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To the army…and India
‘For a soldier I listed, to grow great in fame,
And be shot at for sixpence a-day
(Charles Dibdin 1745-1814 in ‘Charity’ 1791)
To the Royal Sussex Regiment
On the 1st December 1905 Robert gave the following oath ‘I Robert Hill do make oath that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Edward the Seventh. His heirs and successors, in Person, Crown and Dignity against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, and of the Generals and Officers set over me. So help me God’. He had travelled to Chichester and joined the Royal Sussex Regiment
The Royal Sussex Regiment was raised by Arthur Chichester, 3rd Earl of Donegal, who owned large estates in the north of Ireland in Belfast in 1701. It was first known as The Earl of Donegal's Regiment, or The Belfast Regiment, however the official title was the 35th Regiment of Foot. After the raising of a 2nd Battalion in 1799 and various campaigns, the Regiment was given appellation "Royal" by William IV in honour of its achievements and was retitled the 35th (Royal Sussex) Regiment of Foot. In 1873 when regiments were given permanent headquarters the Chichester Barracks quite naturally became the home for the 35th and 107th. In 1881 these were reconstituted to form, respectively, 1s t& 2nd Battalions, Royal Sussex Regiment.
Robert would have taken the oath at the Chichester barracks. The Barracks are strategically situated on a piece of high ground to the north of the city. In 1642 Gen Sir William Waller used this ground to form his troops prior to the siege of Chichester and it was also where executions were carried out at the Gallows. The Barracks were built over a period between 1795 and 1813 and French POWs were initially employed on the construction of some of the first wooden huts in 1803. In 1875 the main build took place which included several brick buildings and numerous more wooden huts to serve as accommodation and offices. It was also at this time that the main parade ground was laid with grass and from then on known as The Green. In 1925, Mr George Tippen (then 88yrs old) a tinsmith from nearby St Paul's Road reminisced on his childhood around the Barracks:
"Great alterations have been made to the Barracks since I was a boy. Before the present wall was built around, a heavy open fence, always kept well tarred to prevent climbing enclosed them. I remember the great improvements made to the huts from time to time for the comfort of the men, and the building of the new entrance gateway, and the new buildings of the flag staff tower." Shortly before the Great War the officers kept a pack of beagles there for two years.
Robert lied about his age when he enlisted. . He said he was a British subject 19 years and one month, in fact he was 16 years 11 months. I presume he looked old enough to be taken as a nineteen year old. 18 was the joining age for a private but no proof of age was required. He stated on his attestation form that he wished to joined the Royal Sussex and the paragraph which said he could be posted to any regiment in the Corp in which he was enlisted was crossed through. He answered no to being an apprentice, being married, having been imprisoned or having served in the forces before. He also agreed that although enlisting in the foot infantry he understood he could be transferred to the mounted infantry and agreed also to be vaccinated. His term of service was twelve years, nine in the colours, three in reserve and a further year if the country was at war. He would have had to have reached 5ft 3ins in height. He signed the form with a careful signature of the sort learnt at school. He would not have been used to writing his name frequently. If Robert had been recruited by someone he would have earned his recruiter 2s 6d. The attestation form has his place of birth correctly as Hurting, though a later form does give it as Payton. His medical examination recorded his height was 5ft 4 and three quarters weight 132 lbs and chest 36 ins. Army life did him good, his height increased a quarter of an inch, his weight to 147 lbs and girth when fully extended by another half inch. He had brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. His primary military examination was completed on the 4th December and his attestation approved on that day.
Why did Robert join? Three fifths of enlistments at this time came in the winter half of the year. Unemployment at this time of year both on the land and in jobs like construction was high. Pay was 7s a week less 1 and half pence insurance. Nationally average manual worker got less than £2 for 72hr week. Economic necessity was the biggest reason why young men joined up, although some no doubt joined for the sense of adventure, a liking of the military or a wish to escape from problems in their home life. One young German conscript in the German army explains to his friends in All Quiet on the Western Front (p76) “If I were a non-com I’d stay with the Prussians and serve out my time…In the army in peace-time you’ve nothing to trouble about” …your food’s found every day, or else you kick up a row; you’ve a bed, every week clean underwear like a perfect gent, you do your non-com’s duty, you have a good suit of clothes; in the evening you’re a free man and go off to the pub….and when your twelve years are up you get your pension and become the village bobby, and you can walk about the whole day”.
