In the “Great War”, now referred to as WW1, The British Guards Division was heavily engaged in Belgium and France. At the Battle of Loos in October 1915 German assaults were repeatedly beaten back. During the battle a German bombing post was causing many casualties. The Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards was determined to capture the post by surprise. The means to do so were carefully planned. It was decided to send a party across no-man’s-land and before doing so they were all briefed as what was required of them. Two officers would be in the party – a lieutenant in command and a second lieutenant, an experienced “Bombing Officer”. The night was ideal, very dark, but flares were sent up by the enemy every few minutes. Thirty figures left their position and crept towards the German lines. Bombs were thrown at the German bombing post which was in a trench. The Germans were taken completely by surprise and the post was captured. Nevertheless the Guards were met with counter attacks and numerous bombs were thrown at them. There was extreme danger during which the British party showed marked coolness and tenacity in advancing up the enemy’s trench and eventually capturing it. They then built barricades in the trench to thwart attempts by the Germans towards recapture. The Lieutenant was awarded the Military Cross and four other ranks were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. One of the DCM recipients was Private W. Williams. He would be a “Private” and not a “Guardsman” at that time . Later, King George V instructed that a “Private” of the Division’s foot battalions would in future be known as a “Guardsman” in view of the gallantry shown during the war.
The citation of Private Williams reads – “For conspicuous gallantry and good work as a bomber, when advancing up a German trench. He subsequently carried back two wounded men over the open ground to avoid blocking the narrow trench and hindering the supply of bombs and reinforcements”
As the war continued raiding the other side’s trenches was often a vicious factor of trench warfare. Like warriors of the past it was often a confrontation with the enemy with crude self-made knives and short wooden clubs. Trench raids were mainly carried out at night-time. Small numbers of men would cross no-man’s-land and try to enter the enemy’s trenches. They were lightly equipped for quick and silent killing. The endeavour was to capture enemy troops or kill them. If a machine gun could be captured then this was a bonus for the raid.
In 1916 Lieutenant MacMillan joined the 2nd Battalion after 3 months in hospital with a head injury and a very painful bullet wound in his right hand. He went out on a patrol but with only two men. One of whom he called the “Welsh Corporal”. Private Williams had been promoted! The three man patrol was very near to the German lines when they unexpectedly came across some German soldiers building a sap. A sap is a concealed tunnel or trench to a fortified place. A German threw a bomb and on explosion wounded the officer. He was severely concussed and suffered facial injuries. The other soldier of the patrol was also slightly injured. It was Williams who fought off the Germans with his club and either killed or wounded another German. The three British soldiers regained their own lines. After Lieutenant McMillan was sent to a First Aid Post, Williams was seen by the Battalion Commander who asked him how did McMillan sustain his injuries. Williams replied
“Begging your pardon Sir, it was one of those Germans. So I hit him with my club and then I hit him again and the back of his head came off!”
The Brigade Commander congratulated Lieutenant McMillan and his patrol for an excellent report and for the most useful information which they had brought in. Williams, for his part in the patrol, was awarded the Guards Division Certificate for Gallantry. Later, his actions were properly assessed and he was awarded the Military Medal (MM). McMillan went further and paid Williams the highest compliment and said:
“Williams was worthy of the Victoria Cross - that he was a brave, intelligent man well aware of the dangers he was running”.
Williams transferred to the Military Foot Police and his value was recognised when he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM). Thus he possessed the DCM, MM and the MSM.
Williams was born in Bodfari, Denbighshire in 1888. He had joined the Grenadier Guards in 1909. After three years service he joined the Denbighshire Police and later the Liverpool City Police.
Lieutenant McMillan was Harold McMillan who was Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963! As a matter of interest, another notable individual who saw service with the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards during the Great War was Major the Rt Hon Winston Churchill. Having resigned from the Government, he intended to gain experience to become a battalion commander but he did not do so and rejoined the Government.
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