World War 1 & Guernsey


Around 3,000 Guernseymen served in WW1 about one third of those in the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry. Both of my grandfathers, and nine of my great uncles fought in the Great War. My grandfather George Foote (pictured right), was one of the first Guernseymen to join up, and enlisted with the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He gained his officer's commission and transferred to the Royal Munster Fusiliers before they arrived in France. He fought as part of the 16th "Irish" Division until he was gassed in the trenches in April 1916 at Noeux-Les-Mines. Following a lengthy period of recuperation, he transferred to the King's African Rifles, and spent the rest of the War in Tanganyika & Nyasaland.

In 1916, the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry was formed, and George's elder brother was appointed second-in-command. Both his brothers fought with the RGLI at Cambrai in 1917. A great uncle, Ernest Brouard, joined the Royal Gloucester Hussars, fought in Gallipoli, before being killed in action in Egypt. My maternal grandfather, Oscar Ozanne, joined the RGLI as soon as he was old enough, and just reached the front in time for the armistice.

World War 1 in Guernsey

The best starting point for researching Guernsey ancestors in the Great War is the book by Major Edwin Parks "Diex Aix: God Help Us - The Guernseymen who Marched Away 1914-1918", published by the States of Guernsey in 1992. In addition to providing the definitive history of the Guernsey regiments that served in World War 1, there are comprehensive appendices listing all those known to have served in these regiments.

Online, there are shorter articles relating to the Channel Islands in the Great War: at the BBC's site Birth of the RGLI, and another entitled Fear God and Honour the King - a brief overview of the Channel Islands and the Great War, appears at the Jersey Heritage Trust web site; and Norman Wood's Royal Guernsey Militia site contains a short regimental history and photos of military insignia (cap badges, buttons, etc) as worn by the Militia and RGLI.

There is a new site, Channel Islands Great War Study Group, dedicated to improving understanding and knowledge of the impact of the Great War on the Channel Islands and its peoples.

In Guernsey, Castle Cornet is the home of the Militia Museum which contains a wide range of exhibits relating to the Royal Guernsey Militia and the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry.

The British Light Infantry Regiments web site contains an interesting section on the RGLI, including a roll of honour, and details of other researchers.

Further links and information can be found on the Royal Guernsey Militia page of the TF Mills' Land Forces of Britain, the Empire & Commonwealth

World War 1: Sources for Family History

Since the Channel Islands were part of the British Expeditionary Force, all records relating to their role is in the Public Records Office, Kew. The most relevant record series for family historians are the Medal Rolls, Service Records & War Diaries. The PRO are starting to make the Medal Rolls available online through DocumentsOnline service. Service Records that survive have been released, and can be consulted on microfiche in Kew. War Diaries contain details of the day-to-day activities of each regiment, but are unlikely to contain specific references to individual soldiers, unless they were wounded or killed. Many of those who died and were buried in an official War Grave can be found in the database at the web site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The Imperial War Museum holds a great many resources related to all wars - including photos, film and personal accounts of World War 1 - and their catalogue can be consulted online.

There are a great many other web sites devoted to all aspects of the First World War - but among the best are Chris Baker's The Long, Long Trail with a lively discussion forum, Trenches on the Web, and the BBC web site World War 1, which contains many useful links.

Last update: 11 Nov 2006
© Stephen Foote 1996-2006