Throughout the years since 1945 the Regiment has seen much action, from the retreat from Dunkirk to North Africa and Italy. Grenadier Battalions fought in the Division commanded by Major General, later Field Marshal, Montgomery.
The Band has paraded for 15 monarchs over 325 years, raising morale in the darkest hours of the Second World War and bringing joy to key historic occasions like the coronation of our present Queen.
It’s a tune that sends shivers up the spines of anglophiles the world over, the Regimental Quick March of the Grenadier Guards and all other Fusilier units. It dates back to the 17th Century, originally a simple ditty known as “The Grenadeer’s March” and later adapted with lyrics that include allusions to the Battle of Waterloo.
Handpicked for their size and strength, grenadiers were the elite soldiers of the 18th Century. They smashed through walls, defended sieges and generally took on whatever obstacles stood in their way. They would often lob primitive grenades to clear the way for the rest of the regiment.
By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, grenadier companies were phased out at battalion level but continued at divisional level. For example, grenadiers made up one of the 13 companies in the 1st Foot Guards – now known as the Coldstream Guards – and continued to wear bearskin caps for full dress.
In a time before modern self contained bombs, grenades were iron balls filled with gun powder that would explode if thrown into a line of enemy troops. To throw them, a soldier had to free his hands from the grip on his musket. This was not easy with a large brimmed cap on, so the grenade was usually slung crossways over the shoulder in a pouch. This required a new headdress and that is how the mitre cap came to be worn by grenadiers.
As warfare changed from static wars of position dominated by sieges to fluid wars of manoeuvre, the grenade became obsolete. Nevertheless, grenadier companies continued to exist as the crack companies of their regiments. They wore distinctive headdress and took the right of the line on parade.
These men were tall, strong and brave and they were still seen as elite soldiers within their military force. They were paid more and ranked higher than the general infantry.
In the 1700s, grenadiers were elite soldiers selected out of regular infantry battalions. They were tall, strong men who wore sombreros and carried pouches of iron balls with gun powder on them, lit by fuses, that they could throw or roll into enemy lines.
By the time of the French and Indian War, one of 13 companies in a British foot battalion was made up of grenadiers. They served from Canada to the Ohio River Valley and from the Caribbean to the Continent and saw action in nearly every major campaign of the period.
Their name lives on today in the regimental quick march The British Grenadiers, which dates back to the seventeenth century. It’s a tribute to a tradition tested on the battlegrounds of British history and as valid today as it was at First Ypres, Waterloo, Corunna and the retreat from Dunkirk. The regiment has proved that an unshrinking belief in strong traditional values does not prevent it from embracing change.
In modern terms, specialist grenade-launching units are now indistinguishable from other infantry. Despite this, some regiments still use the name grenadier and some have even retained the tune to The British Grenadiers (with lyrics).
By the seventeenth century grenadiers had ditched their brimmed hats and adopted caps similar to those worn by infantry. They were also issued with grenades and equipped with flintlock muskets. A special brass’match case’ was attached to the shoulder belt which contained slow matches for lighting grenade fuses.
By the Napoleonic Wars grenadier companies of line infantry had acquired a bearskin cap for their full dress uniform. This was associated with their role in the defeat of the French Imperial Guard at Waterloo. Today, the 1st Battalion carries on the tradition with a bearskin cap for parade dress, and the grenadier company of the Foot Guards still wears one in combat. This is a unit that has had a busy recent history with two tours to Northern Ireland and three deployments to Afghanistan.