Coldstream Guards

This article looks at the Coldstream Guards during the First World War and will help you research soldiers who served with the Regiment. This is one of a series of guides I have created to help you research soldiers who served in the British Army:

Coldstream Guards in the First World War

If you’d like to learn more about the battalions of the Coldstream Guards I’d recommend combining their war diaries which are described below with the regimental history.

1st Battalion Coldstream Guards

In August 1914, the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards was stationed at Aldershot, Hampshire and landed in Havre, France on 14 August as part of the 1st (Guards) Brigade, 1st Division. On 25 August 1915, the 1st Battalion was transferred to the 2nd Guards Brigade, Guards Division and served with the formation for the remainder of the war. The Battalion suffered 1271 dead between August 1914 and November 1918.

2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards

On the outbreak of war, the 2nd Battalion was stationed at Windsor and landed in France in August 1914 as part of the 4th (Guards) Brigade, 2nd Division. On 20 August 1915, the 2nd Battalion was transferred to the 1st Guards Brigade, Guards Division and served with this formation for the remainder of the war. The Battalion suffered 902 dead between August 1914 and November 1918.

3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards

On the outbreak of war, the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards was stationed at Chelsea Barracks, London and landed at Havre, France on 13 August as part of the 4th (Guards) Brigade, 2nd Division in August 1914. On 20 August 1915, the Battalion joined the 1st Guards Brigade, Guards Division. In February 1918, the Battalion joined the newly formed 4th Guards Brigade, 31st Division, before being sent to General Headquarters Reserve on 20 May 1918. The Battalion suffered 1026 dead between August 1914 and November 1918.

4th (Pioneer) Battalion Coldstream Guards

The 4th (Reserve) Battalion Coldstream Guards was formed at Windsor in August 1914. However, on the formation of the 4th (Pioneer) Battalion Coldstream Guards the Battalion was redesignated as the 5th (Reserve) Battalion.

The new 4th (Pioneer) Battalion was formed at Windsor on 17 July 1915 as the Guards Pioneer Battalion. The Guards Pioneer Battalion became the 4th (Pioneer) Battalion around 14 August. The Battalion disembarked at Havre, France on 16 August 1915. The Battalion served with the Guards Division for the duration of the war. If you would like to learn more about the role of pioneer battalions in the First World War I can recommend Pioneer Battalions in the Great War by K. W. Mitchinson. The Battalion suffered 165 dead between July 1915 and November 1918.

5th (Reserve) Battalion Coldstream Guards

This Battalion was originally designated as the 4th (Reserve) Battalion Coldstream Guards when it was formed at Windsor in August 1914. When the 4th (Pioneer) Battalion was formed on 17 July 1915 it was redesignated as the 5th (Reserve) Battalion. The Battalion remained at Windsor for the duration of the war and sent drafts to the other Coldstream Guards battalions serving on the Western Front.

Researching Soldiers who Served in the Coldstream Guards

The Coldstream Guards’ service records were recently transferred from the Regiment’s archive to the Ministry of Defence. I would strongly recommend applying for a service record as it will contain a lot of information that you won’t be able to find elsewhere. However, not all have survived to the present day but most have. The process is straightforward and I have a guide on my Second World War website to help you. You don’t need to provide a death certificate and you don’t need the permission of the next of kin for soldiers who served during the war. Once you know which Battalion a soldier served with I would recommend downloading the relevant war diaries (see below).

Researching Officers: Over 400 officer service records are held at the National Archives. If an officer served past 1922, then their service record should be held by the Ministry of Defence.  However, not all service records for officers have survived. The regimental history and appropriate war diary (see below) should be consulted as these often contain the names of officers. A newspaper search is usually fruitful for an officer of the Foot Guards especially Tatler and The Sphere for photographs.

Charles Melville Cottrell-Dormer

Charles Melville Cottrell-Dormer, 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards who died of wounds on 8 February 1915. This photograph appeared in The Sphere which published thousands of photographs of officer casualties during the war. Cottrell-Dormer is wearing a frock coat which is what Prince Harry wore when he married Meghan Markle. No service record is held at the National Archives for Cottrell-Dormer which is common for officers who were killed early in the war. There is a medical sheet available as part of the MH 106 series.

Researching Other Ranks: You should apply for a service record which is held by the Ministry of Defence. I’ve written a guide to ordering these documents on my Second World War website. However, not all have survived as some were lost in an air raid. Check medal records, especially the medal rolls of the soldier so you can download the correct battalion war diaries (see below). Casualty lists and newspaper searches are a must due to the high casualties the Coldstream Guards suffered during the war. If you’re researching a soldier who served in the 4th Battalion download its war diary as many other ranks are recorded along with their regimental number.Jansz Coldstream Guards WW1

The headstone of 22367 Guardsman Maurice Donald Jansz, Coldstream Guards who was born at Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and died on 5 February 1918. Jansz is buried in the Brigade of Guards plot in Brompton Cemetery, London. Maurice’s unit was recorded as the 5th (Reserve) Battalion by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There are no medal records for Jansz so he didn’t serve outside of Britain or Ireland during the war and probably died of disease or in an accident.

While you wait for a reply from the Ministry of Defence, I’d recommend searching the records on FindmyPast. They have a free trial period and an extensive collection of military records, though you will also need to search Ancestry and both have different record sets. Ancestry has the Regiment’s medal records and you need to make sure you get both the medal index card and corresponding medal roll entries.

