The Welsh Guards have been around for exactly 100 years this year. They were founded by King George V on 26 February 1915 by Royal Warrant to include Wales in the national component to the Foot Guards. They were the last Guards to be created, and they began their first King’s Guard at Buckingham Palace just one week later on 1 March 1915. Their motto is ‘”Cymru am Byth” or “Wales Forever”. To enter the Welsh Guards recruits go through a grueling training programme lasting thirty weeks, which is two weeks longer than regular training. The extra time is devoted to drilling and ceremonial duties.
The Welsh Guards saw plenty of action in the First World War. They were sent to France on 17 August 1915 and were first active at the Battle of Loos on 27 September 1915. Sergeant Robert Bye received the regiment’s first Victoria Cross two years later after the Third Battle of Ypres ‘for most conspicuous bravery’. The Welsh Guards returned home in 1918, and they performed many ceremonial duties, like the Changing of the Guard and Trooping the Colour, until 1929 when they were deployed to Egypt. They stayed only a short while and came home in 1930. They were in Gibraltar when the Second War broke out, after that a 2nd battalion was created, followed quickly by a 3rd battalion during the war.
The battalions fought all kinds of battles during the war. For example, they were in Boulogne and Belgium. During the Battle of Arras a lieutenant named The Hon. Christopher Furness was killed in action. He was awarded the Victoria Cross. They were also part of the Evacuation of Dunkirk. They were even active during the North African Campaign. The 1st and 2nd Battalions were amongst the first troops to enter Brussels on 3 September 1944.
The end of the Second World War saw the 3rd Battalion disbanded and the 2nd Battalion being placed in suspended animation. In 1947, the 1st Battalion was sent to Palestine and performed internal security duties. They left in 1948 when Israel was declared a state.
In the 1950s, the Welsh Guards spent some time in West Germany. They returned home around 1953 but were soon on the move again, when they were deployed to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt, which was quite turbulent. They withdrew in 1956. In 1960, they were again sent to West Germany, before being sent to Yemen in 1965. They returned in 1966 and were again sent to Germany, this time to Münster, in 1970.
During The Troubles, the Welsh Guards were deployed to Northern Ireland. Sergeant Phillip Prince died in a terrorist attack, known as Bloody Friday. The following year Guardsman David Roberts was killed in a landmine explosion, and he was the 200th soldier to die in Northern Ireland. In 1976, they were deployed to Cyprus, which had recently been invaded by Turkey. In 1977, they went back to familiar territory in Germany. They came back to Northern Ireland in 1979, where they again lost a Guardsman. His name was Paul Fryer, and he was the victim of a booby trap bomb.
In 1982, the Welsh Guards were a part of the British Task Force, which was sent to liberate the Falkland Islands from Argentinian occupation. 48 of the Welsh Guards would not come home after the RFA Sir Galahad ship they were on was attacked. 97 men were wounded, and the Sir Galahad was scuttled at sea. Between 1984 and 1992 they were again sent to both Germany and Northern Ireland.
On 6 September 1997 12 Guardsmen of the Welsh Guards were among those escorting the casket of Diana, Princess of Wales from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey. In 2002, they arrived in Bosnia but during their employment the Queen Mother died, and some them returned to stand vigil around her coffin while she was lying in state in Westminster Hall.
The Welsh Guards were part of Operation Telic in 2005 in Iraq. They returned to London in 2006, before being returned to Bosnia in October. In 2009, they were deployed to Afghanistan, where six members of the battalion were killed, and they lost a Lieutenant-Colonel later that year.
From 1953 to 1975 The Duke of Edinburgh was their Field Marshal until this duty was taken over by The Prince of Wales.
As they are a Foot Guards Regiment in the Household Division the Welsh Guards also proudly provide the Guard for Her Majesty the Queen at her royal residences. They mount from the Wellington Barracks in London and provide guards for St James’s Palace, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. They are also part of Trooping the Colour and provide Guards of Honour for visiting heads of state. They were involved in the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, where they provided a Royal Guard of Honour at Buckingham Palace, with the remainder lining the route on Horse Guards.
You can recognize the Welsh Guards from the spacing of the buttons on their tunics. They wear their buttons in groups of five and have white and green plumes on their bearskins.
Photo and Video Credits: © Cindy Stockman 2015