Welsh Guards in the Second World War

This article will help you to research soldiers who served in the Welsh Guards during the Second World War. The first part of this guide provides a brief outline of the services of the different battalions of the Welsh Guards during the war while the second focuses on how to research a soldier. The last part looks at the resources available to help you research the Regiment. I have written another guide on my second website to researching those who served in the Regiment during the First World War and a series of articles on researching those who served in the British Army:

The Welsh Guards in the Second World War

1st Battalion Welsh Guards

When Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards was stationed at Gibraltar. On 7 November, the Battalion left for Marseilles, France where the unit served as part of the General Headquarters Troops. For gallantry near Arras on 24 May 1940, Lieutenant the Honourable Christopher Furness was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The Battalion was evacuated back to Britain from Dunkirk. Between 16 June 1940 and 12 September 1941, the Battalion served as part of the 24th Infantry Brigade (Guards). On 15 September, the Battalion joined the newly formed Guards Support Group and when it was disbanded, the 32nd Infantry Brigade (Guards) on 4 June. The 1st Battalion served with this Brigade until March 1945. Most of the Brigade’s service during this period was with the Guards Armoured Division.

Between 18 and 29 June, the 1st and 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards landed in Normandy piecemeal. The 2nd Battalion was also serving with the Guards Armoured Brigade as is armoured reconnaissance battalion. After the Normandy campaign, the 1st Battalion took part in the advance across France, into the Low Countries and Germany. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (C.W.G.C.) recorded 251 dead for the Battalion between 3 September 1939 and 15 August 1945.

2nd Battalion Welsh Guards

The 2nd Battalion was formed on 18 May 1939 and was stationed at the Tower of London when Britain declared war on Germany in September of the same year. Apart from a brief interlude at Theydon Bois, Epping Forest, Essex the Battalion remained at the Tower of London before it moved to Camberley in April 1940. At Camberley, the Battalion joined the 20th Independent Infantry Brigade (Guards) in which it served between 22 April 1940 – 13 September 1941. On 21 May, the Battalion moved to Dover where it embarked on board the SS Biarritz and the Mona’s Queen for Boulogne. Arriving at the port in the next morning, the Battalion took up defensive positions. The 2nd Battalion suffered heavy casualties, especially in prisoners, defending the port before being evacuated shortly before midnight on 23 May on board the destroyer Windsor.

On 15 September, the Battalion joined the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade. The 2nd Battalion was converted from an infantry to an armoured battalion and was redesignated as the 2nd Armoured Battalion. The Battalion served with the 6th Armoured Brigade, part of the Guards Armoured Division, until January 1943 when it became the Division’s armoured reconnaissance unit. The 2nd Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion served in this role for the remainder of the war in Europe. The Battalion landed in Normandy, France in late June 1944 and saw heavy fighting in the campaign. On 18 July, Lieutenant Reginal John “Rex” Whistler, a well-known artist was killed serving with the Battalion. The Battalion served with the Guards Division in the Low Countries and Germany. The C.W.G.C. recorded 114 dead for the Battalion between 3 September 1939 and 15 August 1945.

3rd Battalion Welsh Guards

On 24 October 1941, the Holding Battalion of the Welsh Guards was converted to an infantry battalion and became the 3rd Battalion The Welsh Guards. The Battalion joined the 33rd Independent Infantry Brigade (Guards) in which it served until 4 February 1943. On 5 February, the Battalion embarked for North Africa to take part in the Tunisian Campaign. Landing at Algiers on 16 February, the Battalion joined the 1st Independent Infantry Brigade (Guards) in which it served for the remainder of the war. In February 1944, the Battalion landed at Naples in Italy. During its service in the campaign, the Battalion suffered heavy casualties and took part in the Battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944. The C.W.G.C. recorded 202 dead for the Battalion during the war.

