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Coldstream Guards, The - Actions in World War 1 (Great War) to 1915

Updated on February 5, 2015

Coldstream Guard

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A Coldstream Guard in parade uniform
A Coldstream Guard in parade uniform
A Coldstream Guard in parade uniform | Source

The Coldstream Guards up to the First World War

The Coldstream Guards is the regiment which was raised by George Monck, and which fought under Cromwell at Dunbar. In December 1659, it was camped, during three weeks of piercing cold, in the village of Coldstream on the Tweed, and on New Year's Eve it set out for London, where it had some share in restoring Charles II. to his throne.

In 1661 that king took the regiment into his service, and since it has been known as the 'Second' or 'Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards'. In the two hundred and sixty years of life to the start of the Great War, it had won glory in nearly all parts of the world.

The Coldstreamers fought at Mons in 1678, and under Dutch William at Namur. At Malplaquet, and again at Fontenoy, the regiment was nearly destroyed, and, having crossed over to America, it suffered heavily at Guildford in 1781.

It was with Wellington in the Peninsula, where the corpses of the Coldstreamers littered the fields at Talavera and Barossa; at the crisis of the Battle of Waterloo they held the farm at Hougomont; and they endured to the end through the fog of Inkerman.

They fought in South Africa under Pole-Carew, advancing at Belmont and forcing their way across the Modder.

Quote from Fortescue's 'History of the British Army'

"Though ranking second on the list of our infantry, this is the senior regiment of the British Army. Other corps may boast of earlier traditions, but this is the oldest national regiment and the sole survivor of the famous 'New Model'. Well may it claim, in its proud Latin motto 'Nulli Secundus', that it is second to none." - Fortescue's "History of the British Army".

Coldstream Guards' Badge

The Star of the Order of the Garter in silver. Formed by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. The regiment's motto is 'Nulli Secundus'.
The Star of the Order of the Garter in silver. Formed by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. The regiment's motto is 'Nulli Secundus'. | Source

Battle of the Mons

Bataille des Mons

At Mons Again After 236 Years

The men who landed in France in August 1914, were soon to show themselves worthy successors of the heroes who fought and fell upon these bloody fields. The 1st Battalion was in the 1st Brigade and the 1st Division, and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were in the 4th Brigade and the 2nd Division, thus being also called the 'Guards Brigade' because it consisted wholly of Guardsmen. All three battalions were in the 'First Army Corps', commanded by Sir Douglas Haig.

It would be impossible in an article, to give anything like a full account of the work done by these three battalions even during the first year of the Great War; it was too great and too glorious. I shall, therefore confine this article to four actions in which the Coldstreamers specially distinguished themselves

  • their stand at Mons,
  • their fight at Landrecies,
  • their deeds at the first Battle of Ypres, and
  • their struggle in the brickfields at Cuinchy.

After a few days spent near Boulogne the Coldstreamers, like the other battalions, were sent forward to the front, and on Sunday morning, August 23rd, they were shown their position, and at once put to work to dig trenches in the fields in which they were. The 1st Battalion was near Binche, where the French and British lines met, and the 2nd and 3rd were about midway between that place and Mons.

Each battalion held about half a mile of the line, certain companies being in front and others in reserve.

Late in the afternoon, the German guns opened fire, and soon the officers, by means of their glasses, could see their infantry pressing forward. When they came within range the Coldstreamers, almost all of them skilled marksmen, fired steadily and at the word into the advancing masses, remaining undisturbed in spite of the heavy artillery fire, which was directed by aeroplanes, and of the fresh forces which were continually hurled against them.

They were neither beaten nor broken, but alas! the French had gone from the British right, and Germans were working round it , so to save his corps Sir Douglas Haig ordered the men to draw slowly back towards Bray.

This was the beginning of the Great Retreat, which was undertaken in earnest as soon as darkness fell. On that Sunday, Lord Plymouth's son, the Hon. Archer Windsor-Clive, was killed, the first name on a long list soon to be added to the Coldstreamers' roll of honour.

During the retreat Sir Douglas Haig entrusted to the Brigade of Guards the hazardous, if honourable, duty of protecting the rear of his corps, and in this brigade were the 2nd and 3rd Coldstreams.

As an officer wrote:

"Our job was to take up successive positions and hold on to them till ordered to vacate them"

On one of these occasions the 2nd Coldstreamers were told to hold a position for four hours to enable the remainder of the brigade to get safely away. The men entrenched themselves, and prepared to obey the order, but at once the German guns, having in some way or another discovered the spot, began to pepper them.

