Tommy, p.17Richard Holmes
Horses presented a real challenge, especially his ‘spare wheeler’ –
a vast immobile brute with thick hairy legs and drooping head; it seemed quite happy to spend much of its existence standing perfectly still, an occasional tremor of its lower bearded lip indicated that life was still present.
Tennant served in the same battery throughout the war, and recalled ‘the care and devotion to his men by the battery commander, Major P. C. Petrie DSO MC, who helped raise it, train it and commanded it till the end of the war’. Its discipline, he believed, ‘was derived more from a sense of comradeship than from the methods normally employed by the Regular army’.120
Haldane also formalised the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC). The forerunners of these had been founded in Victorian times as rifle volunteer corps attached to universities or public schools. Some of the latter took their corps very seriously: the Eton College Rifle Volunteers had a regular adjutant and turned out in a natty shade of the French grey. Enough members of Cambridge University Rifle Volunteers volunteered to fight in the Boer War for the unit to earn a ‘SOUTH AFRICA’ battle honour. Haldane established junior divisions of the OTC at public schools and some grammar schools: successful cadets earned Certificate B, a very basic certificate of military knowledge. Senior divisions were at universities, and their cadets could earn Certificate A, which was believed to fit them for a territorial commission. More broadly, the scheme was expected to attract men and boys of ‘the intellectual and moral attainments likely to fit them for the rank of officers’, even if they did not immediately put these qualities to use. Between August 1914 and March the following year, 20,577 officers were commissioned from OTCs, and another 12,290 ex-OTC men were serving in the ranks.121
That arch-regular Lord Kitchener, appointed Secretary of State for War in the summer of 1914, had a low opinion of the Territorial Force. In part it stemmed from his experience of the Franco-Prussian War, when he had served briefly with Chanzy’s Army of the Loire and had been less than impressed by French irregulars. In part it reflected the fact that he had spent most of his career abroad, and had been wholly untouched by Haldane’s advocacy of a national army. Indeed, he admitted to the formidable leader of the Ulster Unionists: ‘I don’t know Europe; I don’t know England; and I don’t know the British Army.’ And in part it embodied his own instinctive mistrust of the amateur: on the morning that he took over the War Office he declared that ‘he could take no account of anything but regular soldiers’.122 And to raise a new one he decided to bypass the territorial system altogether.
Kitchener’s decision has been widely criticised, but it was not wholly illogical. Many territorials immediately volunteered for foreign service: F. S. Hatton proudly remembered that in his unit ‘the men who did not wish to volunteer for foreign service were asked to take a pace to the rear. The ranks remained unbroken.’123 The Northumberland Hussars affirmed that all its men had already accepted foreign service as a condition of their enlistment. But the picture was far patchier elsewhere. Walter Nicholson, a regular staff officer in what was to become the very good 51st Highland Division, admitted: ‘We were very far from being a division fit for defence.’124 Some men immediately volunteered for foreign service; some officers automatically assumed that their men would volunteer, and unwisely took this assumption for assent. Others would not serve abroad. ‘It was not cowardice that decided them to say they wouldn’t fight,’ wrote Nicholson, ‘it was the belief that the Government had broken faith with them … The Territorial had not joined for foreign service, but to defend his country.’ One of the division’s officers observed that: ‘There must be something wrong if employers go out to fight alongside Regular private soldiers.’125 In the Suffolk Yeomanry the officers of one squadron, an MP amongst them, told their men not to volunteer for foreign service and not to give way to the government’s blackmail.
The overwhelming majority of territorials did indeed undertake to serve abroad (perhaps 80-90 percent of many units), and some were fighting in France as early as October 1914, when the fine performance of the London Scottish at Messines showed that territorials went into battle, and to their deaths, with the same determination as regulars. But a few did not, and there remained a slightly curmudgeonly rump of territorials who stuck defiantly to their rights until the changes in the law in 1916 rendered them liable for foreign service anyhow. Nicholson also felt that the problem of post-mobilisation training had not been thought through by the War Office. Adjutants were immediately returned to their regular battalions (and often as promptly killed in action), and this, Nicholson reflected, was: ‘a blow from which the Territorial divisions did not recover for many months … It is very easy to be wise after the event, but in this case no great wisdom was necessary.’126
And there was also the question of the County Associations. These did not control the Territorial Force once it was mobilised, but their responsibility for the supply of some equipment led to frequent difficulties. Nicholson’s servant was a regular soldier, and so could not draw equipment from the association, but had to apply for a new shirt to his old company of 1/Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, by then in the trenches in France, which was palpably absurd. Procedures for pay and allowance were not the same as those in the regular army, and as Nicholson saw first-hand, many territorials were paid less by the army than they had been in civilian life, and got into difficulties. One officer on the divisional staff: ‘was for ever digging deeper and deeper into his capital to keep his business going in the East End, till the war slowly froze him out. He had no time away from his military duties, save to sign his money away.’127
The legislative defence against incorporating territorials, individually or collectively, in units other than the ones they had joined, which had made good sense to Haldane and his associates prior to 1908, was far less logical during a major war. It caused constant problems as men complained to their MPs that they were being transferred against their will or their units were being broken up; in 1919 the War Office felt compelled to issue a formal defence of its actions.128 Lastly, the Territorial Force had been formed for home defence, and it was not immediately clear what the extent of the German threat to the mainland of the United Kingdom would actually be: even Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, admitted that ‘the period of maximum danger’ would extend until early 1915.
