounts would soon have to be abandoned, which they were in Palestine in January 1940, when the Composite Regiment was renamed 1 HCR. They arrived at Haifa on 22 February under a new c/o Lt-Col Heyworth. The Royals were transferred into Armoured Cars; in their traditional scouting role, forming by 1941 a desert-capable A squadron. But the 1 HCR were not so fortunate in their experience of mechanization. Although the last mounted expedition took place at Plain of Esdraelon in October 1941, form their base at Tiberias on the Vichy-Syrian frontier "the last great mounted exercise ever to be undertaken by British cavalry in the Plain of Esdraelon, which has a nice Biblical sound and involved about two thousands horses."[64]

Horse or mechanized transport?

As early as 1918 one general had complained that HCR used up "a large number of horses" and are "not getting as good officers as the others."[65] In 1936 the regimental colonels went to lobby CIGS for the regiments to retain horses: Colonel of Life Guards, the Duke of Athlone, Colonel of the Blues, Lord Birdwood, and to lobby General Lord Ironside, but the final decision to become mechanized was not taken until February 1941. In the Judean desert they were ordered to end their Horse Cavalry days: horses older than 15 years were put down.

In April 1941, the Habforce, of which 1 HCR was a part, was transferred to Baghdad, where the previous month pro-Axis Rashid Ali had seized power. They were commanded by Brigadier Kingstone, and dubbed 'Kingcol' (short for Kingstone's column). The unit was very hastily assembled from bare essentials under Technical Adjutant, Lord Roderic Pratt. There was only one radio per squadron; and water rationing.

On 9 May 1941, 1 HCR were ordered to prepare to move with a 2-inch mortar per troop, Hotchkiss, and later Bren machine-guns (much as they had been armed in 1914): the operation across the desert by was one of the most illustrious in the earlier period of the war. There was a heatwave as they followed the oil pipeline to join Glubb Pasha's Arab Legion at the Rutba Oasis. The column covered 700 miles in six days, led by Household Cavalry officers, awarded amongst them several MCs. C Squadron was stationed at Fallujah, to hold the Euphrates against any attack from Baghdad. The advance on the capital began on 27 May. c/o Lt-Col Andrew Ferguson took the main force north, while C Squadron circled south of the city. Faced by an Iraqi division, and flanked by another regiment, the British Regimental HQ was attacked, but repulsed. B Squadron had a sharp fight at Al-Khadimain, and a display of singular courage in the face of the enemy by Corporal of Horse, Maxted. But the Germans in Baghdad called a truce, and on 31 May, C Squadron were billeted in the city's railway station unopposed.[66]

Phase 2 of Operation, Iraqi desert

Crossing the Iraqi desert in search of El Fawzi el Rashid, and a column from A Squadron was tasked with picking them up, commanded by Major Merry, who was known as 'Mercol'.[67] Three troops were ambushed as they approached Fawzi's position at Abu Kemal, while Wellesley's troop worked round to the south. Lieutenant Wellesley's radio comms were intercepted by a captured armoured car, taken by Fawzi's men off RAF Habbaniya.

The operation to seize a notorious German agent, Fritz Grobba was carried out by B Squadron led by Major Eric Gooch. Gooch's unit occupied Mosul Airfield, taken from the Germans. It was thought Grobba was hiding at Kameschle in Vichy Syria. They entered the territory on 7 June, stopped by an inquisitive guard post. The mission explained, they swung back to cut the telegraph lines, driving into a French patrol. At Kameschle the commandant told them to leave as Grobba had fled the day before. Unknown to the French, on a wider front the invasion of Syria had begun on 20 June. The next day (on 21 June) they crossed into Syria under a united force of 'Mercol' and 1 HCR watching Fawzi threatening their flank and they advanced westwards. As A Squadron guarded a French Foreign Legion garrison at T2 Pumping-Station, the remainder pressed the advance towards Palmyra.

