To The Last Man…

A bloody last stand in the opening months of the First World War that saw nearly 300 men of the Household Cavalry give their lives in a desperate defence against increasingly furious enemy attacks.

103 years ago, October 30th 1914, a combined force of the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, as well as the Horse Guards, died fighting to the last man as they held off a German attack on their position at Zandvoorde, Belgium. On 29th October 1914, the village of Zandvoorde was being held by the dismounted cavalrymen of the 7th Household Cavalry Brigade from Major General Julian Byng’s 3rd Cavalry Division. To their left was the 1st Battalion, the Royal Welch Fusiliers of the 22nd Infantry Brigade, 7th Division. The Household Cavalry held the trenches that were located on the forward slope of the grassy knoll at the southern end of the village astride the Zandvoorde to Tenbrielen Road.

On their left was Captain Lord Hugh Grosvenor’s C Squadron 1st Life Guards, reinforced by Lord Grosvenor’s men was Lord Charles Sackville Pelham Worsley’s machine gun team from the Royal Horse Guards. Worsley and his men had already been in the line for seven days when the 1st Life Guards had replaced the Royal Horse Guards and they had been detailed to remain to support them as one of the Life Guard’s machine guns was out of action.

Lord Hugh Grosvenor, Commander of C Squadron, 1st Life Guards, who died fighting at Zandvoorde
Lord Lieutenant Lord Charles Sackville Pelham Worsley, who also died in action at Zandvoorde.

At 6am on 30th October 1914, the German guns opened fire, initially further to the left against the 1st and 2nd Divisions in front of Gheluvelt and Zonnebeke respectively. About 45 minutes later, 260 guns of the German artillery turned their attention to the defenders in the vicinity of Zandvoorde, their shells falling on the men of the Life Guards and the 1st Royal Welch Fusiliers. This artillery bombardment was followed at around 8am by an infantry attack by the German Infantrymen of the 39th Division.

The Germans attackers drove into the defending British. In front of Zandvoorde, the Life Guards were hit hard and Lieutenant Lord Worsley’s machine gun team was in the thick of the fighting. An order to withdraw to the second line of defences was issued, but this did not reach the two Squadrons to the left of the road or Lord Worsley’s machine gun team. The heavy shelling and sheer weight of enemy numbers being thrown against the Household Cavalry defending Zandvoorde resulted in Lord Grosvener’s C Squadron and Lord Worsley’s machine gunners being overrun as their fellow cavalrymen withdrew to their second line. The Household Cavalrymen who had remained at their posts were virtually annihilated; only 10 survived the battle to make it back to their own lines. The remaining other officers and cavalrymen, were listed as missing, Lord Hugh Grosvenor and Lord Worsley among them.

After the battle, a German officer, Oberleutnant Freiherr von Prankh, visited the British trench, interested in the British Machine Guns. In the trench, he came upon the body of Lord Worsley, and gave orders for Worsley’s personal effects to be gathered together and arranged a burial party. Oberleutnant von Prankh had intended to send the personal effects to Lord Worsley’s family, but he himself was tragically killed in action a few days later.

Following the report of his death, Lord Worsley’s family obtained a sketch showing where Lord Worsley had been buried. After the war, Colonel A. W. James MC, a family friend, with the aid of a 10th Hussar veteran who knew the area, went to Zandvoorde to try to locate the grave. At first they failed, but in December 1918, aided by the sketch they took a compass bearing from the crossroads that they followed to the spot where the grave was marked. A rough wooden cross had been put up by the German burial party and, although the cross piece had fallen off, the upright was still standing. Colonel James marked the spot with a pile of stones before returning to Ypres to have a replacement cross made; this was inscribed ‘RIP Lord Worlsey R.H.G. Oct. 30th, 1914’.

In January 1919, Colonel James returned to Zandvoorde with Lord Worsley’s brother to erect the new cross at the grave. They found the old cross piece, which they removed along with the old upright and erected the new cross at the grave. The old upright and cross piece was brought back to England, where they now hang together in All Saints Church, Brocklesby, Lincolnshire. Lady Worsley subsequently purchased the piece of ground in which her husband had been buried.

In late summer 1921, the decision to exhume Lord Worsley’s remains, as they were in an isolated grave, was made by the War Graves Commission as part of their concentration policy. This decision was communicated to Lady Worsley and Lord and Lady Yarboroguh, Lord Worlsey’s parents, who consented to the remains being reinterred in Ypres Town Cemetery Military Extension. A family friend, the Reverend R S Swann-Mason, travelled to Ypres to represent the family at the exhumation which took place on 8th September 1921. Lord Worsley’s remains were found five feet below the marker erected by Colonel James and positively identified by parts of the uniform markings and a gold filled tooth. They were placed in a rough timber coffin and transported to Ypres where they were reinterred the following day at 10:00 hrs. The coffin was draped in the Union Jack and a party of four officers and six private soldiers formed the carrying party; the Reverend Swann-Mason once again representing the family. The cross placed by Colonel James was used to mark his new grave until it was replaced by a CWGC headstone in 1923. The cross was then returned to the family and now hangs opposite the original in All Saints Church, Brocklesby, Lincolnshire.

Lord Hugh Grosvenor, who was the brother of the Duke of Westminster, was also buried in a grave at Zandvoorde in 1914, but the location of his grave was subsequently lost in the later shelling. He is remembered with honour on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ypres.

The Household Cavalry Memorial now stands on the piece of land bought by Lady Worsley that was once the site of her husband’s grave. It was unveiled on 4th May 1924 by Lord and Lady Haig. The Household Cavalry Memorial is located up a narrow path off Komenstraat at the southern end of Zandvoorde. The memorial is a tall slender column topped by a cross. The face of the column is inscribed with the names of those members of the Household Cavalry Regiments, the 1st and 2nd Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards, who fell in that bloody battle in October 1914.