Researching Soldiers who Served in the Welsh Guards in the Second World War

There will usually be a lot of information available for a soldier who served in the Welsh Guards. The most important document to get hold of is their service record which is held by the Ministry of Defence. I’ve written a detailed article on how to order these documents: Order a Second World War Service Record. After a service record, you will need to get hold of the correct war diaries. These record the location and activities of a unit and will allow you to follow a soldier around the world once you find out when they served with that unit from their service record. These documents are held at the National Archives in London and I offer a copying service for them. I offer a copying service for these documents

The Welsh Guards used an army number block between 2,730,001 and 2,744,000 to number its soldiers who served in the ranks. Officers had a personal number, so the numbering block doesn’t apply to them. An army number outside the block means a soldier was transferred to the Welsh Guards from another regiment or corps. If a soldier of the Welsh Guards died between 3 September 1939 and 31 December 1947, then you can find when they died, where they are buried or commemorated and other information on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website. The entry for Serjeant Idris Sullivan, who is buried in the North Sheen Cemetery recorded he was serving with the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards at the time of his death and that he was the “Son of James and Kathleen Sullivan; husband of Mary Sullivan, of Fulham”. His army number of 2734199 shows that Sullivan had joined the Welsh Guards on enlistment but his service record would be needed for further research. The 1st Battalion’s war diary makes no reference to Sullivan’s death but it is very poor for 1943.

Serjeant Idris Sullivan Welsh GuardsThere aren’t many resources online for researching soldiers who served in the Second World War. Findmypast has the War Office casualty lists, a collection of documents relating to prisoners of war and the British Library’s digitized newspaper archives. The casualty lists are useful as they recorded British soldiers who died, were wounded, went missing, were taken prisoner and confirmed prisoner of war. In Idris Sullivan’s entry, he is shown as having “Died” which meant that he wasn’t killed in action and didn’t die from wounds. He probably died of disease or in an accident and more research would be needed to confirm the cause of death. Findmypast offers a free trial period.

I would also recommend purchasing a copy of the regimental history which has been reprinted by the Naval and Military Press. The reprint isn’t on the best quality paper so the photographs are very poor but the text is fine. You can often pick the first editions up for only an extra £5-8 more than the reprint, especially on Abebooks.

War Diaries of the Welsh Guards

After a service record, war diaries are the most important documents to find. They will record a unit’s location and activities and often contain appendices in the form of orders, battle reports and maps. They haven’t been digitized and can only be viewed at the National Archives. I offer a copying service for war diaries.

1st Battalion Welsh Guards

  • Date: September 1939 – June 1940
  • Reference: WO 167/696
  • Notes:
  • Date: July 1940 – December 1941
  • Reference: WO 166/4112
  • Notes:
  • Date: 03 January – 31 December 1943
  • Reference: WO 166/12472
  • Notes: A poor war diary when it comes to the daily entries, though there are a variety of appendices, especially concerning exercises.
  • Date: 01 January – 27 March 1945
  • Reference: WO 171/5151
  • Notes: A very good war diary with daily entries containing a lot of information. There are also a wide variety of appendices and as an added bonus, the war diary is typed.
  • Date: 11 April – 30 September 1945
  • Reference: WO 166/17141
  • Notes: A good typed war diary with more detail than is usually found for this period. There are no appendices.
  • Date: 01 November – 31 December 1945
  • Reference: WO 169/20034
  • Notes: This is a very interesting war diary for life in Palestine post-war. There’s lots of interesting information and a variety of appendices including officer and other rank field returns.
  • Date: January – June 1946
  • Reference: WO 169/23195
  • Notes:

2nd Battalion Welsh Guards

  • Date: 01 September 1939 – 30 April 1940 then 01 June – 31 December 1941
  • Reference: WO 166/4113
  • Notes: This war diary only provides the most basic information regarding the activities of the 2nd Battalion during this period, though there wasn’t a lot to record. Most of the entries concern the arrival and departure of officers. There is a “nominal roll of officers available, or who may be available for second battalion and training battalion Welsh Guards” from September 1939. There is another appendix recording the list of officers posted to the 2nd Battalion which appears at the end of October 1939 along with a list of other ranks who on 1st King’s Guard the same month, with army numbers.
  • Date: May 1940
  • Reference: WO 167/697
  • Notes: A good detailed war diary which contains a complete list of officers and men of the Battalion (with army numbers for other ranks), divided by company, who embarked on 22 May 1940 for Boulogne.
  • Date: 1942
  • Reference: WO 166/8582
  • Notes: Another short war diary with brief entries for most of the year. The only appendices are a Battalion Operational Instruction dated 17 September and a march table for the same month.
  • Date: 1943
  • Reference: WO 166/12473
  • Notes: Another short diary which contains no appendices.
  • Date: 1944
  • Reference: WO 171/1260
  • Notes: This war diary is more detailed in the months prior to the Normandy Campaign with appendices appearing from June. Once the Battalion is in action, the level of detail can vary considerably. However, map coordinates are often provided and you can combine the war diary with the regimental history for more information. There are a wide variety of appendices in this war diary, including a list of casualties suffered up to the end of September which takes up three pages.
  • Date: January – February, April – June 1944
  • Light Aid Detachment
  • Reference: WO 171/1261
  • Notes:
  • Date: 06 January – 29 December 1945
  • Reference: WO 171/5152
  • Notes: Another poor war diary when it comes to daily entries. However, there are a lot of appendices including a detailed “Account of the part played by 2 (Armd Recce) BN Welsh Guards in Operation Veritable 8 Feb – 12 March 1945”. An appendix also covers Operation Plunder. Overall a good war diary, at least for the final months of the war. There is also the Battalion’s Light Aid Detachment war diary for January.
  • Date: January 1946
  • Reference: WO 171/9205
  • Notes: A single page with the following three entries while the unit was at Bensberg. “14 January: 11 am: Commander 1st Corps visits the Battalion. 19 January: 9.30 am: Commanding Officer inspects the Barracks. 23 January: Nuremberg Guard rejoins the Battalion”.