Strafed by enemy planes, they moved into the hills above Palmyra, partly on foot. Palmyra fell on 3 July 1941. Lt. John Shaw and Lt. Valerian Wellesley of the Blues were awarded MCs. On 15 July they attacked a ridge occupied by the Foreign Legion at Djerboua. On 15 July 1941 they were lauded by Winston Churchill, at a time during the war when there were few victories, for the capture of the oasis and declaration of surrender by the French regime. They quickly moved into Aleppo. The c/o left a report to

give further accounts to the public ... of Syrian fighting, marked as it was by so many picturesque episodes, such as the arrival of His Majesty's Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards, in armoured cars, across many hundreds of miles of desert, to surround and capture the oasis of Palmyra.[68]

The 1 HCR left Aleppo on 5 August, driving back to the border cross-roads at the town of Khanaquin. Crossing the border into northern Persia they reached the Pai Tak Pass in the Zagros Mountains on 27 August. They did not meet any Persian resistance; they moved into Tehran on 17 September with the Russians in a simultaneous advance to avoid political problems with the Communists. The Russians pre-empted the issue arriving hours before; the 1 HCR bound to pass through Red Army checkpoints which the Russians had occupied at 1 a.m., sweltering in thick green uniforms. The Persians spoke French enabling some communication with the mono-language Russians. They only spent ten days there before driving 1,000 miles back to Jerusalem. 1 HCR had lost only 9 killed and 19 wounded, 5 accidents and 7 diseases. Having just converted from horses they had little or no experience of driving.

Battle honours

Colonels —with other names for the regiment

from 1750: Royal Horse Guards Blue

On 1 July 1751 a royal warrant provided that in future regiments would not be known by their colonels' names, but by their "number or rank".

from 1877: Royal Horse Guards (The Blues)
from 1969 Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons) amalgamated with the Royal Dragoons

