1st Battalion Welsh Guards

Welsh Guards ceremonial

Lieutenant Colonel R J AE Stanford MBE commanding the Queen's Birthday Parade 14th June 2008 with members of the Welsh Guards in the background. 

In September 1939 war was declared on Germany, the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards having been posted to Gibraltar in August 1939 was not greatly affected at first.   The Battalion was put on to War footing, duties were increased as a precaution and guards had to be found for prize-ships brought in to the harbour by the Royal Navy.

In November 1939 the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards were sent from Gibraltar to France, where they were to provide protection for the GHQ, this was located eight miles away from Arras.

On the 10th May a dramatic change took place, the enemy opened his Blitzkrieg for the conquest of France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. In the confusion which followed the fall of Holland and Belgium and the enemy's deep penetration in France.

The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards from the 17th - 24th May 1940 formed the nucleus of the force defending Arras. After a week during which the town was bombed and shelled and the garrison had repulsed persistent armoured attacks, the order came to withdraw. In the days between leaving Arras and embarking at Dunkirk the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards was involved in costly company actions at Cassel, Vyfewg and West Cappel.

After returning home from France the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards spent the next four years between Wimbledon, Byfleet, Midsomer Norton and Knook Camp, Heytesbury where they carried out their training continuously in case of another invasion which seemed imminent.

In June 1944 the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards returned to France. The Guards Armoured Division consisted of the 5th Armoured Brigade, 32nd Guards Brigade, Reconnaissance units and the normal complement of Artillery.  The 1st Battalion was in the 32nd Guards Brigade.

Arriving in France in June the 1st Battalion took up positions at Cheux; they were called on for no offensive action, yet in the first two days they lost three senior officers of the Battalion. By the end of June the first phase of the Normandy battle was over, the ground won had been extended from Chesbourg on the west to the Orne on the east. 

On the 17th July at Midnight the Battalion moved off in their appointed places in the divisional column, at dawn on the 18th they witnessed the heaviest and most concentrated bombing attack which had ever been made in support of a military operation, throughout the day as the advance continued the results of this bombing could be seen. 

No building, however isolated, seemed to have escaped. The Battalion was not heavily engaged that day. The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards cleared the village of Cagney which is southeast of Caen and the following day two companies took the nearby village of Le Poirier.

After the battle of Normandy the 1st and 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards had a short rest until the 31st August 1944 when the advance was resumed. On the 1st September the 1st Battalion re-entered Arras in triumph, the first troops to reach the City just as they had been the last to leave in 1940.  The 2nd Battalion occupied Vimy Bridge, the following day both Battalions moved to Douai.

On the 3rd September 1944 the Battalion reached Brussels, with them Liberating Brussels, and the Antwerp being fallen with in to the Allied hands the decision was made to push on and try and secure the bridgehead over the northern Rhine. Still in the lead, the Welsh Guards Group pressed on the Albert Canal at Beeringen where the bridge had been partially destroyed.  Under heavy fire the Welsh Guards crossed, they forced their way through

Helchteren and on towards Hechtel where they were held up by murderous anti tank fire.  The Battalion attacked Hechtel on the 7th September but after repeated assaults did not capture it until the 12th September, Hechtel was one of the bloodier battles fought by both the 1st and 2nd Battalion, even though on the last day they had support of the artillery and mortars and machine-guns of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Hechtel was a Welsh Guards battle.

From September to October the 1st and 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards stayed in the area of Waal this is known to many as "The Island", from here they moved to and area at Malden, this was located four miles from Nijmegan.  At the end of their sojourn there the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards for four days took over the responsibility of guarding the great Nijmegen Bridge.  

After Nijmegen the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards was sent for a week to the 11th Armoured Division to hold the village of Veulen situated twenty miles south. This was a static role but many day and night patrols were made, not with out severe casualties. After this the Battalion returned to their Division which was then situated at Sittard on the German Frontier, after three weeks they moved to Geleen.

In December the Battalion was withdrawn to Hougaerde and Jodoigne, this was in easy reach of Brussels where the Battalion prepared to celebrate Christmas.

In mid February 1945 the 1st and 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards moved off for the last time as a Regimental Group.  They took part in actions at Haversum, Kassel, Hassum, Mull and Bonning-Hardt and though they saw hard fighting they did not take heavy casualties.

On the 12th March the 1st Battalion heard that they were to return to Great Britain, they were replaced by the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards. The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards finished the war at Stobs Camp, Hawick.

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