Sunday, 31 January 2016

Civilian to Soldier

In December 1915 Lord Derby’s Group Scheme for recruitment came to a close. Under this scheme, men aged 18 to 40 were informed that they could continue to enlist voluntarily or attest with an obligation to come if called up later on. Allocation to groups was made based on age and marital status.

Newspapers on 20 December 1915 included announcement that the first call was to single men in Groups 2, 3, and 5. The men were required to commence to present themselves for service on 20 January 1916. To reduce pressure on recruiting offices and depots, the men were drafted gradually into service, some summoned on 20 January, another batch summoned for the 21st, and so forth.

William Edward Britton of Hotwells, Bristol, (born in 1895) was one of those who had attested under the Group (Derby) Scheme. Although William’s service records do not appear to have survived, medal rolls identify him as Private number 26208, Gloucestershire Regiment and that he served in both the 13th and 2/6th Battalions. Researching records of others with a service number close to William’s enables some understanding of his recruitment and initial posting.

He was mobilised on 21 January 1916 and two days later posted to the 16th (Reserve) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. Such Battalions were formed to train and provide drafts for the Front. Brigadier E.A. James in his ‘British Regiments 1914-18’ provides the following brief entry regarding the 16th (Reserve) Battalion:
Formed in Nov. 1915 from depot coys. of 13th Bn. at Chisledon as a local reserve bn. in 22nd Reserve Bde. 1.9.16 became 94th Training Reserve Bn. at Chisledon to 22nd Reserve Bde.
Main Road in Chisledon Camp

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Zeppelin Savagery

"THE AIR RAID – The long-threatened German aerial raid upon England has taken place at last. Tuesday night some sort of hostile aircraft arrived on our east coast, and paid a visit to Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. As result, two civilian inhabitants were killed in each town, a shoemaker and old maiden lady at Yarmouth, and a widow and a boy at King’s Lynn. Cottages were destroyed and a church was damaged, but no employment of exaggeration can it be claimed that the incident had any military influence." Thus began the Cheshire Observer’s report (Saturday, 23 January 1915) on the air raid of 19 January 1915.

The following diagram shows relative position of the attacked towns and probable route taken by the Zeppelins across the North Sea.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Who Cancelled Christmas?

An anonymous correspondent writing in the Cheshire Observer (12 December 1914) was anticipating if not one of the lucky few to be allowed home, “a good old Cheshire Christmas in Norfolk.” Lt.-Col. Sir Richard Verdin in his history “The Cheshire Yeomanry 1898-1967” relates how these plans were to be shattered.
“Christmas day was indeed to bring plenty of excitement but not of the kind that had been anticipated.
“On December 23 the Regiment received intelligence reports of a pending German raid. As a consequence it stood to in full marching order on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day from an hour before dawn until 9 a.m. Nothing happened. It was reported afterwards that German barges had actually been loaded with troops before the order came to cancel the operations.”
The disappointment led to questions being raised in the House of Commons!

Cheshire Observer - Saturday 06 February 1915



In House of Commons, on Thursday, Mr. Brunner* asked the Financial Secretary to the War Office if would state the reason why the Cheshire Yeomanry did not receive a free railway pass for their Christmas furlough.

Mr. Harold Baker said the Cheshire Yeomanry was one of the trained forces which were not given Christmas leave owing to military exigencies, and inquiry was being held into certain particulars.

Mr. Bridgeman asked if it was not the case individual members, both of the Cheshire and Shropshire Yeomanry, got Christmas leave, but were refused their fares.

Mr. Baker said that was the point which was being inquired into.

* Sir John Brunner – Constituency: Northwhich January 1915, 1910 to December 14, 1918

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Winter Quarters, Norfolk 1915

In October 1914 Cheshire Yeomanry moved to Langley Park, Loddon, not far from Norwich, and the men were mostly under canvas.

In November 1914 it was reported that “Huts are being erected at Langley Park. In fact, a barracks is being built, and stabling for 500 horses. Sixty men per day are told off to assist the contractors in erecting the wooden huts, the fatigue party being under the command of Trumpeter-Major Mayers, whom Colonel H.M. Wilson has selected for this special work owing to the popular Trumpeter-Major’s knowledge of this kind of work when in civil life.” (Cheshire Observer, Saturday, 14 November 1914).

Trumpet-Major B. Mayers had long service with the Cheshire Yeomanry. In the Regimental history it is noted that during the annual exercises at Chester in 1898, reveille was sounded each morning by the Regimental trumpeters outside the main billets. It was Trumpeter B. Mayers that performed outside the Grosvenor Hotel where the officers were billeted. No record of overseas service during the First World War has been found for B. Mayers.

Colonel H.M. Wilson was the commanding officer.

Progress on the erection of the huts was summarised on the following uncredited article from December 1914.

