Field Marshal The Earl Haig unveiled the Memorial and then addressed the assembly
“It is my privilege to-day to attend the unveiling of this memorial, not only as Colonel of one of the three famous regiments whose gallantry it commemorates, but as the representative of his Majesty the King in whose service their gallant deeds were done.
We are grateful to his Majesty for this fresh proof of his interest in our regiments, and for this formal acknowledgment on the part of our Colonel-in-Chief of the valour and self-sacrifice of our fallen comrades. We are proud of the personal link which connects us with our King, and we respectfully assure him here in the presence of our dead that it will always be our earnest and loyal endeavour, even as it was theirs, to prove worthy of the position we hold and of the traditions our three regiments have won as the Household Cavalry of our Sovereign.
We have here in these scenes amid which we now stand, and in the memories they evoke, a high incentive to our endeavour. Many splendid stories of desperate chances bravely and sorely taken, of unselfish and enduring heroism, go to make up the history of our regiments in war. But glorious as that history may be, the names of these Flanders villages—Wytschaete, Klein Zillebeke, Zwarteleen, Zandvoorde—conjure up deeds as glorious and as fateful, and devotion as complete and unrestrained as any that can be found in the stories of the past.
Here in these Flanders fields, which to-day look at once so strange and so familiar to eyes which followed all the changes wrought upon them by four years of war, the Household Cavalry Brigade took part in that wonderful defence by which, in October and November of 1914, the Allied Armies barred the way to Calais, In a war in which the opportunity for cavalry action was rare, they found here, at the commencement of the struggle, as was found elsewhere in its concluding stages, occasion to show the value still possessed by well-trained and disciplined mounted troops.
It was the close for three long years of the war of movement, and it is not without interest, as a commentary upon modern war, that the most bloody and critical engagement in which British Cavalry took part was fought in the supreme effort which stabilised the line for those three years. We had had our share in the strenuous and exhausting days of marching, fighting and counter-marching which took us from Loos to the Marne, to the Aisne and finally to Ypres. The composite regiment which was sent to join the fourth Cavalry Brigade under General Bingham in August, 1914, had been in action at Mons, Elouges, Le Cateau, Nery, and in the battles of the Marne, and the Aisne. Then as part of the Cavalry Division under General Gough it had fought in the first battle of Messines, sharing the glory of the five British Cavalry Brigades, which with the assistance of the London Scottish, the 1st Connaught Rangers, and two Indian battalions held a five mile front along the Messines-Wytschaete ridge for ten days against the attacks of five German cavalry divisions, supported by at least eight Jäger battalions. Spread out in small parties—not the thin red line of old, but a dotted, very sparsely dotted line of khaki, the British Cavalry held, until on the 29th October the enemy brought up two infantry divisions and an overwhelming artillery to the assault. Even then, though the village of Messines was lost, Wytschaete and the main position on the ridge was held until the 1st November when some French infantry came forward to our assistance.
Meanwhile, the remaining squadrons of the three regiments had crossed to Belgium with the 7th Division in the attempt to relieve Antwerp and after helping to cover the retreat of the gallant and sorely-tried Belgian Army, came into position here at Zandvoorde along with the First Corps under my own command on the left of the line held by the three British cavalry divisions, Here, too, British cavalry were more than a match for the German cavalry brought against them, their sound training and good shooting proving more than sufficient to counterbalance German superiority in numbers.
It was on this occasion that the Royal Horse Guards, by bold and rapid movement across the front of two German cavalry regiments too startled to interfere, were able to extricate the 20th Infantry Brigade from Kruiseecke.
Four days later came the crowning episode of the defence which has for ever associated the Household Brigade with this village of Zandvoorde in imperishable renown. On the 29th October the Germans brought up six fresh infantry divisions to the assistance of their cavalry, and supported by 260 heavy guns, on October 30th commenced a new attempt to break through the British line.
On that day the front of the 3rd British Cavalry Division was held by the Household Cavalry Brigade, from right to left covering Zandvoorde, a squadron of the 1st Life Guards, a squadron of the 2nd Life Guards, the machine guns of the Royal Horse Guards, another squadron of the 1st Life Guards and another squadron of the 2nd Life Guards. They were in narrow trenches on the forward slopes before us in full sight of the enemy. Their trenches were soon blown in, and at 8 a.m., after one and a quarter of an hour’s bombardment, the whole of the 3 German infantry divisions and three battalions of Jägers attacked their shattered position.
The time had come to slip away, and orders were issued for retirement to the second line; but the greater part of the two squadrons of Life Guards on the left and the Royal Horse Guards machine guns could not get away and were cut off and died to a man, except for a few wounded prisoners. It was a sad, yet glorious day for the Brigade, for though their losses were great, the line held.
It was not the end of the trials of the Household Cavalry Brigade in front of Ypres, for at Zwarteleen on the 6th November and the next day, near Klein Zillebeke, they restored or held the Allied line; but that heroic fight for the spot on which this monument now rests remains the outstanding incident of a desperate and most gallant struggle, in which British cavalry proved that mounted or on foot they were capable of the highest flights of skill, courage and endurance.
Our losses in all these actions were most grievous, and to-day we have with us here the wives, mothers and other relations of the gallant heroes whom we are now honouring.
I extend to them my own deep, personal sympathy. Theirs is the greatest loss of all in the war to bear, but they have this great consolation. They know that by their self-sacrifice, their dear ones helped to maintain our positions in Flanders, and by so doing they saved the Homeland, and preserved our liberty.
It is only fitting that the memorial to so much courage and self-sacrifice should be raised here where so many of our dead comrades fell — here in the central scene of their glorious achievements. We are the more grateful to our brave Belgian Allies, who with our French comrades in arms shared with us the peril of those anxious days, for the generous thought and kindly action which has enabled us to set up on Belgian soil this monument to our British dead.
It will stand henceforth for something more than the story of the Household Cavalry Division; for it will recall to all, Belgian or British or French who look upon it, the time when the best and bravest of our French, Belgian and British peoples stood side by side and fought shoulder to shoulder for the same great and noble cause.
I unveil this Memorial to the gallant officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Household Cavalry Brigade who gave their lives in the Great War for safety and honour of their country and the liberty of nations.”