Life Guards (United Kingdom)

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The Life Guards
Cap badge of the regiment
Active21 May 1922[i]–present
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
BranchBritish Army
TypeLife guards
RoleArmoured reconnaissance and ceremonial
Part ofHousehold Cavalry
Garrison/HQRHQ – London
Regiment – Bulford Camp
Nickname(s)Piccadilly Cowboys, Donkey Wallopers, Tins, Tinned Fruit, Piccadilly Butchers.
Motto(s)Honi soit qui mal y pense
(Middle French for 'Shame on him who thinks evil of it')
MarchQuick: "Milanollo"
Slow: "Life Guards Slow March"
Trot past: "Keel Row"
Colonel-in-ChiefThe King
Colonel of
the Regiment
Lieutenant General Sir Edward Smyth-Osbourne
Tactical Recognition Flash

The Life Guards (LG) is the most senior regiment of the British Army and part of the Household Cavalry, along with The Blues and Royals.


The Life Guards grew from the four troops of Horse Guards (exclusively formed of gentlemen-troopers until the transformation of the last two remaining troops into Regiments of Life Guards in 1788)[1][2] raised by Charles II around the time of his restoration, plus two troops of Horse Grenadier Guards (rank and file composed of commoners),[3] which were raised some years later.[4]

These units first saw action during the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1672 and then at the Battle of Sedgemoor during the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685.[5]

The 3rd and 4th troops were disbanded in 1746.[4] In 1788, the remaining 1st and 2nd troops, along with the two troops of Horse Grenadier Guards, were reorganised into two regiments, the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Life Guards (from 1877, simply 1st Life Guards and 2nd Life Guards).[4] From then on (1788), rank and file were mostly formed of commoners (pejorative nickname: "cheesemongers"),[6] the bulk of the gentlemen-troopers were pensioned off.[7]

In 1815 they were part of The Household Brigade at the Battle of Waterloo under Major-General Lord Edward Somerset.[5]

In 1821, the Life Guards under the command of Captain Oakes fired upon mourners trying to redirect the funeral procession of Queen Caroline through the city of London. Two civilians were killed. Though charges of manslaughter and murder were brought, no guardsmen were prosecuted.[8]

In late 1918, after much service in the First World War, the two regiments gave up their horses and were re-roled as machine gun battalions, becoming the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Guards Machine Gun Regiment. They reverted to their previous names and roles after the end of the war.[5] In 1922, the two regiments were merged into one regiment, The Life Guards (1st and 2nd).[4] In 1928, it was re-designated The Life Guards.[5]

During the Second World War, The Life Guards took part in the Normandy landings and the advance through France to liberate Brussels.[5] In the late 1940s, they were deployed to the Middle East, initially in Egypt, garrisoned at Kasr-el-Nil Barracks in Cairo from 1946 to 1947, and then in Palestine from 1947. In 1948, the unit left the Middle East and returned to England on leave. In 1952, it returned to Germany as part of the 11th Armoured Division.[9]

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the unit repeatedly rotated from Britain to Germany. In 1965, the unit was deployed to Asia for the first time in central Malaysia until 1968, returning to England. Like in the past decades, the unit was stationed in West Germany and England through the early to late 1970s. During its deployments, the unit always maintained a squadron in London conducting public duties. In 1971 several squadrons were deployed to Northern Ireland during The Troubles, and the regiment would see action there several more times through the mid-1970s. In March 1979, B Squadron was deployed to Cyprus as part of the Peacekeeping mission there, and this would become another location that components of the unit would be deployed to.[9]

In 1980, the unit's headquarters would be moved from Combermere Barracks in Windsor to Lothain Barracks in Detmold, North Rhine-Westphalia, West Germany as a part of the 4th Armoured Division of the British Army of the Rhine, with a reconnaissance role and also tasked with the defense of part of the North German Plain. In January 1981 it became a component of the 20th Armoured Brigade.[10] The unit provided a mounted escort for then Charles, Prince of Wales and then Lady Diana Spencer during their wedding ceremony on 29 July 1981, in London. Throughout the rest of the 1980s-1990s its headquarters moved frequently from Germany to Britain, and in January 1984 had squadrons deployed to Cyprus as part of a UN tour.[9]

In 1992, as part of the Options for Change defence review, The Life Guards were joined with the Blues and Royals in a 'Union', becoming part of the new Household Cavalry, classified as a corps, not an amalgamation, forming the Household Cavalry Regiment (armoured reconnaissance) and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (ceremonial duties). However, both units maintain their regimental identity, with distinct uniforms and traditions, and their own colonel.[5] Like The Blues and Royals, they have a peculiar non-commissioned rank structure: In brief, they lack sergeants, replacing them with multiple grades of corporal.[11]

In 2018, the Life Guards began admitting women.[12] In 2020, Elizabeth Godwin became the first woman to be commissioned as an officer in the Life Guards.[12]

Previous names[edit]

Names used by the regiment were as follows:[4]


Troopers in full dress uniform
Mounted, with cuirass
Dismounted, without cuirass

On ceremonial occasions The Life Guards wear a scarlet tunic, a metal cuirass and a matching helmet with a white plume worn bound on the top into an 'onion' shape; the exceptions to this are the regiment's trumpeters, who wear a red plume, and farriers, who wear blue tunics and have a black plume.[13] In addition, The Life Guards wear their chin strap below their lower lip, as opposed to The Blues and Royals who wear it under their chin. On service dress The Life Guards Officers and Warrant Officers Class One wear a red lanyard on the right shoulder, as well as a Sam Browne belt.[14] The Life Guards, as part of the Household Division, does not use the Order of the Bath Star for its officer rank "pips", but rather the Order of the Garter Star.[15]

