Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


Service Battalions

Companies of the 1st Foot Guards

Grenadier and Light Companies

Organization

Bibliography


The Organization and Service of the British 1st Foot Guards: 1793-1809

By John Cook

Service Battalions

There were three established permanent battalions in 1st Foot Guards. The '4th' battalion was initially formed in March 1793 from 4 grenadier companies of the guards brigade sent to Holland. It was not part of the establishment and was formed for service. It is also called the 'grenadier battalion' (Hamilton). Furthermore, the battalion was not formed exclusively from 1st Foot Guards grenadier companies. Only two grenadier companies came from 1st Foot Guards, with one each from Coldstream Guards and 3d Foot Guards respectively.

When the light companies joined with the 'grenadier battalion' in the Low Countries in 1793, it was called the 'flank battalion' (Hamilton). The battalion formed later on, exclusively from guards light companies was called, in some references, the '5th' battalion, but more usually the 'light infantry battalion'.

In every case these battalions were formed specifically for service. What I am not sure about is whether the numbers 4 and 5 are the source's (Aubrey-Fletcher's) shorthand, to distinguish them from the three permanent battalions, or official, albeit temporary, designations. I suspect that they are the source's shorthand but can't be sure.

Anyway, service battalions seem to have been routinely formed from grenadier and light companies until at least 1806.

It should also be noted that the three permanent battalions are also sometimes called "service" battalions when on campaign and it may be that they were formed from any of the 32 available companies. This is something else I'm not clear about but they didn't seem to use the regimental company hierarchy in their returns, and seemed to number centre companies consecutively within the battalion when abroad.

The Companies of 1st Foot Guards

1st Foot Guards Officer 1807

1st Foot Guards Officer 1807

Until 1793 the companies were numbered in a regimental hierarchy from 1st to 28th, 1/1st Foot Guards having ten companies, of which two were grenadiers, 2/1st Foot Guards and 3/1st Foot Guards having nine each, of which one was grenadiers. This was increased to 32 companies when the four light companies were added, two to 1/1st Foot Guards, and one each to 2/1st Foot Guards and 3/1st Foot Guards.

The first company was the King's Company, and was a grenadier company. It was also the senior company of the 1st Battalion and the senior company of the regiment. I have not determined which others were flank companies. However, in the Regimental Letter Book of the Coldstream Guards Regiment of Foot Guards there is an entry dated 12 March 1812 concerning the provision of company colours for grenadier and light companies:

"...four (colours) bearing distinctions appropriate to flank companies viz: grenadiers a hand grenade, light infantry a bugles, to bring holdings up to one colour per company."

In addition there are bills in the Lord Chamberlain's accounts, dated 1814, raised for painting "additional badges" on the colours of the four grenadier companies and the four light companies of 1st Foot Guards.

The details of the badges are not given but in the Guards Chapel there are two company colours of 1st Foot Guards. One dates from 1814 and belongs to 21st company; it bears a bugle beneath the company badge. The other dates from 1816 and belongs to 18th company; it bears a grenade beneath the company badge. The companies are identified by Roman numerals in the upper left (nearest the staff) of the colours. These are attributed to light and grenadier companies respectively.

This presents a problem in the context of 1st Foot Guards for a number of reasons.

It is known that 1st through 24th companies of 1st Foot Guards had company colours during the period. 1st to 20th were authorised theirs by Charles II in 1660, and 21st to 24th by Queen Anne in 1713. The 26th to 30th Companies did not receive company colours until authorised by Queen Victoria in 1855. The 31st and 32nd Companies never received colours.

It would be logical to assume 29th to 32nd Companies were the new light companies but I suspect that logic has nothing to do with it, and the 21st Company colour from 1814 tends to contradict it. Furthermore, the 21st Company pre-dates the formation of light companies by nearly 150 years.

If we look at the regiment before the addition of light companies, and if the companies were numbered in seniority by battalion, we would expect the King's Company to be 1st Company, and it is. There is no doubt about that as far as I can see. Next would come the grenadier company of 1/FG, followed by the battalion's eight centre companies, which would mean that the grenadier company of 2/1st Foot Guards, if this system is followed, would be the 11th Company, and that of 3/1st Foot Guards would be 20th Company. The 1816 colour, however, suggests that 18th Company was grenadiers, yet the logical hierarchy suggests that this was a centre company.

I really don't know what the answer is but, as already mentioned, when we look at battalions in the field, it is found that returns do not use the regimental company numbering system.

Foot Guards 1808

Foot Guards 1808

The 32 company organisation of 1793 was retained in 1st Foot Guards until 1821. The 1/1st Foot Guards had two grenadier, eight centre and two light companies; the 2/1st Foot Guards and 3/1st Foot Guards one grenadier, eight centre and one light company each. The regiment was reduced to 26 companies in 1821, but the eight flank companies were retained, each battalion being reduced to six centre companies from this time. The total number of companies was raised to 30, on 14 July 1854, to give each battalion ten companies.

