Researched and written by Anne Wright
Captain G F H Keenlyside
1st Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment
Died of wounds, 29.10.1914
Guy Francis Headlam Keenlyside predeceased his younger brother, C A H Keenlyside by ten months, dying of wounds on 29 October 1914. He was born in Surbiton on 9 January 1880 and was baptised there at St. Andrew’s Church on 19 February. He was his parents’ second son and would have been four or five years old when the family moved to Weybridge. He was educated at Charterhouse and The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. On 12 August 1899 he was gazetted 2/Lieutenant in the Royal West Kent Regiment; on 5 June 1901 he was promoted Lieutenant and three years later on 21 September 1904, Captain. Guy served with his battalion in Aden, Malta, Shorncliffe and Dublin. Between 1908 and 1910 he was Adjutant to the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the regiment at Blackheath which during his adjutancy became part of the 20th Battalion of the County of London Territorial Force. Towards the end of 1906 Guy married Rose Margaret Knyvett at St. George’s Church in Hanover Square, London. They had two sons: Richard Headlam, born on 13 May 1909 and Christopher, born on 4 May 1913.
When war broke out in 1914 Guy was with the 1st Battalion of the Royal West Kents in Dublin. They received orders to mobilise on 4 August, the day war was declared. On 14 August they sailed for France on the SS Gloucestershire, passing Land’s End at 6pm and arriving at Le Havre at 2.30pm the next day. They disembarked in a steady downpour. Guy was with ‘A’ Company. They crossed the Belgian border at 6.30 am on 22 August to be greeted with great enthusiasm from the local people. The next day they were in position on the north bank of the Mons-Conde Canal at Tertre embroiled in the Battle of Mons. They came under constant shell fire so much so that they were forced to withdraw across the canal. When, late that night, it was realised that a gap had opened between the British and French forces a general order was issued to retire towards Cambrai. The great retreat from Mons to the R. Marne had begun.
For two days the Royal West Kents retreated in hot, tiring conditions with little food available. At 5pm on the 25th they reached Le Cateau and were ordered to stop and hold their position until 11am the next day. They dug trenches in the early hours of the 26th. Their German pursuers opened artillery and machine gun fire at 9am. Guy and his comrades were ordered to hold their line beyond 11am. This they did, retiring at 2pm under heavy shrapnel and rifle fire. The German advance had been held up for 24 hours. However, the retreat continued into early September until the Germans were held at the R. Marne. The furthest they advanced up the Marne valley was to Meaux; they had come within 30 miles of Paris. They then retreated 72 miles to the R. Aisne pursued by their opponents which included Guy’s battalion.
On 10 September the Royal West Kents came across evidence of the retreating Germans: dead men, dead horses and abandoned equipment. Four days later they crossed the R. Aisne on rafts and boats, the bridge at Missy-sur-Aisne having been destroyed. For the next two weeks they had to hold their position while the French fought on the flanks. Guy now witnessed the beginning of trench warfare. They were facing the Germans sometimes no more than 300 yards apart along an enormous front. The entrenched men came under almost incessant enemy artillery and sniper fire. A pontoon bridge across the river provided an essential transport and communication link. At the end of September the battalion’s casualties since the start of the campaign were: 61 killed, 178 wounded, 41 wounded and missing and 110 missing. Their time in the trenches accounted for 31 killed and 96 wounded. It must have come as a great relief when they left the trenches on 2 October.
For the next two weeks the battalion was on the move once again, in and out of billets, until they reached Neuve Chapelle on 16 October. By the 21st they were in the line to the west of Neuve Chapelle. As a result of the stalemate on the Aisne both sides tried to outflank each other; they stretched their lines by 125 miles to the north of the Aisne. By mid-October the 440 miles long Western Front from the Swiss border to the North Sea had come into existence. The Royal West Kents had moved north-west to be part of that extended front. Over the three days until the 24 October the battalion came under heavy shell fire and a German counter-attack on the 23rd. Two companies were vulnerable on a flank and to the rear whilst being attacked from the front. The toll on officers was very heavy; only two Lieutenants remained in the firing line. Guy was among those wounded on 26 October. He was taken to hospital in Boulogne where he died on 29 October.
His grave is in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery (I.A.4). Rose Keenlyside returned to her parental home in Staines at the beginning of the 1920s. She did not remarry and died, aged 85 years in 1969. Their older son, Richard, followed his father into the army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He married in 1937 and he and his wife, Aileen, had at least one daughter. Richard died in Somerset in 1998.The younger son, Christopher, who was born in Dublin during his father’s service there, died in Canterbury in 1980.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – 1st Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914-1924, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk