Friday, January 11, 2008

Thomas Edwin Hill - Old Contemptibles World War 1

The Old Contemptibles Association was a voluntary group of old soldiers who had served in the pre-war all-professional regular British Army that became the British Expeditionary Force of late 1914. They were that select band who served in France and Flanders between 5 Aug and 22 Nov 1914 and received the 1914 Star (the "Old Contemptibles" medal). The term comes from a reference to the B.E.F. by the Kaiser (or one of his generals) as "that contemptible little army". As is their way, the British soldiers inevitably took this as a reverse compliment and adopted it as their nickname.
The Association was disbanded some years ago when its members became too elderly and frail to continue their meetings and commemorative services.

World War 1 articles

AndrewThorntonJul 20 2005, 10:29 AM
Unit histories and local newspapers are your best source for finding out about mobilisation and the impact this had. What sort of information are you looking for exactly?

Here are some notes that I have written based on the experiences of the four battalions of the Staffordshire Brigade (Territorial Force) that you may find useful:


On the morning of Wednesday 5 August 1914, the four battalions of the Staffordshire Brigade were embodied for war service. The pre-war mobilisation scheme soon came into effect and at the various Drill Halls across the county, men reported for duty. The outlying company detachments then began to concentrate around their respective battalion headquarters. At Walsall, the 5th South Staffords were billeted at the Drill Hall in Bath Street, the George Hotel and the Town Hall. In Wolverhampton, the companies of the 6th South Staffords were dispersed to schools in the town. “A” and “H” Companies were posted at St Peter’s School, “B” and “C” Companies to Redcross Street, “D” and “F” Companies at Walsall Street, “G” and “E” Companies at Dudley Road, while the Band, Drums and Machine-Gun section were billeted at Old Hall Street. Schools were also used to accommodate the companies of the 5th North Staffords, which concentrated around the battalion’s headquarters in Hanley. At Burton-upon-Trent, the spacious environs of the Anglesey Road Maltings provided billets for the companies of the 6th North Staffords. For the civilians in these towns, the novelty of seeing armed sentries patrolling outside familiar local buildings was hard to resist and crowds surrounded the billets. The arrangements for accommodating the troops were not ideal and Captain C. A. W. Anderson, the Adjutant to the 6th North Staffords, complained that the arrangements proved detrimental to the enforcement of discipline.

All equipment was inspected, and deficient items were purchased locally. Officers were issued with £10 vouchers in order to procure items from local traders. The men were also given money to buy a set of underclothes, a shirt and a pair of socks, as not all of them had these items. However, the units often had great difficulty in securing regulation items of equipment in their immediate area. The 6th North Staffords at Burton experienced delays with the issue of blankets to the men as those bought in the town proved to be of mixed quality and were often too bulky. Troops were also provided with a “housewife”, which contained needles, thread and buttons so that soldiers could carry out their own minor repairs to their clothing. One soldier of the 6th South Staffords, on being issued with this item, remarked ruefully that: “I confess to a faint heart, when I think of myself darning my own socks in the off moments between battles”. More sobering to many of the Territorials were the distribution of field dressings, newly sharpened bayonets and the issue of identity discs, which they now wore constantly around their necks. The four battalions also had to requisition horses and wagons for their Transport Sections. In Wolverhampton, the Butler’s Brewery at Springfield provided their drays and horses to the 6th South Staffords, as well as the expertise of Frank Aulton, who immediately became the unit’s Transport Officer despite having no previous military experience. The equine recruits were to prove dangerous to many unwary soldiers in the coming days.

The Staffordshire Territorial Force Association held an emergency meeting at Stafford on 5 August 1914. Among several issues discussed at this meeting was the possibility of increasing the size of the Territorial Force in the county in light of the embodiment of the units for Home Service. Among the many ideas proposed was a suggestion from Lord Charnwood to create an organisation to give remedial military training to recruits, with a secondary role as an emergency reserve. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Waterhouse, the former Commanding Officer of the 6th Battalion, South Staffords, made a further recommendation of raising a “reserve division” for the Territorial Force and that he felt that, in Wolverhampton at least, this could be achieved at short notice by enlisting members of the National Reserve and new volunteers. Lord Dartmouth pointed out that the Territorial Force Association did not have the authority to raise any additional units unless given permission to do so by the War Office. Members of the National Reserve and the minuscule Territorial Force Reserve would meet any manpower requirements for the county’s units. Nevertheless, it was agreed by members of the Territorial Force Association to forward a proposal to the War Office that, in light of the large number of potential recruits in the larger industrial centres, the Territorial Force units in the county should be allowed to enlist these men and give them basic military training at unit Drill Halls.