Deployment of Grenadier and Light Companies

The first light company was formed in March 1793 and was attached to the '4th' or 'grenadier battalion', comprising four grenadier companies from the three battalions serving in the Low Countries, which was called the 'flank battalion'. The company was formed by taking 27 picked men from each of the three battalions comprising the brigade in Holland, 1/1st Foot Guards, 1/Coldstream Guards and 1/3rd Foot Guards. This was evidently a service company because light companies were not authorised on a permanent basis until the King's Command of 16 April 1793, which ordered

"four light infantry companies for the First Regiment of Foot Guards, each of one captain, two lieutenants, two buglers and 100 rank and file, and two of like strength for each of the other two regiments."

Officers were selected in April 1793 and training commenced at home. In July 1793, two light companies of the1st Foot Guards, and one each from the Coldstream Guards and 3rd Foot Guards were sent to Holland where, it appears, they joined their battalions. This assumption is based on a reference to the attack on Roubaix in 1794 where ".. the light company of First Guards protecting their left (of 7th and 15th Light Dragoons). On the flank battalion of Guards, which was in front, the French opened fire..."

What became of the original light company, formed in March 1793 from elements of the 1st battalions of the three regiments, is not clear. As can be seen we have a reference to a light company, apparently, with a battalion, and the continued existence of the 'flank battalion'. Would the latter not be called a "grenadier battalion" if the original light company no longer formed part of it? This is an ambiguity I cannot explain.

By mid-1794, however, it seems that the remaining guards light companies were ready for service because on 18 July 1794 a further four arrived in Holland, two of which were from 1st Foot Guards. These were added to the existing four light companies sent out the previous year and formed into a battalion of eight light companies, called either the '5th' battalion or 'light infantry battalion' commanded initially by Colonel Sir James Duffe, 1st Foot Guards, later by Colonel Manners, 3rd Foot Guards, on promotion of the former in October.

What became of the original light company is not clear, but I suspect that it ceased to exist and the men returned to their battalions or, perhaps, incorporated in the new permanent light companies. What is clear is that with the arrival of these additional light companies and the formation of the 'light infantry battalion', the grenadier companies from the three battalions now formed a separate '4th' or 'grenadier battalion' again, commanded by Colonel Stanhope 1st Foot Guards. The 'grenadier battalion' was disbanded in March 1795 and the grenadier companies returned to their battalions.

On 13 April 1795 the 1/1st Foot Guards and the 'light infantry battalion', comprising 602 men, embarked for England, setting sail on 24 April and arriving at Greenwich on 8th May. the1/1st Foot Guards paraded in St James' Park the following day. The two grenadier companies of the 1/1st Foot Guards arrived at Greenwich on 15th May.

By 18 May 1795, the 1/1st Foot Guards, and the1st Foot Guards light companies, were billeted in Southwark where, they were inspected by the regimental Lieutenant Colonel. The four light companies then proceeded to Windsor where they remained until 26th November, when they returned to their battalions in London. By 29 November the regiment was complete and quartered in London as follows:

1st Battalion 1st Foot Guards (12 companies) at Southwark

2nd Battalion 1st Foot Guards (10 companies) Upper Westminster

3rd Battalion 1st Foot Guards (10 companies) at Tower Hamlets

Returns of Quarters clearly show that 1/1st Foot Guards had two grenadier companies, two light companies and eight centre companies. The 2/1st Foot Guards and the 3/1st Foot Guards each had eight centre companies, one grenadier and one light company.

In 1798, the eight light companies of the regiments of Foot Guards took part in the abortive raid on Ostend, where those of the Coldstream Guards and the 3rd Foot Guards were taken prisoner.

In 1799, the 1st Foot Guards returned to the Low Countries. The 1st Brigade comprised a 'Grenadier Battalion of Guards' and the 3/1st Foot Guards; the 2nd Brigade comprised the 1/Coldstream Guards and the 1/3rd Foot Guards. The 'grenadier battalion' consisted of the grenadier companies from the three regiments of Foot Guards but I don't have precise details; the implication is the eight available grenadier companies from the three regiments formed this service battalion but this is not clear.

Returns for the 3/1st Foot Guards in September 1799 showing officers, the companies they commanded and their designations indicate that companies were not numbered in the regimental hierarchy on service, but rather within the battalion thus:

Grenadier Company

2nd to 9th Companies

Light Company

In 1806, the 1/1st Foot Guards and the 3/1st Foot Guards deployed to Sicily, 1421 and 1167 men strong respectively, embarking at Ramsgate on 26 July 1806. They sailed on 17 August via Plymouth where the 45th and 87th Foot, and the 2nd Dragoons joined the force. Whilst disembarked at Plymouth, the six flank companies of the two Guards battalions were formed into a 'flank battalion' commanded by Colonel Henry Clinton.

