The Guards at Christmas

As we approach the festive season, we should remember that as serving soldiers, the Household Cavalry have been required to serve on the front lines, often away from their families and home for months or even years at a time.

This altar, on display in our ‘Sacrifice’ cabinet at the Household Cavalry Museum (along with a Communion cup, wine vessel, wafer box, altar cross, Bible and priest’s stole), was used by Reverend R.K. Haines, a regimental Chaplain of the Household Battalion to perform services in the trenches from 1916-1918. In a letter to his wife written in late 1918, the Reverend Haines related that he performed two Masses in the trenches on Christmas morning 1918 in a section of the trenches that only allowed for 25 men in attendance at a time. The Reverend also remarked in his letter how unusual he found it to look out at the expanse of land between the trenches on both sides and not hear a single shot fire (although the war officially ended with the signing of the Armistice on November 11th, many of the soldiers deployed on the Western Front wouldn’t be demobilized and return home until early 1919).

portable altar

The Household Battalion: Passchendaele

An excerpt from the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlefield Tour of the Salient: the Household Battalion.

By mid 1917 The Russian army had disintegrated in Revolution and gone home, the French battered by unreasonable calls on their courage and endurance had mutinied and effectively removed themselves from the fight, or at least from any thoughts of further attacks for the time being and the Americans, although now in the war, had not yet arrived in any numbers. The weight of the 1917 offensives fell, disproportionately, on the shoulders of the British Expeditionary Force and Imperial troops.

Passchendaele, the 3rd Battle of Ypres began on 31st July 1917 with the initial aim, rapidly proved to be impossible, of breaking through the German lines and heading in strength towards the channel coast. It is depressing but needs to be said at this stage, that 3rd Battle of Ypres, although neither as long nor as bloody as the Somme in 1916, killed and wounded more British soldiers per mile of territory gained: 8,200 as opposed to 5,000 on the Somme.

The Household Battalion was not involved in the early part of the battle as they were still recovering from their mauling at Arras. On 12th October they went back into action at Poelcappelle against a few pillboxes and blockhouse marked on the maps as Requette farm where fighting had been going on since 9th October. The battle, if it can be called such, was a shambles and men were lost by drowning in mud and flooded shell holes. The farm was taken by part of a company, held briefly and lost again as the remnants of the Battalion fell back under its last three remaining officers all of whom had started the day in the Support companies. The Battalion was utterly exhausted and not a single NCO above the rank of Corporal remained unwounded.
The Battalion was relieved that night by their own reserve under the command of the CO, the Adjutant and the Battalion Corporal Major.

The reckoning was the loss of over 400 casualties for a temporary advance of 600 yards of shell shattered swamp. The Battalion went back into rest at Arras where it received its final draft of 400 reinforcements from Windsor.

Read more about the Household Cavalry Regimental Associations’ Battlefield Tour to Ypres here.