Any moves proposed by the County Territorial Force Associations towards expanding the numbers of the Territorial Force were initially staunched with the appointment of The Earl Kitchener of Khartoum as Secretary of State for War on 5 August 1914. Having spent most of his career overseas, Kitchener did not have any real understanding of the Territorial Force and was sceptical of their military worth, reputedly referring to it as a ‘Town clerks’ army’. Instead of using the existing framework of Territorial Force units and the resources of the County Associations as a means of expanding the army, a function that Haldane had originally envisaged the force as performing in wartime, Kitchener decided instead to raise an entirely new force of 100,000 men to support the Regular Army. Kitchener made three further appeals for recruits during the remainder of 1914. This had a damaging effect on Territorial Force recruitment that would persist until the introduction of the Derby Scheme in November 1915, and the abolition a month later of direct enlistment into the Territorial Force. This duplication of recruiting efforts, and the resulting conflicts over limited resources was particularly damaging to the Territorial Force as County Territorial Force Associations lacked the experience in dealing with large numbers of recruits.

Kitchener’s preference was to concentrate recruiting efforts towards his “New Armies” in the early weeks of the war, with Territorial Force units only being permitted to recruit up to their peacetime establishment and were therefore unable to tap into this initial “rush to the colours” for recruits. Kitchener was not reluctant however to use the local influence of the Territorial Force Associations to aid him in achieving his initial recruiting target. On 7 August, the War Office had issued a circular to all Lords-Lieutenant requesting their support:

It is intended to enlist as soon as possible 100,000 men, and I would ask you to use your great local influence and that of the Territorial Associations to secure these necessary recruits as soon as possible.

In common with the other Presidents of the Territorial Force Associations, Lord Dartmouth complied with this directive and made a public appeal for recruits within days:

As Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire, I have received an appeal from the Secretary of State at War (sic) asking for help in raising 100,000 men to form an addition to the British Army. The Territorial Force in Staffordshire is practically complete in Officers and Men. The County of Stafford has always been in the front in every patriotic movement. I now ask that the whole County, while still giving its support to the Territorial Force, be devoted to secure a prompt response to the Government’s appeal…

Territorial Force units in Staffordshire initially limited their appeal for men with previous military experience to enlist. One example was an appeal for 100 trained men who had served with either the Regular Army, reserves or Territorial Force to report to the Drill Hall at Stafford Street in Wolverhampton on 7 August to re-enlist for the 6th South Stafford. Major A. Griffiths, the officer in charge of the depot of the 5th South Staffords at Walsall, made a similar request and around 30 former Volunteers and time-expired Territorials had rejoined the battalion within days.

The Battalions March to Burton-upon-Trent

On 11 August, three of the four Staffordshire infantry battalions marched to their concentration area at Burton. In Walsall, 23 Officers and 892 Other Ranks of the 5th South Staffords paraded at Bridge Street, where the Mayor, Alderman Peter Bull, addressed the assembled battalion. After listening to his speech, and a response from Lieutenant-Colonel Fiddian Green, the battalion marched through the town to the strains of “Tommy Atkins”, en route to Whittington. Several girls were reported to have run away from home in an effort to follow their sweethearts who were serving with the battalion. In Wolverhampton, the 6th South Staffords assembled for a civic farewell ceremony in St James’s Square. While waiting the arrival of the Mayor, one of the horses pressed into service as an officer’s charger threw an orderly, Private Fox, to the ground and careered into troops and onlookers, making towards the battalion’s band. Drummer Wilkes, on seeing that the horse had bolted, dropped his drum, grabbed the reins and managed to bring the loose charger under control. A number of people had been injured during the incident but none seriously. Despite the excitement, the 6th South Staffords had their farewell ceremony and were soon marching away from their homes towards Burton. The departure of the 5th North Staffords from the Potteries was far less dramatic. The Battalion paraded in Hanley Park and after another round of speeches Lieutenant-Colonel Knight gave the order to march off towards Uttoxeter.

By 13 August, all four battalions of the Staffordshire Brigade, together with the artillery, engineers and other services from the county that formed part of the supporting troops of the North Midland Division, had arrived at Burton-upon-Trent. The masses of troops were billeted in the Maltings of the many breweries in the town, while the local Post Offices were soon besieged with Territorials eager to cash their £5 Mobilisation Bounty. The halt at Burton was brief, as on 15 August the Staffordshire units began their move by rail to the Brigade’s concentration area at Luton, where they would join their fellow Territorials of the North Midland Division from Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Training at Luton

The North Midland Division now had the role of protecting the northern approaches of London from any German landing force, and stayed in the Luton area until November. Accommodation was rudimentary, with most of the troops billeted in public buildings and under canvas. Relations between the Staffordshire Territorials and the population of Luton and nearby Dunstable appear to have been, for the most part, fairly cordial. Nevertheless, the men were sometimes regarded with suspicion by civilians, who were wary of the reputation of soldiers as being of low moral standards. The Territorials themselves occasionally fell victim to unscrupulous traders, keen to make money from the new arrivals, but incidents between the two parties were few and far between.