Returns of officers of 1/1st Foot Guards and 3/1st Foot Guards proceeding to Sicily, the companies they commanded and their designations again show a battalion hierarchy on service thus:

1/1st Foot Guards comprised:
The King's Company

Grenadier Company

3rd to 10th Companies

two Light Companies

3/1st Foot Guards comprised:

Grenadier Company

2nd to 9th Companies

Light Company

We can extrapolate the composition of the 'flank battalion' thus.

King's Company 1/1st Foot Guards

Grenadier company 1/1st Foot Guards

Grenadier company 3/1st Foot Guards

Light company 1/1st Foot Guards

Light company 1/1st Foot Guards

Light company 3/1st Foot Guards

 What is also now evident, is that in battalions on service, the companies were not numbered in the regimental sequence, but within the battalion, and that the flank companies occupied numbers in this hierarchy, the Grenadier Company of 3/1st Foot Guards, for example, clearly occupies the number 1 position, even if it doesn't seem to use the number in its title. This numbering within the battalions was, presumably, for operational reasons. It would be very interesting to know what their equivalent numbers were in the regimental hierarchy, for that might answer the question about the regimental numbers of flanks companies and if companies were taken on a 'pick and mix' basis from within the regiment when battalions were sent on service. I regret that, as yet, I've not found an answer to that one.

The same composition and numbering is seen in the returns of officers and companies of the1/1st Foot Guards and the 3/1st Foot Guards during the Corruna campaign, though I have found no mention of a detachment of grenadier and light companies for a flank battalion during 1808-1809. The two battalions appear to have remained complete, at 12 and 10 companies strong respectively throughout 1808-1809. On 19 November 1808 the flank companies were detached from their battalions and a "flank battalion" was formed under command of Colonel John Lambert.

The army embarked following the battle of Corunna during 16/17 January 1809; 1st Foot Guards disembarked at Portsmouth on 25 January, marching to Chatham where they arrived on 8 February.

On 23 July 1809 1/1st Foot Guards, still at Chatham, received orders to embark for the Walcheren expedition. They were joined by the flank companies of the three second battalions of Foot Guards and the 3/1st Foot Guards. The composition of the brigade was thus:

Officers
NCOs
Drummers
Men

1/1st Foot Guards & Flank Companies 2/1st Foot Guards

54
96
26
1,328

1/3rd Foot Guards

37
74
22
1093

Flank Companies 2/Coldstream Guards

9
18

241

Flank Companies 2/3rd Foot Guards

9
17

241

Organization

This is a very difficult area. It does appear that regiments of Foot Guards had a higher establishment than the line, but it is very difficult to establish exactly what those establishments were precisely. The figures given in the Rules and Regulations 1792 are very low and are evidently for a peace time footing. They are also not specific to Foot Guards and are not much help.

A summary of increases during the Revolutionary period shows an establishment of 50 men per company in 1790, which compares with the 30 men per company specified in the Rules and Regulations 1792.

In 1792 the establishment was raised in the Foot Guards to 60 men per company, and we have already seen the light companies established in 1793 with 100 men each.

On 7 December 1798 the strength of the grenadier companies was raised to 120 men and on 3 July 1798, that of centre companies to 114 men. On 25 November 1799 the establishment of all companies was raised to 150 men.

As for officers, none of my sources give any specific figures for company establishments; I doubt there was one. Where nominal returns are made they often include very senior and general officers who held commissions in the regiment but did not serve with it in a regimental capacity.

George Nafziger estimates that a typical guards company with strength similar to that in 1799 above, would have a captain commanding, 2 or 3 captains/lieutenants and 1 ensign. His estimates for the regimental staff include a colonel/lieutenant colonel commanding, a lieutenant colonel/major 2IC, an adjutant, a surgeon, 2 assistant surgeons, a sergeant major, a quartermaster Sergeant and a Schoolmaster Sergeant, plus a drummer, a fifer and up to 13 pioneers.

I have no reason to question these figures.

Bibliography

Anon. Colours of the Guards Division 1660-1968 Private Publication. Aldershot, nd.

Edwards, T.J. (Major). Standards, Guidons and Colours of the Commonwealth Forces Aldershot, 1953.

Fletcher, H.L. Aubrey (Major). History of the Foot Guards to 1856 London, 1927.

Hamilton, F W (Lieutenant General KCB). The Origin and History of the First or Grenadier Guards from documents in the State Paper Office, War Office, Horse Guards, Contemporary History, Regimental Records Etc 3 Volumes. London, 1874.

Milne, Samuel. The Standards and Colours of the Army from the Restoration 1661 to the introduction of the Territorial System 1881 Private publication limited to 200 copies. Leeds, 1893.

Nafziger, George. The British Military its System and Organization 1803-1815 Ontario, 1983.

Returns of Quarters, Regimental Letter Books and Nominal Roles.

 

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