THE brave soldiers of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry knew they were heading into hellish conditions in the trenches, Royal British Legion Guernsey branch president Major Bob Place has said, as he praised plans for two memorials to the hundreds who died on the French battlefields.
Our Guernsey’s Finest Hour appeal, launched on Friday, is in support of plans put forward by the RGLI Charitable Trust to establish lasting memorials in Guernsey and France for the 327 RGLI men killed and 667 injured in the notorious WWI Battle of Cambrai, which in November will mark its centenary.
Major Place said it was an excellent project, which would also acknowledge how there had been a landmark change in Guernsey’s stance on having a military unit.
‘People don’t realise how big a change it was,’ he said. ‘It had to go through the States, to get into a position to be able to fight abroad. Before that we were basically
designed for home defence, so they had to get the law changed.
‘It’s the only time a Guernsey regiment has been deployed abroad.’
Guernseymen did sign up to other regiments earlier in the war, but the island’s own local regiment was formed in 1917.
Major Place said while men signing up at the start of the war thought it would be a short conflict and that they would be home for Christmas, by 1917 the full horrors of trench warfare were known.
Despite this, these local men still banded together and went to fight.
‘Everybody lost somebody,’ Major Place said. ‘It wasn’t a case that you knew someone, who knew someone. Most families lost someone.
‘Those going were young men and they knew what they were in for. It was horrendous. I think they were patriots. There was a lot of people wanting to do their bit.
‘It is hard to think about it.’