How was Guernsey involved in the First World War?
The war affected virtually every part of island life. Guernsey was loyal to Britain and by November 1914, nine percent of its young men had volunteered to join the British Army or Royal Navy. Some went to join the French army. Women played their part too.
Which regiment did the Guernseymen join?
For those joining the British Army, they joined the Royal Irish Regiment and Royal Irish Fusiliers. It was joked that Guernseymen were put with the Irish because neither could speak English properly.
When was it decided that Guernsey should have its own regiment?
In December 1916. The Royal Guernsey Militia (which came before) was suspended and its men formed into the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry (RGLI).
Where did the RGLI fight?
They fought at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, which was a surprise attack using tanks (the new weapon of the time). The Germans soon recovered from the surprise and and launched a counter-attack, which the Guernsey soldiers helped fight off. Of 1,200 men it sent into the battle, the RGLI lost 120 killed, 250 wounded and another 250 missing. Hardly a family in the island did not know someone who had been killed. The motto of the regiment was 'Diex Aie'; supposedly the Norman battle-cry, it was grimly translated as 'God help us'.
In March 1918, the Germans launched their last great offensive of the war, attempting to smash the exhausted British and French armies. During the Battle of the Aisne, the RGLI were once again called upon to help stop the Germans. The RGLI was almost destroyed. The few men who remained formed a guard at headquarters for the rest of the war, where they were reviewed by King George V.
What did Guernsey women do?
They took over the jobs of men who had joined the army. They worked in banks and shops and served as 'conductorettes' on the trams. Some went to England to work in the factories making weapons. Others volunteered as nurses. Food was in short supply, so a 'Food Control Committee' was set up to make sure everyone had a fair share. The price of coal and many essential foods doubled during the war.
How did the war affect the island?
A lot of lives were lost or changed beyond recognition. Guernsey, Alderney and Sark had just over 20,000 men before the war. Of these, 5,273 went to fight and 1,172 were killed. In other words; for every 4 men who marched away, approximately 1 died. Many more were wounded and one family in Sark suffered five sons killed. There are First World War memorials in each parish around Guernsey. The population of the islands did not return to pre-war levels until the 1930s.
There is a RGLI Museum at Castle Cornet and you can read about it here.
In 2018 the museum held an exhibition of Medical Services in the Great War. Follow this link to see photographs and read eye-witness accounts.
For more information on Guernsey & the Great War, please see the links and downloads below.