The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry in WW1

The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry on parade at Montreuil-sur-mer, 1918

The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry on parade at Montreuil-sur-mer, 1918

The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry was one of the lesser known British units of the First World War.

It was established comparatively late in the conflict, in December 1916, with its recruits training initially on Guernsey and later in Kent.

Sailed for France

On 26 September 1917 the regiment’s 1st Battalion, comprising 44 officers and 964 other ranks, sailed for France. A few weeks later they were in action at the Battle of Passchendaele and, in November, they were involved in the Battle of Cambrai.

During that action the battalion was tasked with the defence of the village of Les Rues Vertes. Attacked by a large German force the unit lost 40 per cent of its strength in casualties.

Heavy casualties

For the next few months, the battalion was in quieter areas and many wounded men returned to the front line. Then, on 10 April 1918, the Guernseys were marched off to the Battle of the Lys. During a long-lasting retreat, the regiment suffered further heavy casualties.

Among them was Captain Harry Stranger MC, who died of wounds on 11 May 1918 and is now buried at Les Baraques Military Cemetery, Sangatte. A talented cricketer and footballer, who had played for Guernsey FC, he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the retreat.

His medal citation states: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He held an important bridgehead during a period of strenuous fighting at close quarters. He collected and organised men of several units, and held the bridge successfully against all the enemy’s efforts to break through. He set a splendid example of courage and determination.’

Rear echelons

For the remainder of the war, the remnants of the unit were withdrawn to rear areas and, among other tasks, took on guard duties at the General Headquarters at Montreuil-sur-mer. 

The Guernsey’s regimental motto was ‘Diex Aix’ – supposedly the rallying cry of the Norman cavalry at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Some 2,280 members of the regiment saw action on the Western Front, with 327 killed and 667 wounded.

A guard detachment of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry at Montreuil-sur-mer in 1918

A guard detachment of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry at Montreuil-sur-mer in 1918

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