3rd Battalion Welsh Guards

  • Date: 24 October – 31 December 1941
  • Reference: WO 166/4114
  • Notes: A good war diary which has been typed and contains a wide variety of appendices.
  • Date: January – June 1943
  • Reference: WO 175/490
  • Notes:
  • Date: July – December 1943
  • Reference: WO 169/10171
  • Notes:
  • Date: 02 January – 30 November 1944
  • Reference: WO 170/1355
  • Notes: A very good war diary packed full of a variety of appendices and runs to over 500 pages.
  • Date: 01 January – 31 July 1945
  • Reference: WO 170/4982
  • Notes: Another good war diary with a wide range of appendices.

Miscellaneous Files Relating to the Welsh Guards

The following files held at the National Archives may be of interest if you’re researching either the Regiment or a soldier who served with it during the war.

  • Welsh Guards: Disposition and Movement of Regiment
  • Reference: WO 379/22
  • Notes: These index cards record the stations of the battalion’s of the Welsh Guards with the 1st Battalion’s noted from 1919 to 1960. Though, when the units were abroad on campaign, only the vaguest information was recorded e.g., Normandy.
  • Report on Operations of the 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards at Boulogne 21 – 24 May 1940 by Major J. C. Lewis
  • Date: 1940
  • Reference: CAB 106/228
  • Notes: Contains a six-page report on operations at Boulogne and a roll of officers who embarked and disembarked along with the number of other ranks. A page on tactical notes on operations, a four-page account of the battle by Major J. C. Windsor Lewis and a map of Boulogne. Also a map of “Final position of Allied forces Saturday May 25th in Harbour Station” along with a sketch map of positions in Boulogne.
  • Welsh Guards Recommendations for Honours and Awards for Gallant and Distinguished Service
  • Reference: WO 373
  • The search is set up for recommendations for the Regiment between 1925 and 1949. There is a small fee for each citation you’d like to download, currently £3.50. You can download the citations for free at the National Archives.

Welsh Guards Missing Soldier Reports

These are important documents if you’re researching a soldier who was taken prisoner or reported missing during the war. They often contain eyewitness accounts regarding the circumstances in which a soldier went missing.

  • Missing Personnel British Expeditionary Force France
  • Date: 1940
  • Reference: WO 361/52
  • Notes:
  • Missing Personnel 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards North Africa
  • Date: August – September 1943
  • Reference: WO 361/925
  • Notes:
  • Missing Personnel Welsh Guards North West Europe
  • Date: 1944 – 1945
  • Reference: WO 361/648
  • Notes: A useful document if you’re researching a soldier who was initially posted as missing or was captured during the war. Most of the pages in the file consist of individual reports into missing servicemen. These record when they were last seen, who by and in what circumstances. The 2nd Battalion reports often record the rest of the missing soldier’s tank crew. For example, 2738036 Guardsman D. V. Wilcox went missing on 9 September 1944, while serving as part of the crew of No.187999 Cromwell tank which was hit. The other four crew are named, as are the circumstances of the tank’s destruction and efforts to ascertain whether they had become casualties. The last contact was from the tank commander by wireless, stating they were bailing out. Wilcox was taken prisoner by the Germans and survived the war.