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Royal Scots Greys, The - Actions on the Western Front to 1915 (World War 1, First Great European War, WWI)

Updated on February 5, 2015

Royal Scots Greys Trooper

Trooper of the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons) in review order.
Trooper of the Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons) in review order. | Source

First Casualty of the Great War

"We went through them like brown paper," said Sir Philip Chetwode

of the British cavalry against German cavalry in the early days of the Great War, and one of the regiments which did this was the famous Royal Scots Greys, or 2nd Dragoons, the heroes of Waterloo.

The Greys had gained another unfortunate distinction in those days, one which may easily be forgotten, considering the many and long lists of casualties that followed. The very first casualty reported in the Great War was of an officer of the Greys. On August 22nd, the day before Mons, a young Scottish nobleman, the Earl of Leven and Melville, was 'dangerously wounded' in its ranks.

With the 12th Lancers and the 20th Hussars, the Scots Greys formed the 5th Cavalry Brigade, led by Sir Philip Chetwode, whose name was the very first mentioned in Sir John French's first despatch.

Quote from Froissart

"These Scottish men are right hardy and sore travailing in harness and in wars." - Froissart.

Royal Scots Greys Drummer

Drummer of the Royal Scots Greys in review order.
Drummer of the Royal Scots Greys in review order. | Source

First Shots of the War

On Friday, August 21st, 1914, Sir John French, just arrived at Mons from Paris, was arranging his army, for the coming battle, with his Staff. No spare troops were available for a reserve. His four divisions of infantry were all required in front, and as the men marched up they were set to work digging trenches.

In this circumstance Sir John decided to use his cavalry as a reserve, and after discussions with their leader, General Allenby, orders were given to them.

However, it was also absolutely imperative to scout for news on German positions, so it was decided that the 5th Brigade would be used for this purpose. Sir John wrote:

The forward reconnaissance was entrusted to Brigadier-General Sir Philip Chetwode, with the 5th Cavalry Brigade."

Early on Saturday morning the Greys had mounted, and their colonel, C. B. Bulkeley-Johnson, was imparting orders on his officers. They rode out for several miles, beyond a belt of forest in front of Mons, and occasionally they saw Germans undertaking a similar task.

This was not a manoeuvre on Salisbury Plain, so bullets shot out, and on one or two occasions the scouting parties rode at the enemy, although their real object was information gathering, not fighting.

They did enough of the latter, however, to show that the Germans they were in no way inferior. It was in one of these little skirmishes that Lord Leven was seriously wounded.

Greys in a Cavalry Battle

The Greys were out all day, the most exciting day the younger men among them had ever spent, and with their information they returned at nightfall.

During the next day they were near Binche when the battle started, on the extreme right of the British line. Then the retreat began. The cavalry were ordered to cover it.

The Allied forces were haranged by the Uhlans, who rode at Smith-Dorrien's exhausted infantry at Le Cateau and elsewhere, but the cavalry managed to drive them off, Chetwode's brigade being to the fore.

Two days later, on Friday, a regular cavalry battle occurred, where the Germans were routed. Smith-Dorrien's corps was being pursued from St. Quentin by two large bodies of German cavalry, and to relieve the situation General Allenby ordered the 3rd and the 5th brigades, to turn around and engage the pursuers.

Chetwode's men, including the Greys, were sent against one column, which was at Cerizy. When the column clashed, the leading German regiment was broken up, the others were thrown into disorder, and the whole lot fled, followed by the Greys, who drove their swords into them as they caught them up.

"Scotland for Ever!"


How history repeated itself at St. Quentin. The daring stirrup-charge by the Royal Scots Greys and Highlanders, which revived the most dramatic incident of the Battle of Waterloo, the subject of Lady Butler's picture, "Scotland for Ever!"

Second-Lieutenant Sir Gawaine G.S. Baillie, Bart.

Sec.-Lieut. Sir Gawaine G.S. Baillie, Bart.
Sec.-Lieut. Sir Gawaine G.S. Baillie, Bart. | Source

"A Sight for the Gods!"

After a few lessons of this kind, the German pursuit became less vigorous. In one of their charges the Greys lost a senior officer, Major F. Swettenham, who was killed, and a little later a junior officer, Sir Gawaine G. S. Baillie, Bart.

A curious occurrence was reported as having happened about the same time. The report goes that the Greys, after a charge where some had been wounded, received orders to retreat. As they reeled around they saw Prussian officers cutting the wounded with their swords, which caused them great concern.

Instead of obeying the order, a non-commissioned officer led them towards the enemy. With their officers following behind, they hacked their way through the Germans.

"Having got through," the story continued, " the officers took command again, formed them up, wheeled, and came back the way they went. It was a sight for the gods!"

Such was the gallantry of the regiment as a whole. Two individual acts of heroism performed at a similar time are worth reciting.

It was reported that a party was ordered to go out with a stretcher and bring in a wounded man. One of the men ordered did not look fit for the job at hand, so Private J. Mutter said he was stronger and would go instead of him. He went, but was mortally wounded, another name being written high on Britain's roll of heroes.

Private H. McCready, also of the Greys, attended to the last needs of a dying comrade for two hours, under incessant heavy fire. Both were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.).

