2nd Life Guards 1914-1918

This article on the 2nd Life Guards will provide you with an overview of the activities of the Regiment during the First World War and help you research those who served with it. I have also written a separate article for the 1st Life Guards and guides to help you research British soldiers who served in the First World War:

The 2nd Life Guards in the First World War

The 2nd Life Guards was stationed at Regent’s Park in London when Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914. The Regiment sent one squadron to join the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment, along with the 1st Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards which landed in France on 16 August 1914. This Regiment served with the 1st Cavalry Division before being broken up in November 1914 when the squadrons returned to their original units. The remainder of the 2nd Life Guards landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium on 8 October 1914 and a war diary is available so you can follow the Regiment’s movements. The 2nd Life Guards served as part of the 7th Cavalry Brigade of 3rd Cavalry Division until it was converted to a machine gun battalion in March 1918.

The 2nd Life Guards fought at the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914 where it suffered its heaviest casualties of the war. Like other British cavalry regiments serving on the Western Front, the Regiment was often used in a dismounted role in the trenches, though there were long periods of inactivity behind the lines. In March 1918, the Regiment was converted into the No.2 (2nd Life Guards) Battalion of the Guards Machine Gun Regiment and there is a separate war diary. The 2nd Life Guards returned to England in March 1919. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission recorded that the Regiment suffered 113 dead between 7 September 1914 and 21 October 1918. This figure doesn’t include those who died serving with the Guards Machine Gun Regiment.

How to Research a Soldier who served in the 2nd Life Guards in the First World War

I have written a series of generic guides to help you research soldiers who served in the British Army. Those concerning abbreviations and acronyms, war diariesinterpreting photographs and medal records are good starting points. Usually, a lot of information can be found for those who served with the 2nd Life Guards, especially if they were an officer.

Officers: A service record is the most important document to find and the National Archives holds the service records of over 100 officers who served with both the 1st and 2nd Life Guards. They will hold more files as some officers were transferred to different regiments so don’t have “Life Guards” in their catalogue entry. Other service records will still be kept at the Household Cavalry Museum and you will have to apply for them. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to know what the Household Cavalry Museum holds on an officer until you receive a reply. It takes a month or so for any information to be sent and there is a non-refundable charge. I’d recommend applying to the archive even if there is a service record at the National Archives to find out what information they hold.

William Sinclair Peterson 2nd Life Guards

Second Lieutenant William Sinclair Petersen was serving with the Royal Field Artillery when he was attached to the 2nd Life Guards and killed in action on 6 November 1914. He was buried in Zillebeke Churchyard. This photograph appeared in The Sphere which is an excellent magazine to search for British officers who died in the First World War. Tatler and The Illustrated London News are also good newspapers to search for Life Guards officers. There is also a file for Petersen at the National Archives in which he was shown as serving with the Royal Field Artillery.

Other Ranks: If you’re researching a soldier who served in the 2nd Life Guards during the First World War then you’re in luck. The service records for other ranks weren’t stored in the War Office warehouse which caught fire during the Blitz and have survived. A service record will either be:

  • At the National Archives’ if a soldier was discharged from the 2nd Life Guards between 1799 and 1920. These have been digitized and can be downloaded from the National Archives’ website for a small fee or viewed on FindmyPast which has a free trial. The catalogue reference is WO 400 and they can be searched here: Search 2nd Life Guards Records at the National Archives.
  • At the Household Cavalry Museum Archive which also holds 2nd Life Guards’ service records. The archive charges a fee of £35 and I would highly recommend applying for the service record as it will contain information you will not be able to find elsewhere.

The service records in the WO 400 series are available on FindmyPast which has a free trial. Clicking on the banner below will take you to the website. You will also need to check the records available on Ancestry.

War Diary of the 2nd Life Guards

There is only one war diary for the 2nd Life Guards which has been digitized and is available to download from the National Archives. A war diary was written by an officer of the Regiment and recorded its location and activities. There is a separate war diary for the 2nd Battalion Guards Machine Gun Regiment which has also been digitized. To download both these war diaries for a small fee click on the blue links below.

  • Date: 25 August 1914 – 31 March 1918
  • 7th Cavalry Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1155/2
  • Notes: A good war diary which contains a few appendices including an interesting letter from a former officer (Menzies) describing the Regiment’s activities on the 30 October 1914 including two sketch maps. I have transcribed a few entries below.
  • Date: April 1918 – March 1919
  • Army Troops
  • Reference: WO 95/495/4
  • Notes:

Regimental of History of the 2nd Life Guards

Unfortunately, no regimental history for the 2nd Life Guards covering the First World War period was produced. However, the Regiment was covered in The Story of the Household Cavalry: Volume 3 by Sir George Arthur, Bart., assisted by Capt. Shennan Royal Horse Guards. This volume hasn’t been reprinted and can be quite difficult to obtain. There is a copy at the British Library.