See also


  1. Barney White-Spunner, Horse Guards (Macmillan 2006), p.56
  2. White-Spunner, p.70
  3. Sir G. Arthur, The Story of the Household Cavalry, 1, p.92.
  4. Barney White-Spunner, "Horse Guards" (Macmillan 2006), p.47
  5. Arthur, p.149
  6. White-Spunner, p.121
  7. Diary of Abraham de la Pryme, ed Charles Jackson (Surtees Soc. 1870), pp.43–44, cited in Childs, "The British Army under William III", p.5; White-Spunner, p.111
  8. Holmes, p.122
  9. anecdotal evidence from a Horse Guards officer in 1718, White-Spunner, p.90; Holmes, Marlborough, p.122
  10. Holmes, p.158
  11. White-Spunner, p.83
  12. George Malcolm Thomson, "The First Churchill: The Life of John, 1st Duke of Marlborough" (Secker and Warburg, 1979), p.69
  13. White-Spunner, p.197
  14. Household Cavalry Museum, White-Spunner, p.198
  15. White-Spunner, p.200-3
  16. Edmund Cox's Diary, NAM 8208-195-1
  17. Dr Buchanan's Diary, cited in White-Spunner at p.212.
  18. Dispatches of the Duke of Cumberland, cited in White-Spunner, p.215
  19. Diary of Edmund Cox, cited in White-Spunner, p.242
  20. White-Spunner, p.249
  21. White-Spunner, p.252
  22. 5 locations: Hertford, Hertfordshire; Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; Stamford, Lincolnshire; Derby, Derbyshire. London for George III's Ceremonial duties
  23. Note: White-Spunner refers to the Prince as Duke of Coburg. In actual fact due to a morganatic marriage he was disbarred from the inheritance which was his by birthright. Ernest, Duke of Coburg was a politician and courtier, not a soldier.
  24. It was the Duke of York's words. The story was handed down to Edmund Packe by his father, who joined The Blues in 1799 and fought at Waterloo.
  25. White-Spunner, p.277
  26. White-Spunner, p.304
  27. Private Peel, The Blues, a letter to his sister, (Household Cavalry Museum, f.22/572/2)
  28. White-Spinner, p.338
  29. Private Robert Peel, HCM, no.22/572/2
  30. The Historical Record of The Life Guards, p.23
  31. White-Spunner, p.349
  32. "A brief history of cricket". ESPN cricinfo. ESPN Sports Media Ltd. 1841 General Lord Hill, commander-in-chief of the British Army, orders that a cricket ground be made an adjunct of every military barracks.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. White-Spunner, p.382
  34. HRH George, Duke of Cambridge: A Memoir, p.104
  35. Cambridge, p.108
  36. Capt. Reginald Talbot, as cited by Marquess of Anglesey, History of the British Cavalry, 2, p.286-7
  37. Anglesey, p.287
  38. White-Spunner, p.397
  39. White-Spunner, p.400
  40. Cambridge, p.109
  41. White-Spunner, p.402
  42. the tribute to their heroic c/o was written by Private Cameron, The Blues, – White-Spunner, p.407
  43. White-Spunner, p.437
  44. White-Spunner, p.425
  45. Sheffield & Bourne, p.77
  46. ed. G Sheffield & J Bourne, Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters, 1914–1918, p.23
  47. Sheffield & Bourne, p.279-80
  48. Sheffield & Bourne, p.280
  49. Sheffield and Bourne, p.379
  50. Haig Diaries, Acc. 3155, NLS; entry for Tues 15 Jan 1918, HCM
  51. Arthur, Story of the Household Cavalry, vol.3, pp.196–7
  52. 10 March 1918, Household Cavalry was dismounted and as battalions; Blues were no.3 Guards Machine Gun Regiment
  53. Haig to Sir Charles Kavanagh, HCM; Sheffield & Bourne, p.386
  54. Lloyd, A Trooper in the tins, HCM
  55. Official History of 6th Cavalry Brigade
  56. Sheffield & Bourne, p.424
  57. White-Spunner, p.500
  58. Reid, p.466
  59. , The King's Grace
  60. Wyndham, The Household Cavalry at war: First Household Cavalry Regiment, p.2; cited by White-Spunner, pp.496–97
  61. White-Spunner, p.497
  62. Wyndham, The Household Cavalry at war: First Household Cavalry Regiment, pp.2–3.; cited by White-Spunner, pp.496–97
  63. White-Spunner, p.502
  64. Letters of Maj.J.Hamilton-Russell, 14 Aug 1943; White-Spunner, p.506
  65. Sir C Kavanagh, RHG War Diary, 15 Jan 1918, HCM
  66. Private Diary of Lt V Wellesley, 1941; White-Spunner, p.512
  67. Summers, Nine Weeks, p.20; White-Spunner, p.513
  68. de Chair, The Golden Carpet, p.6
  69. The London Gazette: no. 16692. p. 105. 12 January 1813.
  70. White-Spunner, p.356
  71. The London Gazette: no. 18327. p. 153. 23 January 1827.
  72. The London Gazette: no. 18747. p. 2420. 19 November 1830.
  73. The London Gazette: no. 20180. p. 3820. 23 December 1842.
  74. The London Gazette: no. 21551. p. 1442. 9 May 1854.
  75. The London Gazette: no. 21764. p. 3128. 17 August 1855.
  76. The London Gazette: no. 23480. p. 1809. 19 March 1869.
  77. The London Gazette: no. 25536. p. 5870. 4 December 1885.
  78. The London Gazette: no. 26624. p. 2774. 14 May 1895.
  79. The London Gazette: no. 28080. p. 7683. 15 November 1907.
  80. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31488. p. 9948. 1 August 1919.
  81. The London Gazette: no. 33364. p. 1678. 9 March 1928.
  82. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39297. p. 4093. 27 July 1951.




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  • The Makins-Heyworth Correspondence, HCM, Box 7 AB2380
  • PRO WO 5/1, f.53 (Blues)
  • PRO WO 5/2
  • Dr Buchanan's Diary, HCM
  • Edmund Cox's Journal, NAM 8208/95-1
  • Granby Papers, Rutland MSS, Misc., Boxes 69 and 163, and BM Collections.
  • Northumberland corresppondence with Hill, NAM ff.6309-138

External links