FM Packham who was a Sergeant B Company 2nd Battalion (in which Robert was to serve in World War I) wrote ‘Memories of an old contemptible 1912-1920’ (WSRO RSR/2/54) wrote of his reasons for joining ‘It was in September 1912 that I had a notion to join the Army. I was working on a construction job in Battersea, London and was earning 7s 6d per week and as I had to pay for my board and lodgings out of it, I could not see myself getting anywhere. To me 1s per day offered by the Army certainly seemed a good way out. sent to Chichester Barracks’ – rigid pattern – out of bed a t reveille, coffee, wash and physical exercises, breakfast, clean up for inspection, 9-12 marching and drilling on barracks square, dinner at 1.30, 3 on square again, school until 4. Saturdays square 9-12, Sunday church parade and church service in barracks chapel. In 3rd – after 3 months transfer to 2nd in Woking
How did Robert travel to Chichester from Yapton? There was the train from Barnham, the Mills family as well as Bowleys ran a carrier service from Walberton which went daily to Chichester 9probably one from Yapton too). Need to check] Walking the nine miles would not have been of the question.
In the barracks
At the barracks he would have been clothed, equipped and his training starts with a musketry course. His pay would have been the shilling a day, 7s a week before stoppages, with free food, clothes, accommodation, medical care, paid leave, subsidised tobacco, libraries, canteens, and a good education. There was the possibility to earn more; proficiency pay could be up to 6d a day extra. The service record shows he did gain some awards unfortunately too feint to make out when and which. As part of the army’s education programme he may have studied for the 3rd class certificate in education. This covered arithmetic ; money, avoirdupois, weight and lineal measure, addition and subtraction of vulgar fractions, also writing from dictation, proficiency in writing regiment orders, composition such as writing a simple letter. Sergeant Packham on life in Chichester Barracks; rigid pattern, out of bed at reveille, coffee, wash and physical exercises, breakfast, clean up for inspection, 9-12 marching and drilling on barracks square, dinner at 1.30, 3 on square again, school until 4. On Saturdays square 9-12, Sunday church parade and church service in barracks chapel. The Short Lee Enfield introduced in 1902 was the standard weapon. It weighed 8lb 10 and half ounces and 3ft 8 and half inches long. Its magazine had ten rounds quickly loaded in two clips of five rounds which soldier thumbed in from above. Marksmanship was considered very important. The marksmanship badge was crossed rifles and good shots received a proficiency bonus and marksmen an extra sixpence a day (this, marksmanship training went when war began). Prior to 1914 men awarded inverted stripes sewn onto lower left sleeve which indicated the length of unblemished good service, one for two years, two for five years, here for twelve years or more.
After three months in the 3rd in Chichester Robert was transferred to the 1st Battalion at the Inkerman Barracks in Woking. The Barracks were at Knaphill west of Woking. They had been built around 1860 as a prison for invalid convicts and taken over as army barracks in 1893. What did he look like? Hair short and I’m sure a moustache as moustaches were almost commanded, though sometimes shaved off for leave.