Romanovs: Tsar Nicholas II: Scots Greys

Some Heroes of the Greys

Whilst on the subject of honours, others were awarded to this regiment during the early days of the Great War. Two officers,

were among those who received the new distinction of the Military Cross.

Later the Tsar of Russia, the Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment, added a few more:

One of those honoured at this time by the Tsar was Prince Arthur of Connaught, who was an officer of the Greys, although not serving with it at the time.

Der Weihnachtsfriede von 1914 - 1

The Dragoons' Battle-Honours

Before reporting on the Scots Greys in the trenches in Flanders it may be prudent to look at the history of the regiment.

In 1678 three troops of dragoons were raised in Scotland, and three years later these and some other troops were united to form the Royal Regiment of Dragoons of Scotland, for that country had its own little army until 1707.

They fought under William of Orange in Flanders, but it was under Marlborough that they won their great name, and since then they have been known to all the world, on account of the grey horses which they rode, as the Scots Greys.

The original dragoons were mounted infantry, not cavalry in the strict sense, and they were called dragoons because the carbine which they carried was popularly named the dragon.

At Schillenberg the Greys rode after the routed Bavarians. They were at the great battles of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet. In all but the last two fights, a woman, Christian Davies or Christian Ross, rode in their ranks; her sex not being discovered until she was wounded at Ramillies.

The Greys captured a French standard at Dettingen. They lost heavily at Fontenoy. At Langfeld they protected the retreat of the infantry. At Warburg they were more than a match for the French cavalry.

Der Weihnachtsfriede von 1914 - 2

Scots Greys' Immortal Charge

Willems and Waterloo were great days in the history of the Greys. At Willems they charged down upon the French infantry, but, finding the squares firm, one of their officers rushed his horse on to the bayonets and so made a gap through which the Greys rode. In a few minutes the French squares were broken, and the British had won the battle.

Their charge at Waterloo is immortal : The grey horses dashing down the slope, with the Gordons clinging to the stirrups of the riders, the fleeing French infantry and the initial shouts of "Scotland forever!"

The Greys rode with the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava, and went right through the South African War, but there was not much use for cavalry in the little campaigns of the late nineteenth century.

The connection of the regiment with Scotland had been steadily kept up since 1707, when it became part of the British Army, as the Second Regiment of Dragoons. The Scots Greys' headquarters being at Dunbar, and with the thistle appearing on its colours, its ranks were always full of Scots.

The Capture of Messines

Greys' Hero of Messines

Early in October the Greys were moved from the Aisne to Flanders. Under General Hubert Gough they helped to clear the Germans from around Cassel, and to discover the strength of the enemy's positions on the Lys.

About this time the cavalry were dismounted, owing to the numerical weakness of the British Army, and sent into the trenches. The Greys were near Klein Zillebeke, where they remained throughout the earlier part of the first Battle of Ypres.

On October 30th they moved forward to support other cavalry under the Hon. Julian Byng. They held on until nightfall, when they were relieved.

The following two days saw the Greys and the rest of the Brigade, now in trenches near Messines, repeatedly attacked. During the night of October 31st one of their officers, Sec.-Lieut. Osmond Williams, led a counterattack of the 12th Lancers in which he managed to dispose of no less than eleven Germans.

On a previous occasion he had shown great gallantry in reconnoitring at night and discovering those enemy activities that were occurring. Later he transferred, as a captain, to the new Welsh Guards. He was killed at Loos in September, 1915.

On Sunday, November 1st, the 5th Brigade, which included the Greys, were driven from their trenches, which they were unable to retake. After that they rested until February, when they returned to muddy trenches, somewhere between Bixschoote and Gheluvelt.

The Greys at Neuve Chapelle and Ypres

When Sir Henry Rawlinson sent word, during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, that no further action by the cavalry was advisable, the men of Chetwode's Brigade, who were out at the time, ready to follow up any success gained by the infantry, were bitterly disappointed.

They were treated, during the second Battle of Ypres, to a little of "Kultur's" latest weapon, poison gas. On May 13th the 5th Brigade had taken the place of another which had lost very heavily, and eleven days later came the gas, driven in clouds by a north-eastern wind. However, the men had learned to use their respirators by this time, and it did not do the harm which the Germans hoped and expected.

There for the present the story of the Scots Greys ends. Like the Coldstream Guards they bear the proud motto "Second to None," and although they did not have the chances which had fallen to that celebrated regiment of Foot Guards, they proved their worth in those which had come their way, as reported below.

Greys Stun Germans

One great surprise of the war was the revival of hand-to-hand fighting, and the use of such old-fashioned weapons as the bayonet and the hand-grenade. Before the war, experts were of the opinion that infantry fighting would be carried out at a range of 800 to 1,000 yards. Often it proved to be from 75 to 100 yards.

One such hand-to-hand encounter which shows the British fighting spirit at its best occurred when German troops stumbled into a Scots Greys' camp at supper time. Orthodox weapons not being handy, the enemy were attacked with frying-pans and dixey tins. The Germans, unable to stand such pummelling, surrendered.

Scottish Soldiers by Postcard 1914


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