Further Sources for the 2nd Life Guards

The Imperial War Museum holds a manuscript written by Stanley E. Butler who served with the Regiment between 1915 and 1918: Documents.1878. The war diaries of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade Headquarters will add further information regarding the Regiment before it was converted into a machine gun battalion. There is a single war diary WO 95/1154/1 covering the period between October 1914 and March 1919. A good book to give context regarding the role of British cavalry on the Western Front is Horsemen in No Man’s Land: British Cavalry and Trench Warfare 1914-1918 by David Kenyon.

Extracts from War Diary of the 2nd Life Guards

25 August 1914 – 31 March 1918, 7th Cavalry Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division, WO 95/1155/2

10 October 1914 – 6 German prisoners taken through en route for Bruges. Ordered to march at 12 midday to Beernem, which we did meeting a long column of Belgium infantry and artillery apparently in some disorder and to be coming from Antwerp. New orders arrived with the Brigadier at Beernem and we marched to billet at Roodevoorde but on arrival found it filled with Belgium troops, so marched on to a chateau 1 mile north of the Bruges Ingelmunster road.

General comment: Find the hospitable natives a great hindrance to discipline. The country seems very ill-suited for cavalry tactics, and recalls the more cultivated parts of the English Fens. I think that with few exceptions Reservists of more than 12 years service are useless, and frequently afford a bad example to younger men. Neither men nor young officers seem at first to realise the serious side of War, and men with experience of South African War seem rather harmful than otherwise. My Regiment consists of men of 13 different Cavalry Regiments, 180 of my own and 374 of 12 other Regiments.

The rations seem excellent and up till now the transport arrangements are equally so. I would urge the wisdom of the issue of the ? small ration biscuit instead of the old large one. It is more palatable ? easily carried and can be eaten by men whose teeth are faulty. I think the transport is not sufficient for the men’s clothes. They can carry practically nothing on their horses and consequently suffer from cold and want of cleanliness.

16 October 1914: Marched at 7.30 am in a white fog as Advanced Guard to the Brigade through the very slippery streets at Ypres now full of French troops and scouted round West Rosebeke [Westrozebeke]. Ultimately halting there while O’Neill and his squadrons scouted towards Oostnieuwkerke. Lieutenant Sir P. Brocklehurst and a patrol of 1st Life Guards reported a German Maxim about 2 miles out on the West Roosebeke-Hooglede road.

About 4 pm O’Neill reported that a farm about 1 1/2 miles southwest of Oostnieuwkerke was strongly held by Germans, and that on approaching it Lieutenant Sir Robin Duff had been killed. I then sent Belpher’s squadron to support O’Neill on the left and myself took my other squadron (Ashton’s) to strengthen O’Neill. I found the country quite flat but thickly dotted with cottages, farms and small woods. One being of considerable size.

5.30 pm I worked up towards the farm whence Duff had been killed, but found it in a clearing with no cover for 500 yards all round. We came under fire from 3 directions – front, left flank and rear, and as it was nearly dark I collected my squadrons and retired to West Roosebeke. There was considerable sniping from the cottages and 1 cyclist was shot through the hand when catching up his squadron. Belpher claims to have killed 12 Germans and the man who shot Duff was also killed.

The Regiment was left to billet on West Roosebeke, while the remainder of the Brigade went to Passchendaele – not a pleasant billet, and did not feel at all secure in such a big straggling village with so small a force.

17 October 1914: Ready to march at 5 am but remained in billets with many posts out all day and much firing very near. Constant Belgian and French patrols coming through. Visited by Commander Sampson RN and his train of guns including a 3″ gun used that day for the first time mounted on a railway truck with motor engine. He with 2 of my officers went and put a shell or two into the farm held yesterday by the Germans. I later reported all clear in and as far as Oostnieuwkerke. They found that the Germans had lightly buried Duff and the man who was killed with him at the farm, but that the Burgomaster’s secretary had moved Duff into the cemetery at Oostnieuwkerke. German patrols rode into our wire barriers at night.

18 October 1914: Marched at 5 am towards Oostnieuwkerke with the Blues as Advanced Guard. They had some fighting with a small party of German cyclists and a few casualties, while they put 4 cyclists to the sword and 2 more were shot by two wounded corporals of horse with their revolvers. I took my regiment up to support them but needlessly. The town was reported clear and we ultimately billeted on 4 scattered farms southeast of the town.