War Diaries of the Coldstream Guards

All the war diaries of the Coldstream Guards have been digitized by the National Archives and can be downloaded for a small fee. To download the war diaries click on the blue links below. Make sure you download the correct battalion war diaries for the soldier you’re researching. Their battalion/s will be recorded in their service record and for other ranks will also be recorded on their medal roll if they served overseas.

1st Battalion Coldstream Guards

  • Date: 13 August 1914 -31 July 1915
  • 1st Brigade, 1st Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1263/1
  • Notes: Overall a good war diary with a wide variety of appendices though some months have sparse entries.
  • Date: 01 August 1915 – January 1919
  • 2nd Guards Brigade, Guards Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1219/2
  • Notes: A good war diary.

2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards

  • Date: August 1914 – July 1915
  • 4th (Guards) Brigade, 2nd Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1342/2
  • Notes:
  • Date: 01 August 1915 – 31 January 1919
  • 1st Guards Brigade, Guards Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1215/2
  • Notes: Overall a good war diary though it’s patchy in parts with a variety of appendices.

3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards

  • Date: 12 August 1914 – 31 July 1915
  • 4th (Guards) Brigade, 2nd Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1342/3
  • Notes: A good war diary for 1914 especially if you’re looking for officers with a lot of detailed entries. Unfortunately, these become a lot shorter in 1915
  • Date: 01 August 1915 – 31 January 1918
  • 1st Guards Brigade, Guards Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1215/3
  • Notes: A poor war diary considering the period it covers which lacks detailed entries.
  • Date: 01 February – 31 October 1918
  • 4th Guards Brigade, Guards Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1226/1
  • Notes: Another poor war diary with short entries.
  • Date: 01 November 1918 – 28 February 1919
  • 1st Guards Brigade, Guards Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1215/4
  • Notes: Only four pages in length.

4th (Pioneer) Battalion Coldstream Guards

  • Date: 17 July 1915 – 01 March 1919
  • Divisional Troops, Guards Division
  • Reference: WO 95/1206/2
  • Notes: A good war diary which is over 400 pages in length with a lot of officers and other ranks (with regimental numbers recorded).

Regimental History of the Coldstream Guards

Coldstream Guards 1914-1918 by Ross of Bladensburg. This two-volume 1000+ pages work covers all the battalions of the Coldstream Guards and has been reprinted by the Naval and Military Press. A useful book which is let down by the fact there are no maps, at least not in the reprinted edition.

Further Sources for the Coldstream Guards

The Imperial War Museum contains a collection of private papers written by officers and men of the Regiment during the war: Imperial War Museum Coldstream Guards Private Papers Collection. The first search is set to private papers only, this search shows the entire Coldstream Guards’ collection: Coldstream Guards Collection.

The two-volume History of the Guards Division in the Great War 1915-1918 by Cuthbert Headlam is useful for putting the activities of the Coldstream Guards in context with their higher formations. The history contains useful maps showing both the Brigades’ and Division’s boundaries for the major attacks along with their objectives or the position reached.

There is a four-page account by Major J. Boyd who was the Quartermaster of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards “about that Battalion in 1914 (Aisne and Ypres)” held at the National Archives CAB 45/194. Part of the account, covering the Battalion’s fighting on the Aisne is transcribed below.

An account of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards on the Aisne by Major J. Boyd

In the course of September 13th the battalion had eaten its iron rations as it had been impossible to get rations up to them on the 12th, Major Boyd (who was the Quartermaster) had therefore after bringing up ordinary rations to the battalion (night 13th/14th) which was billeted at Paissy to return South of the Aisne to the Supply Column, refill with iron rations and get back to Paissy. As he was nearing that place on his second journey (A.M. September 14th) he met the battalion on its way to Troyon, too late to issue the iron rations.

Major Boyd could give no information as to September 14th except that he did not think the expenditure of small arms ammunition had been exceptional. Small arms ammunition was, however, often issued direct from the Ammunition Column and did not go through the Battalion. Major Boyd was only able to say from what he had heard at the time the battalion was pushed back from the most advanced points which it had reached by counter-attacks of infantry not by shelling only. The casualties of the battalion amounted to about 240.

The position on the Aise (just North of Troyon) did not admit of exchange of rifle fire between the trenches as the British were below the crest on the Southern slope and the Germans over the crest on the reverse slope. There was some sniping from the crest line and a little enfilade sniping and machine gun fire from far away to the right but short of an advance by the Germans to or over the crest infantry targets were rare.

After Colonel Ponsonby was wounded on September 14th. Major Leslie Hamilton took command, then simultaneously Major Studd came out from Home and Major Steele was sent from the 4th Brigade to take command. Major Steele being senior officer took command with Major Studd as second. Both these officers were wounded on the same day so that when the battalion left the Aisne Major Hamilton was again in command with Captain Campbell as Adjutant, no second in command, the four company commanders being Lieutenant Pollock (No.1), Captain Warde Aldem (No.2), Captain Gibbs (No.3) and Captain Paget (No.4). The battalion was very short of officers having only 12 all told, these included an ex-Corporal just promoted to a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers who was retained with the battalion. Several officers joined at Hazebrouck.