On 13 August 1914 Kitchener told Lord Esher that he was perfectly happy to use territorials either to reinforce the New Armies or to release regulars from overseas garrisons. But he had already decided that he would deviate from Haldane’s concept of using the territorials as a basis for military expansion. He would bypass the Territorial Force, with its different terms of service and County Associations, and raise troops through the adjutant general’s branch in the War Office.129 In August 1914, therefore, a young man wishing to join the army had three choices. He could become a regular on pre-war terms of service: the Royal Military Academy Woolwich and Royal Military College Sandhurst, for instance, continued to train regular officers throughout the war. Or he could become a territorial, accepting or declining foreign service. Lastly, he could become a regular for the duration of the war by joining the New Armies, so intimately linked to their instigator as to be called Kitchener’s Armies.
His decision would be influenced by a number of factors. Many (but by no means all) local authorities, as we have seen in Accrington, threw their weight behind the New Armies. There was a widely-held belief – so marked that New Army recruiting meetings were occasionally disrupted by jealous serving territorials – that the New Armies would get abroad first, and the young and bold often chose to join them for that reason. But on the other hand, some of the cautious and far-sighted deduced that by enlisting in the Territorial Force but (crucially) not accepting liability for foreign service they were more likely to survive the war. That this was likely to produce an avoidable muddle is beyond question. Rather than joining in the rush to blame Kitchener, auto
It was Kitchener’s achievement to give Britain an army capable of meeting the demands of war on an unprecedented scale. Just over 5,700,000 men served in the army during the war, almost two million more than in the Second World War, and the army of 1914–18 was ‘the most complex single organisation created by the British nation up to that time’. Just under half its men were volunteers: by the end of 1915, 2,466,719 had voluntarily enlisted, more than the nation was able to obtain by conscription in 1916 and 1917 combined, and the number of conscripts enlisted in 1918 was only 30,000 more than the number of volunteers enlisting in September 1914 alone.130
On 6 August 1914 Kitchener sought parliamentary approval for increasing the size of the army by 500,000 men, and the following day newspapers carried appeals for ‘an addition of 100,000 men to His Majesty’s Regular Army …’. Volunteers were to be between nineteen and thirty years old, and were to sign on for three years or the duration of the war. Five days later the War Office gave details of the ‘First New Army’, or K1, which was to comprise six complete divisions: the infantry component, by far the bulk of the force, was, as we have seen, to form ‘service’ battalions of existing regiments.131 On the first day of the appeal, 7 August, The Times reported that the press of men outside the Central London Recruiting Office in Great Scotland Yard was so big that mounted police had to hold it in check. Although there was no wild cheering or excitement there was, perhaps more tellingly in the British context, an ‘undercurrent of enthusiasm’, and those who failed their medical examination were obviously disappointed. One former officer in the Rifle Brigade was so mortified at being found unfit for service that he shot himself.
Extra recruiting offices were opened to make the process quicker, and extra clerks and doctors were found to speed up the bureaucracy of attestation and medical examination. The campaign gained momentum in its second week, and Tuesday 19 August set the record, thus far, for a single day with 9,699 enlistments. News from the front, where the BEF had just fought the battle of Mons, coupled with steadily-improving procedures brought in more than 63,000 men in the week beginning 25 August. On 28 August Kitchener appealed for another 100,000 men. Although he initially intended to use these troops to reinforce the rapidly-forming divisions of K1, it was soon decided to form another New Army, K2.132 There had already been a flurry of complaints in the press about fit men excluded by the previous limits (Admiral Sir William Kennedy gruffly told The Times that his butler, a fine shot, had been rejected because he was thirty-two), and so the upper age limit was increased to thirty-five for men without prior service, forty-five for ex-soldiers and fifty for ex-senior NCOs.
The widening of age limits, improved procedures, and the establishment of a Parliamentary Recruiting Committee to help the government bring together all the agencies involved, all helped. The alarmist ‘Amiens dispatch’ which appeared in The Times on 30 August – greatly overstating the damage incurred by the BEF on the retreat from Mons – persuaded many that there was a very real need, and numerous firms generously agreed to supplement the army pay of men who enlisted. Recruits flooded in, establishing records which were not to be broken for the rest of the war: on Thursday 3 September 1914, a staggering 33,204 men (equivalent to almost one-third the strength of the BEF in France) joined the army. Having formally declared the creation of the 2nd New Army on 11 September, the War Office quickly agreed to a 3rd and then a 4th New Army.133 The 5th and final New Army was sanctioned in October: in less than three months Kitchener had laid the foundation for no less than thirty new divisions.134 It was an achievement wholly without precedent in British history.