Cheshire Observer - Saturday 12 December 1914




Langley Park, near Norwich, Dec. 7th.
One squadron (A) of the Cheshire Yeomanry are now housed in huts at Langley Park, while it is expected that B squadron, on their arrival back from Yarmouth on Tuesday next, will proceed to the huts also, and take up their residence in the wooden barracks. The remainder of the regiment, C squadron, are living in barns, etc. in the vicinity of the park, until the huts are completed. It is expected that the whole the regiment will be in residence in the huts in about a fortnight, and then the regiment can enjoy the Christmas festivities, and meet again after about six weeks’ separation. Several of our old pals from Chester we have not seen for weeks, it will be a grand reunion when we meet together again, practically under roof. Trumpet-Major Mayers, who has the construction of the huts in hand, explains that our quarters, when finished, will consist 17 stables, each 30 yards long by 10 feet wide, fitted up with zinc mangers and open at one side, the open side being covered with tarpaulin sheets at nights to protect the horses from the weather. Each troop will have its own stable. The men will housed one troop in a hut, 90 feet long 20 feet wide, and 18 feet high, heated by two stoves and lighted two 100 candle power naphtha lamps. The beds consist of three 10 inch planks, 6 feet 6 inches long, on a trestle raised 9 inches off the ground, each man providing his own "spring mattress," which consists of a case filled with either straw or wheat chaff. The men’s huts are made to look very comfortable. One half is given up to sleeping accommodation, while the other half is used as a dining room, etc., fitted up with tables and forms, and also 10 deck chairs per hut. There are also food cupboards, shelving and rifle racks, which make it very convenient for the men to keep their kit, arms and equipment. Every man in turn is told off daily to clean out the hut and keep the place tidy, and once every week the floors are scrubbed. The man told off for this fatigue duty is called “Mary Ann,” but as each man takes a turn at domestic work, there are a number “Mary Ann’s.” There is also a recreation room, 150 feet long by 28 feet wide, and a bath house, containing 60 wash basins and 10 baths, fitted up with hot and cold water. There is also a drying room, where men can dry their clothes, and this will be much appreciated by us all. We have also a cook house, 60 feet long by 30 feet wide, fitted up with two Army cooking ranges with cooking capacity for 1,000 men. One and a half miles of piping has been laid to bring water from a well at Langley Hall. In addition to other conveniences we have a miniature railway, 2 1/2 feet gauge, used for the conveyance of supplies to the various portions of our wooden barracks. The huts are situated in a beautiful portion of the park adjoining a charming country road. Great credit must be given to Trumpet-Major Mayers, who has watched and supervised the contractor, and has been responsible to Col. H.M. Wilson for the huts being erected so as to give as much comfort to both men and horses as possible. We are going to have a weekly dance in the recreation tent and also concerts. The dance and concerts are attended by our officers, and the villagers are also invited, and many of them drive several miles to be present. The N.C.O.’s are tonight (Monday), having a dance at the Town Hall, Loddon, Col. Wilson and officers paying all the expenses. A few of us will be allowed to come home for three days at Christmas, but those who cannot get away are promised by Col. Wilson, Major Barbour, Lieut.-Col. Brocklehurst, Major Glazebrook, Major Tomkinson, Lieut. Neilson and our other officers a good old Cheshire Christmas in Norfolk.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Yarmouth Bombardment and Mormon Spies!

On the morning of Tuesday 3 November 1914 residents of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk were disturbed by what was at first thought to be a naval engagement several miles out to sea. Indeed, newspapers the following day carried an announcement to this effect by the Secretary to the Admiralty:
"This morning the enemy’s squadron fired on the Halcyon, a coastguard gunboat engaged in patrolling, with the result that one man was wounded. The Halcyon having reported the presence of these vessels, various naval movements were made, as a result of which they retreated rapidly, and although shadowed by the light cruisers, they could not be brought to action before dusk.
"The rearmost cruiser in retiring threw out a number of mines, and submarine D5 was sunk by exploding one of these. Two officers and two men and who were on the bridge of the submarine, which was running on the surface, were saved. Nothing else has happened during the day in home waters except that the gunboat flotilla has been available in support of the Belgian left flank."
Commencing sometime after seven o’clock the cannonade awakened some to the clattering of windows and the shaking of houses. Residents hurried to the sea front but although there was much to be heard, there was little to be seen with the haze of an autumn dawn hanging over the sea.

Some of the shells reportedly dropped within a mile or two the shore; others came even closer, with one exploding within a few hundred yards of the naval air station on the south side of Yarmouth.

The inhabitants were excited, but not really alarmed. They had no time and little evidence to understand what was happening, and the theory that the Germans were taking a few pot shots at Yarmouth was not evolved until later in the day. What they had witnessed was the Imperial German Navy putting into action War Plan 19, which was a mine laying operation combined with the bombardment of Great Yarmouth, although the latter resulted in little damage.

Newspaper reports of the event noted that Territorial troops were called out, and a detachment of them were marched down to the Marine Parade with fixed bayonets. At the time the Cheshire Yeomanry were stationed in Norfolk on coastal defence duties and "A" Squadron were responsible for the northern part of the Regiment’s sector, which included Great Yarmouth.