Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Best Parade Of The Day

Two postcards written by Thomas Minshall to his wife, Eva, and sent from Aldershot in October 1915 are shown below. At this time Thomas was a Lance Corporal with the Cheshire Yeomanry and throughout 1915 the Regiment was stationed in Norfolk on coastal defence duties and undergoing training.

Headquarters Office. Aldershot

Aldershot, 8 October 1915
Dear Eva,
I have come into the town this evening to buy a few things, so not time for letter. I received yours this morning; and will send long letter tomorrow. Keeping tip top, hope all are well.
Your loving husband x.
Aldershot Gymnasium

Aldershot, 17 October 1915
Dear Eva,
I am just going for a short walk with Sgt. Childes. It is a lovely afternoon, so we are going to the flying grounds. I will write letter after tea, before I go into the Gym. I thought you might like pic of the Gym. I hope your cold is better, & Ma & Pa are quite well.
Your loving husband x.

So, why was Thomas detached from his Regiment and what was he doing in Aldershot? He was likely to have been undergoing a course of physical and bayonet training there preparatory to becoming an instructor.

The Army School of Physical and Bayonet Training was based at Aldershot. This school and later others modelled upon it were not for soldiers. Their purpose was to instruct officers and non-commissioned officers in physical drill and bayonet work sufficiently so that they could teach essentials to the rank and file.

Before the war an average of only 360 N.C.O.’s went annually through the Aldershot course. By 1917 over 6000 certificates a year were granted to officers and N.C.O.’s. Skilled instructors were needed to give these courses but at the outbreak of war nearly all the staff at the Aldershot gymnasium had automatically rejoined their units.
The War Office only took three weeks to note the position, and take steps for remedying it. A new staff was to be assembled and organised by the Inspector of Physical and Bayonet Training, as he is now styled. By September 1, 1914, he had collected 80 competent instructors and devised a scheme of training which needed no apparatus and little time. Almost simultaneously he drew out new plans for a bayonet course, requiring no spring muskets, masks, and padded jackets. The first set of pupils, 180 N.C.O.’s, arrived in the middle of September. Eighteen months later schools of physical and bayonet training were in existence in most of the commands. (Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Thursday, 21 June 1917)

In mid-September 1914 a War Office communiqué appeared in the press on behalf of the Army Gymnastic Staff seeking gymasium instructors.
Former non-commissioned officers of the Army Gymnastic Staff up to fifty years of age, and regimental assistant-instructors of physical training who were discharged subsequent to the adoption of the present Army (Swedish) system, 1907, and who are anxious to re-enlist for service with the Army Gymnastic Staff for the duration of the war should send their names, addresses, and particulars of their qualifications to the Assistant-Inspector of Gymnasia, Headquarter Gymnasium, Aldershot, without delay. (Birmingham Daily Post, Thursday, 17 September 1914)
The Sphere, 14 November 1914 

Physical Exercises – Recruits Undergoing a Course of Training 
The Swedish system of physical drill which was introduced into the army some years ago aims at strengthening all the muscles of the body simultaneously, not just those of the arms and legs at the expense of the other part if the body.

Instruction on use of bayonet. Charging dummies, Tadworth [IWM]

Initially ‘Bayonet Fighting’ was considered to be the most important physical training skill taught by Staff Instructors. But training had to evolve to meet the demands of modern warfare and other skills such as bombing and anti-gas measures were also taught. Imperial War Museums have a ‘Podcast’ and associated text and pictures on 'Weapons of War' and army training.

From the beginning the reality of their work was impressed upon the men. In order to keep the object of bayonet practice always in mind, pictures were used that showed the straw filled sack used in practice fading into a German soldier.

Through the courtesy of the War Office an American writer was permitted to visit the Physical and Bayonet Training School at Aldershot, and gathered material for American readers. His article published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger in June 1917 gives detail on the training of instructors.

The period of instruction lasted more than two weeks. When the students at the Headquarters Gymnasium got their certificates they returned to their units and put the men through exactly the same training they had received. In the end, every infantryman who carried a bayonet was trained in the same way.

Thomas Minshall is pictured standing on the extreme right on the back row in the postcard below.

No.5 Class. Head Quarter Gymasium Aldershot - October 1915

On Saturday 25 September 1915 the Chester Chronicle reported on the training and camp life of the third line, 7th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment.
From 8.30 until 9.30 physical drill parade takes place under duly qualified instructors. This drill is the lines laid down by the gymnasium experts at Aldershot, and varied by such games as will make the men agile sharp in their movements. At first the recruit doesn’t take this form of drill, and terms it physical torture, etc.; but he soon changes his opinion and votes it the best parade of the day. It is somewhat astonishing to note the change which takes place in a young recruit after a few weeks of progressive physical training.
Thomas, who pre-war had been a gymnastics instructor in Northwich, Cheshire, would have been well qualified to train the men during their 'best parade of the day'.

No comments:

Post a Comment