If Kitchener’s achievement was unprecedented, the army’s radical expansion was wholly unplanned. There were no weapons, uniforms or equipment for most of these men; few experienced officers and NCOs who could train them; no proper living accommodation, cookhouses or medical centres; too few rifle and artillery ranges; no draught animals, harness or vehicles; and no commanders and staff for the new divisions or the brigades that made them up. Raising and training the New Armies represented improvisation on a staggering scale. It is worth contemplating the result of a comparable increase in other professions. School registers would quadruple in size, though accommodation would not, and long-retired teachers would join untrained newcomers in the classroom. Three-men-and-a-truck London building firms would each receive a hundred new workers (many of them fishermen from the Western Isles) and be invited to embark upon complex construction projects for which no materials were yet available. And small-town banks would be invited to take on three dozen new staff, many of them innumerate and a few unreliable, to finance complex local ventures being run by the inexperienced, the overambitious and the idle.
It had never been easier to get a commission in the Special Reserve, New Armies or territorials: a young man simply had to find a commanding officer who was prepared to take him on. When F. P. Roe was at his school’s OTC camp in July 1914 his contingent commander handed out applications for temporary commissions with names already filled out: they simply required signatures. ‘We all of us signed,’ he recalled,
and the forms were dispatched to the War Office the same day. Understandably, in view of the fact that the same sort of procedure was going on all over Britain we heard nothing at all … With determined disregard for the usual channels and with renewed enthusiasm I sent a telegram to the War Office: ‘Have been accepted for a commission in the 6th (Territorial) Battalion The Gloucestershire Regiment.’ I later read in The Times of 1 October a copy of The London Gazette appointing me to a commission as a second lieutenant in that unit. Later on our early applications must have caught up for I was antedated in my rank to 31st July 1914 on my birthday … Much later I received the parchment of my actual commission.135
C. H. Gaskell, with the benefit of OTC experience, simply went to Bulford Camp on his motor bike ‘to see what could be done in the way of getting a commission in the army’. Having failed to strike gold there, he roared on to the Wiltshire Regiment’s depot in Devizes, where he presented himself ‘to Col Stewart who treated me with great kindness and seemed hopeful of getting me a commission right away’. Two days later he was in 3/Wiltshire, the Special Reserve battalion, under the congenial command of Lord Heytesbury. ‘We had a few parades to attend, some trench digging, and an odd lecture or two,’ he wrote, ‘with plenty of time off for bathing and having tea in the town and singsongs in the evening.’ In a month he was in France, commanding a platoon in 1/Wiltshire on the Aisne. As he went into the line for the first time one of his men shouted ‘Are we downhearted?’ and a weary soldier on his way out replied ‘No, but you bloody soon will be.’136
In September 1914 Graham Greenwell, instantly commissioned into the infantry, told his mother that: ‘I am having great fun and enjoying it all immensely.’ The only setback, though, he wrote, was that: ‘I can’t get a sword or a revolver for love or money, though Harrods are getting me one.’137 One fond mother earnestly advertised in The Times for a loan to buy a revolver for her officer son, promising donors that the best possible references supported her application. North Whitehead feared that his mother might not be so supportive. He wrote from Rugby school that he was persuaded, ‘not only by the leader writers but by letters written by officers’, that all able-bodied men really should join. He knew that she would worry about him, but assured her that:
our navy will play the chief part in our share of the war.
A man who has just joined the army is nearly useless at first, although I can handle a service rifle …
Darling Mummy, remember that in all probability I shall never go beyond the drill ground & that if I do I shall in all probability never be more than a reserve.
He was commissioned into the Army Service Corps, Special Res
Family connections were useful. Julian Tyndale-Biscoe was at OTC camp on Cannock Chase when war broke out, and gleefully reported that there was a huge inter-fight to celebrate the news. When the guard charged the offenders in an attempt to restore order, ‘they were soon thrown to the ground and parted from their rifles and hats’. He wired his cousin Victor, commanding King Edward’s Horse, who replied: ‘Regiment full strength – join something.’ His uncle Albert, commanding a brigade of field artillery at Woolwich, suggested that he apply for a regular commission in the gunners. But the war, he thought, might be over by then, so instead he wrote to the War Office. There was a brief interview: ‘When he heard that I had Certificate A and was in the shooting eight, etc, etc, he gave a grunt and told me that he would arrange for me to be gazetted in the next week or so.’139
Tyndale-Biscoe happily went off in his OTC uniform with hasty alterations to the sleeve for his new badges of rank. But he received a rude shock when he joined his battery at Deepcut in Surrey.
Where were the guns and horses? All I could see was a large crowd of men in their civilian clothes marching unendingly to the voice of various sergeants, on a gravel square, much to the detriment of their boots. The Major said, ‘Here is the Battery — I want you to train these men.’ When I told him that I had no artillery training, he said ‘Oh, that does not matter, you just watch the others do it, and do it yourself;
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