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

Chisledon Camp was south east of Swindon in Wiltshire. The camp was established in August 1914 on the outbreak of War. Originally called Draycot Camp because it was close to Draycot Foliat, its Chiseldon postmark ensured it would soon become known as Chiseldon Camp instead (and even Chisledon Camp as the alternative spelling of the village persisted well into the 20th century). During the war it was used primarily for infantry training, with up to 10,000 men in the camp. The surrounding downland was extensively used for training, with grenade ranges and rifle ranges, and an extensive trench system was constructed. Read more at Chiseldon Local History Group and SwindonWeb.

A member of the 14th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment wrote of the camp in September 1915.

Western Daily Press - Thursday 09 September 1915



The following notes concerning the Gloucesters (Bantams), are forwarded by a member of the battalion:

The first incident of note in the history of the 14th Gloucesters was moving-day, which took place on the 28th of last month. They left Bristol in order to complete the Bantam Division, now stationed at Chisledon Camp. An early departure was effected at Bristol, and soon after the troops entrained they were supplied with newspapers, cigarettes, and playing cards by the Recruiting Committee and friends, to whom the Bantams now desire to express their warmest thanks. The first two days were spent in putting the "house" in order – a task reminiscent of spring-cleaning. Their new quarters are up-to-date in every respect. What with hot and cold shower baths in each of the 12 barrack rooms, electric light, a picture-house, a mess-room (à la Ritz), the only thing necessary to complete the modern drawing-room aspect of the buildings are pianos and wardrobes. (Recruiting Committee please note.)

The Sergeants' Mess leaves nothing to be desired, except perhaps a billiard-table, which the Recruiting Committee have kindly promised to forward as soon possible. The officers' quarters remind us very much of the Carlton, and our military vocabulary is so limited that fear we cannot adequately describe them.

The following internet resources provide information on basic training:
William Britton completed his training with the 16th (Reserve) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment in the spring of 1916. On 12 April 1916 he was posted to the 13th (Service) Battalion (Forest of Dean) (Pioneers) Gloucestershire Regiment.

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