Battle honours[edit]

The battle honours are:[16] [combined battle honours of 1st Life Guards and 2nd Life Guards, with the following emblazoned]:[ii]

Commanding Officers[edit]

The Commanding Officers of the regiment have been:[17]

  • Lt Col Emerson M. Turnbull: November 1959–April 1962
  • Lt Col Julian P. Fane: April 1962–May 1964
  • Lt Col Sir James W. Scott: May 1964–October 1966
  • Lt Col Ian B. Baillie: October 1966–May 1969
  • Lt Col Henry Desmond A. Langley: May 1969–September 1971
  • Lt Col Simon E. M. Bradish-Ellammes: December 1971–December 1973
  • Lt Col Simon C. Cooper: December 1973–August 1976
  • Lt Col Andrew J. Hartigan: August 1976–October 1978
  • Lt Col Arthur B. S. H. Gooch: October 1978–February 1981
  • Lt Col James B. Emson: February 1981–July 1983
  • Lt Col Timothy J. Earl: July 1983–November 1985
  • Lt Col V. Anthony L. Goodhew: November 1985–June 1988
  • Lt Col James W. M. Ellery: June 1988–December 1990
  • Lt Col Anthony P. de Ritter: December 1990–October 1992


The Colonels-in-Chief of the regiment were:[18]

  • 21 May 1922 – 1 February 1936: Field Marshal King George V
  • 1 February 1936 – 10 December 1936: Field Marshal King Edward VIII
  • 10 December 1936 – 6 February 1952: Field Marshal King George VI
  • 6 February 1952 – 8 September 2022: Queen Elizabeth II
  • 8 September 2022 — present: Field Marshal King Charles III

Regimental Colonels[edit]

The Regimental Colonels were:[18]

Order of precedence[edit]

Preceded by
First in Order of
Precedence of the Cavalry
Cavalry Order of Precedence Succeeded by



  1. ^ The current 'Life Guards' were raised in 1922 following reductions to the Cavalry Corps. The regiment's predecessors, the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, have their roots dating back to 1660.
  2. ^ The regiment maintained the fiction of separate regiments until 1928, receiving in 1927 two separate sets of Standards with different (but almost identical) battle honours emblazoned.
  3. ^ Revised combined list issued May 1933, omitting from emblazonment "Passchendaele" and "St. Quentin Canal" of the 1st Life Guards.
  4. ^ a b Awarded jointly to The Life Guards and Blues and Royals, for services of Household Cavalry Regiment.


  1. ^ Magnæ Britanniæ Notitia (1716) p. 115f.: Of the Troops of the Household
  2. ^ Encyclopædia britannica, Vol. 8 (1797), p. 171: Horse Guards
  3. ^ Tincey, John; Embleton, Gerry (1994). The British Army 1660-1704. Great Britain: Osprey Publishing. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-85532-381-0. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e White-Spunner, p. xii
  5. ^ a b c d e f "The Life Guards". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  6. ^ Slang Dictionaries (2014), edited by John Camden Hotten, Francis Grose, Ambrose Bierce
  7. ^ The statutes at large from the Magna Charta, to the end of the eleventh Parliament of Great Britain, anno 1761 [continued to 1806]. By Danby Pickering (1762); Vol. 36 (London, 1788), p. 362
  8. ^ "From the archive, 18 August 1821: Two killed in Queen's funeral procession". The Guardian. 18 August 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  9. ^ a b c "The Life Guards". British Army Units 1945 On. Retrieved 10 August 2023.
  10. ^ "British Army units from 1945 on - Life Guards". Retrieved 10 August 2023.
  11. ^ White-Spunner, p. xiv
  12. ^ a b Chelsea, Davina (1 September 2023). "Meet the history-making Captain Elizabeth Godwin as she takes Talter behind the scenes at Horse Guards and Hyde Park Barracks". Tatler. Condé Nast. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  13. ^ "The Rank Past of the Mounted Guards". Trooping the Colour. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  14. ^ "The Household Cavalry: Order of dress and explanation of the items of clothing". Archived from the original on 17 November 2014. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  15. ^ "Ranks and Insignia for Infantry Officers through out the Victorian Era". Victorian Strollers. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  16. ^ "The Household Cavalry: Standards". Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  17. ^ "Regiments and Commanding Officers, 1960 - Colin Mackie" (PDF). p. 11. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  18. ^ a b "1st Life Guards". Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. Retrieved 27 September 2016.


  • Baker, Granville (1934). Old Cavalry Stations. Heath Cranton Ltd.
  • Dawnay, Major N P (n.d.). The Standards of the Household Cavalry. Gale and Polden, Aldershot.
  • Lloyd, W (1992). Challengers and Chargers: A History of The Life Guards 1945-1992. Leo Cooper.
  • Roberts, Andrew (2005). Waterloo. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780060088668.
  • Roynon, Gavin (2004). Massacre of Innocents: The Crofton Diaries 1914-15. Sutton publishing.
  • Watson, J N P (1997). Guardsmen of the Sky. Michael Russell.
  • White-Spunner, Barney (2006). Horse Guards. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1405055741.

External links[edit]