Soon after arriving at Luton, the Staffords began their preparation for active service. Training took on a much more serious aspect than many of the Territorials had hitherto experienced. Drills, route marches in full marching order, field days and physical training were undertaken. The officers also became accustomed to carrying out regular inspections of their men’s equipment, rations and the mysteries of the administration of the Battalion Orderly Room and “internal economy”, all under the supervision of the regular Adjutants. The increase in administrative tasks that he had to deal with particularly annoyed Lieutenant-Colonel Gretton of the 6th North Staffords, who later complained that the increase in correspondence diverted his attention from more important matters. The Staffordshire Brigade also paraded for Lord Kitchener, who inspected the four battalions at Luton Hoo on 28 September 1914.

Throughout their time at Luton, many rumours circulated around the members of the Staffordshire Brigade about possible deployment overseas. Indeed, during October, a conference of senior officers of the North Midland Division was told to prepare to move to France at the end of the month, but this came to nothing. A number of Territorial units would be posted to replace regular units in garrisons around the British Empire from September 1914. The East Lancashire Division was the first complete Territorial Force division to deploy on foreign service, arriving in Egypt and the Sudan in September 1914. Infantry battalions and artillery from the 1st Wessex and the Home Counties Divisions were sent further afield, sailing in October 1914 to India to undertake garrison duties. These two formations were followed by the 2nd Wessex Division, which arrived on the sub-continent in December 1914. Battalions drawn from the Home Counties and 1st London Divisions moved to the Mediterranean, where they relieved regular troops on Malta and Gibraltar. The 1/14th County of London Battalion, The London Regiment (London Scottish), were the first Territorial Force troops to join the British Expeditionary Force in France, landing at Le Havre on 16 September. The London Scottish were followed four days later by 1/1st Battalion, The Honourable Artillery Company, while on 22 September the 1/1st The Oxfordshire Yeomanry disembarked at Dunkirk. More Territorial Force infantry, engineers, field ambulance units and Yeomanry regiments would be posted to the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, though not as part of their parent Territorial Force formations.

One important factor that must be considered with regard to the recruiting requirements for the Territorial Force was the conditions of service under which pre-war members served. The period of engagement in peacetime had been for four years, but on the outbreak of hostilities this was extended automatically to five years. In addition, the primary role of the Territorial Force was that of home defence and consequently not liable for service overseas. Individuals could volunteer to do so in wartime under the terms of the Imperial Service Obligation. Prior to the outbreak of war, only around 18,000 members of the force nationally had volunteered to serve overseas if required.

On 10 August 1914 the War Office had requested units of the Territorial Force to volunteer for Imperial Service, and from the evidence contained in the published histories and contemporary newspaper reports, the commanding officers of the four Staffordshire battalions immediately accepted. Lieutenant-Colonel Knight of the 5th North Staffords received the telegram from the War Office on 11 August, while his unit had halted at Checkley en route to their war station at Burton-upon-Trent, and immediately responded. He received a further telegram accepting his offer when the battalion finished their day’s march at Uttoxeter.

However, the enthusiasm of commanding officers to volunteer the services of their units for overseas service was not necessarily universal, and the individual soldiers ultimately decided if they would sign for Imperial Service. On 21 August, those units in which at least 80 per cent of their members had volunteered were allowed to recruit up to their war establishment, but by 31 August this requirement was reduced to 60 per cent. It has proved difficult to determine the level of response across all of the four battalions of the Staffordshire Brigade to the requests to volunteer for overseas service except for isolated examples. Contemporary newspaper reports are generally positive in their descriptions of the response of Territorials serving with Staffordshire units to the call to volunteer for overseas service, but provide little evidence from which to make conclusions. Unit histories are also vague in their descriptions of the subject. The authors of the War History of the 6th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment blandly recorded that when members of the unit were asked to sign on for “Imperial Service” at Luton in September 1914:

Every man in his turn, and in full knowledge of what he was doing, destroyed the old contract, whereby his services were limited to home defence, and signed the new one, whereby he might be called upon to serve the whole world over.

More information is available on the level of response within individual sub-units. By early September, it was reported that 75 per cent of the members of the Wednesbury-based “H” Company of the 5th South Staffords had signed the Imperial Service Obligation. Another report noted that 75 per cent of the men serving with the 6th North Staffords had volunteered for service overseas by early September 1914 and that one detachment, “C” Company based at Tamworth, had three officers and 104 other ranks volunteer to serve abroad by late September 1914.