Quickly Lieutenant-Colonel G. P. T. Fielding, D.S.O., their commanding officer, moved them back about two hundred yards into some fields of clover and roots, and there they remained until the four critical hours had elapsed.

Coldstream Guards at Landrecies

Coldstream Guards' immortal action at Landrecies
Coldstream Guards' immortal action at Landrecies | Source

Immortal Landrecies

This rearguard duty was responsible for the Battle of Landrecies. On the night of Monday, the 24th, the tired Battalion of Guards slept where they could in fields and barns until 3:30 in the morning, when they were ordered to move. Wearily they tramped along mile after mile, and in the afternoon they reached the little town of Landrecies, and hoped for a good night's rest. But this was not to be.

At four o'clock, just after their arrival, there was a false alarm: but as the Germans were known to be advancing, at seven o'clock a company of the 3rd Coldstreamers was sent out to barricade and stretch wire across the streets. This was done, and soon the sound of marching was heard.

At first it was thought the marchers might be French soldiers, but they were not. They were Germans, and they opened fire upon the Coldstreamers. This was returned, and the Battle of Landrecies began.

The battle was fought at night, and in the streets, which were a scene of carnage and confusion. As soon as ever the alarm was given troops rushed for their arms, and the remainder of the 3rd Coldstreamers was sent out to meet the foe, while the other battalions prepared defences in the town.

Well and truly did the Coldstreamers play their allotted part through that terrible night. Some lay across the streets, others worked machine-guns in sheltered positions, while others rushed forward and drove their bayonets into the enemy, all being under a steady fire from the guns brought up by the Germans in the dark.

At one point a detachment of sixty men lined a street about seventy-five yards (about 65 to 70 metres) behind some wire on which they had hung a tin can. It was too dark to see the Germans, but the Coldstreamers knew where they were when the can rattled against the wires, and then they let them have it.

The enemy, however, got round to the rear of the men, who retired a few yards, and into the town by other ways. Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand and with bayonets, but the scene baffled description.

Just before daylight the Coldstreamers, who had lost five officers and about a hundred and fifty men, were relieved by the Irish Guards, but their stubborn valour had saved the corps. Leaving many dead behind them, the Germans retired before the morning.

Battle of Landrecies

Battle of Landrecies by William Barnes Wollen
Battle of Landrecies by William Barnes Wollen | Source

The First Battle of Ypres 1914

Private Dobson V.C.

Private F.W. Dobson recipient of the Victoria Cross
Private F.W. Dobson recipient of the Victoria Cross | Source

Sgt. C.F. Hayman

Sergt. C.F. Hayman, Coldstream Guards, awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (D.S.M.) for gallantry in the field.
Sergt. C.F. Hayman, Coldstream Guards, awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (D.S.M.) for gallantry in the field. | Source

Heroism At Ypres

Before the Great Battle of Ypres, which began on October 19th, the three battalions had lost many officers and men, mostly in the fighting on the Marne and the Aisne, and although drafts had arrived to fill the gaps, they were not at full strength.

Viscount Hawarden (Robert Cornwallis Maude, 6th Viscount Hawarden), a lieutenant, and Captain Banbury and Captain Fuller-Maitland were dead, and so were two gallant subalterns, bearers of historic names - Percy Wyndham and Geoffrey Lambton.

Two or three had been taken prisoners and several, including Capt Hon Charles Henry Stanley Monck, a kinsman of the founder, and Captain F. Hardy, wounded.

It must not be forgotten that, on September 28th Frederick William Dobson, of the 2nd battalion, had won the first Victoria Cross gained by the Guards during the war, and that Second-Lieutenant Merton Beckwith Smith, of the 1st Battalion, had earned the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.). On October 4th, near Vandresse, he led fifty men in an attack on some German trenches, which were taken.

When the Battle of Ypres opened, the three battalions of Coldstreamers were all with the rest of the First Corps in front of Ypres, actually on the road leading from Bixschoote to Zonnebeke, and from there they advanced, on the 21st, a little way towards Bruges.

But this was all the progress that was made, for the Germans, as at Mons, were coming on in overwhelming strength, and the men had their work cut out to hold them back.

On the 22nd the Germans broke through the line where the 1st Coldstreamers were, but the Guards stood firm, and on the 24th they were relieved by some French Territorials.

