Captain Lord William Hugh Grosvenor 1st Life Guards

The Lord Grosvenor, son of the 1st Duke of Westminster and Katharine Duchess of Westminster, was killed in action on 30 October 1914 alongside his brother officer and lodge member Captain Vandeleur, and fellow officers Lt Close-Brooks 1st Life Guards and Lt the Lord Worsley of the Royal Horse Guards*. The Lord Grosvenor is remembered on the Menin Gate (Panel 3), on the MCC Memorial at Lords, on the St John’s Church war Memorial in Hyde Park and in the Grosvenor Chapel, St Mary’s Church, Eccleston, Chester.

Grosvenor and Vandeleur died together fighting against hopeless odds. The Indian Corps in France diary for 30 October 1914 states:

“…The 2nd Cavalry Division fought hard to hold its position. A squadron of the 1st Life Guards under Lord Hugh Grosvenor, and another of the 2nd Life Guards under Captain Vandeleur were surrounded in their trenches by the Germans. Scorning surrender, they fought to the last, and were absolutely wiped out in hand-to-hand fighting against hopeless odds.”

Worsley’s death offers a further insight to the deaths of all these brother officers: “Worsley was in command of the Machine Gun section of the Royal Horse Guards defending the area around Zandvoorde to the East of Ypres. They had come under overwhelming pressure and most of the unit had been withdrawn and replaced by 1st Life Guards in which Hugh Grosvenor served. However the MG section, being essential to the defence of the line was retained in the front line along with its crew, led by Lord Worsley.”

Lyn McDonald writes in ‘1914 – The Days of Hope’:

“Worsley… was covered in mud and had not shaved for a week having been subject to continual attacks by the German elite troops ranged against them. He wrote home that his last shave ‘was all the washing I’ve had time for in the last ten days’. The incoming Life Guards had one Machine Gun inoperative so Worsley’s gun was retained as it covered a vital section of the line. His team were tired and hungry having missed out on a meal during the relief by the 1st Life Guards, who had already consumed their own rations whilst moving up to the line and could not help their brothers in arms. However a timely parcel arrived from Worsley’s mother containing chocolate which was shared equally amongst the MG team.

They remained in position for six days and nights in appalling weather and under attack by overwhelming numbers. Their trench was shallow, and dug on the forward slope before Zandvoorde in full view of the Germans. It was clear to Hugh Grosvenor that the position was exposed and that the Germans were massing for another attack.

Grosvenor sent the following message to his HQ ‘There appears to be a considerable force of the enemy to my front and to my right front. They approach to within about seven hundred yards at night. Our shells have not been near them on this flank’. What remained unsaid was that the German artillery certainly had the range of the British trenches and had delivered significant quantities of shellfire, clearly with little reply. The morning of 30th November dawned as the eighth consecutive day that Worsley’s MG team had spent in the line. At 06.00hrs the German barrage started and it was intense. For 90 minutes there was little that the British could do but deal with their battered trenches and their wounded. Worsley’s team had to cover their vital Machine Gun with their bodies to protect it from mud and dirt – they well knew that when the shelling stopped they would need it in full working order. When the shelling stopped and the Germans advanced it was over in minutes. 

An official report confirmed that ‘the (German) attack proved successful owing to greatly superior numbers’ and that the Regiment had ‘retired in good order’. Not all had retired in good order. Hugh Grosvenor and Charles Worsley were occupied in dealing with Germans swarming over their trenches and firing on them at close range and soon it came down to hand to hand fighting. The inevitable conclusion soon came. One man retiring looked back and saw Worsley still standing, firing at the enemy about to overwhelm the trench. There was nobody left alive to tell the tale of the final moments. There were no British wounded. There were no prisoners taken. A cavalry squadron, fighting as dismounted infantry, had simply ceased to exist. By 08.30 news that the 7th Cavalry Brigade had been pushed off the Zandvoorde ridge reached 1st Corps HQ. Perhaps the Commander, General Sir Douglas Haig, took a moment to spare a thought for Worsley who was married to Haig’s wife’s younger sister.”

The German unit that captured Worsley’s trench was the 1st Bavarian Jaeger Regiment and one of its officers found the bodies and on searching them for papers found that Worsley was a Lord. He ordered that any personal effects, including a gold ring should be taken from the body and returned to Worsley’s family. Unfortunately the German officer was himself killed a few days later and the effects never found their way back to England. All of the British bodies including that of Grosvenor, were buried in a mass grave which remains unfound to this day and all are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.

All but one; Worsley’s body was given a separate burial and via neutral Holland the German authorities passed information of its location. After the war it was located and is now buried in Ypres Town Cemetery Extension, just yards from that of another Freemason and member of the Old Wellingtonian Lodge No 3404, the Household Brigade’s daughter lodge HRH Prince Maurice of Battenberg. The land where Worsley’s body was found was purchased by his wife and now is the site of the Household Division Memorial.

An overly optimistic report in the NY Times (7 November 1914) inaccurately stated that Grosvenor was a prisoner of the Germans, a fact also recorded in the Lodge Minute Book and later erased, but still visible. A final sad note is Hugh’s brother-in-law Viscount Crichton was killed on the following day.

Grosvenor was a fine polo player and cricketer.

He was initiated into Household Brigade Lodge No 2614 in 1912.

* NB Lord Worsley and Close-Brooks were not freemasons. Their inclusion here is offered only for completeness of the description of the action.

Sources: MGWP, ‘1914 – The Days of Hope’ by Lyn McDonald (Penguin), War Diary of the Indian Corps in France, War Diary 1st Life Guards.

Photo credit: The Lord Hugh Grosvenor, 1st Life Guards, brother of the Duchess of Teck, killed at Ypres, 1914. Artist/Photographer/Maker Christina Broom Image Number 011951 © Museum of London