During the second stage of this long battle, the Coldstreamers were all between Zonnebeke and Gheluvelt, the most important part of the line, and there on the 29th the 1st Battalion was in the thick of the fight.

The men were driven from their trenches, and four companies were surrounded; but many of them refused to surrender and died fighting. One of these was the Honourable Vere Douglas Boscawen, a son of Lord Falmouth.

The remaining companies met a still fiercer attack two days later, being again driven from the trenches: and by the time the day was done, the 1st Battalion had ceased to exist as a fighting unit.

Ypres - The Slaughter of the Innocents 1914-15

Prussian Guards Outmatched

On the same day, one of the two critical days of this battle, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions had a terrible ordeal. They had been moved to protect a most important position at Klein Zillebeke, which Sir Douglas Haig said must be held at all costs - and at all costs they did hold it.

The stubborn attack delivered on October 31st was repeated, with less vigour, on the following day, and again on November 5th; but the Germans did not prevent the Guards from advancing and capturing some machine-guns on the 7th, or from being ready for the Prussian Guard on the 11th.

This assault failed, and the Coldstreamers - or what was left of them - were still in front of Ypres when the battle died away.

But a terrible price had been paid for this success. The three battalions cannot have lost much less than 1,500 men, and among the officers killed were:

and many more. Four captains were among the missing, and one or two of these were certainly dead.

Michael O'Leary's Part

Small wonder that after this trial by fire the Guards were given a rest; but they were again ready for the toe in January.

At that time the 1st Battalion of the Coldstreamers was entrenched in a brickfield near Cuinchy, and on January 25th these were attacked and blown in. A counter-attack was organised, but the Germans could not be wholly driven out, and for the next ten days the fight for the brickfield continued.

To help in this struggle, the 4th Brigade, in which were the 2nd and 3rd coldstreamers, was brought up to Cuinchy; but they had only just got there when, on February 1st, the 2nd Battalion was driven from its trenches, which a determined counter-attack failed to recover.

But now a second-lieutenant, Arthur Leigh-Bennett, came to the rescue, and so did the Irishman, Michael O'Leary. Under Leigh-Bennett, fifty men of the Coldstreamers and thirty of the Irish Guards recovered all of the lost ground and took some machine-guns. Finally, the 3rd Coldstreamers, on February 6th, drove the Germans from another section of the brickfield.

In the fighting at Cuinchy, Viscount Northland and several subalterns were killed.

Coldstream Guards Mentioned in Dispatches

19th October 1914

1st Battalion

  • Lieutenant-Colonel J. Ponsonby, D.S.O.
  • Captain W. St. A. Warde-Aldam.
  • Lieutenant and Adjutant G. Campbell.
  • Lieutenant J. C.-Wynne Finch.
  • No. 1395 Company Quartermaster-Serjeant. J.Duggan.
  • No. 6901 Serjeant A. White.
  • No. 10118 Lance-Corporal N. Mitchell.
  • No. 6866 Serjeant T Harris.
  • No. 9179 Corporal (temporary Serjeant) T. Fletcher.

2nd Battalion

  • Lieutenant-Colonel C. E. Pereira.
  • Major R. A. Markham.
  • Captain F. Hardy.
  • Captain G. B. S. Follett.
  • Serjeant-Major J. Clancey.
  • No. 1174 Company Serjeant-Major G. Link.
  • No. 5948 Serjeant W. Watson.
  • No. 4943 Lance-Corporal A. Brown.
  • No. 6840 Private F. W. Dodson.

3rd Battalion

  • Lieutenant-Colonel G. P. T. Fielding, D.S.O..
  • Major T. G. Matheson.
  • Captain A. Tritton.
  • Lieutenant and Adjutant A. Smith.
  • Second Lieutenant C. M. Cotrell Dormer.

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    • humahistory profile image
      Author

      Chaz 3 years ago from UK

      Thanks Lions - it has taken a lot of work to track down both the information and relevant links, but it is all worthwhile. You are so right with your comment about the slaughter - especially when one considers that some regiments were practically rendered defunct. Then another set of 'lambs' were sent forth. 'Blackadder' got it so right - see 'Blackadder goes forth'.

      All war is horrendous.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Tremendous article. Very important stuff. The slaughter of WWI is still hard to imagine. What makes it more powerful is listing the names of the men (the links are great too). It cuts across all social strata. Voted up. Keep up the good work.