Four months after joining Robert might have set sail from Dover. The record is confusing as it gives two dates for him at Dover; 4/1/1906 and 23/1/1907.At this time each infantry regiment had two battalions, the 1st and 2nd. One battalion was in service overseas, often India though it could be South Africa or elsewhere. The other battalion was at home, which could include Ireland. Until the Haldane reforms of 1907 and 1908 the typical peace establishment was 750 in the home unit, 940 in the Indian battalion and 50 for the regiment depot (Chichester). Robert was sent out to join the 1st Battalion. The voyage to India in the trooping season October to March took 21 days, through the Suez Canal and down the coast of Africa. I have read those under 20 prevented from serving overseas; if so the sailing date of 1907 might be correct. His record shows nothing of what he was doing between December 1905 and 1907, but it has many entries from India thereafter which again supports the later date. On the 18th February 1908 he passed instruction for the mounted infantry. Some infantry units in the British Army had a mounted platoon used for scouting and skirmishing in the colonies. The men were not trained to fight whilst mounted. On June 1909 he was made Lance Corporal earning an extra 3d a day
Reports on the IST Battalion in India were good. The Annual Inspection report (GOC 3rd Lahore Division) 1907 said “The Report on the Regiment is satisfactory and reflects credit on the company” and on 21st September Major-General Clements on relinquishing command of the Sirkind Brigade spoke “During the time the Royal Sussex have been under my command I have formed a very high opinion of the battalion. Their conduct has been very good and their keenness and training for war all that should be desired. There is a good tone in all ranks and they fully hold their own in all sport. Should we ever proceed into active service I would wish that this Royal Sussex regiment might be under my command as I am sure that in the field they would fully maintain the high opinion of them I have found in peace. I wish the Battalion all the luck in the future”
Around northern India
The records of the 1st Battalion at the West Sussex Record Office give an outline of the Battalion’s movements during his stay in India. Regimental life at this time followed the same pattern each year; winter would be spent in the garrison town of Ambala until 1908 and then Rawalpindi and during the hot season Headquarters and half the companies would go into the foothills of the Himalayas at Solan, Upper Topa or Gharial.
Ambala where Robert was first stationed is at the meeting point of the hills and plains. It became a large British cantonment in 1843, laid out in grid fashion with Paget Park and St John’s Cathedral to the north. On the 20th December 1908 Robert arrived at Rawalpindi the Battalion’s new base. The British first occupied Rawalpindi in 1849 following the conquest of the Sikhs and it became a permanent garrison in 1851, and eventually the largest British military garrison in India. The cantonment had a population of 40,611 in 1901. As well as two British infantry battalions it also contained one battery of horse and one of field artillery, one mountain battery, one company of garrison artillery, one ammunition column of field artillery, one regiment of British and one of Native cavalry, two native infantry regiments, two companies of sappers and miners and a balloon section. The barracks were at Church Lines until October 1911 after which the Battalion occupied West Ridge barracks. In 1909 Robert was at Upper Topa. He was hospitalised there between 12 and 22 June 1911with tonsillitis and given his anti-typhoid inoculations, the first on 25 October 1909 and the second on 5th November 1909. Later that month Headquarters with C, D, E, F and H companies, the band and drums moved back to Rawalpindi in three parties owing to difficulties of transporting and removing tents after heavy falls of snow arriving in the garrison on 15th November.
Robert was inoculated again at Gharial (date unreadable). Gharial is in a beautiful valley in the Murree Hills now in Pakistan’s Punjab. On the 16th October 1910 he reverted to being private at own request. No further explanation is given. The 1911 census lists Robert in Rawalpindi as a cook. A look through the soldiers enumerated near to him shows that the large majority of privates were aged between 23 and 27 and came from Sussex. Of the other 29 on Robert’s page in the census only six came from elsewhere (one from Essex, one from Middlesex, one from Hampshire and three just over the Kent border). Brighton was well represented, and East Sussex more than West Sussex though there were a handful of men from Arundel, one from Walberton and a fellow cook Frederick Pay came from Harting.
Shortly after the census was taken on 12th May he was back in Upper Topa. Later that year the visit of King George V for the Royal Durbar was a highlight for the British in India. On the 24th November the Battalion sent 50 NCOs and men to Delhi to act as railway police. Besides these three men of the Regiment were employed in the government diary in Delhi, one of them being employed in the dairy set aside for Their Majesties. One NCO was on special duty in His Majesty’s Household and one NCO of the Battalion was sent to represent the 2nd Rawalpindi Division of the Durbar assault at arms and gained a silver medal for being the second best Man at Arms in India of dismounted troops.53 men of the Battalion were presented with Coronation medals.
In 1911 Lieutenant Colonel AR Gilbert on relinquishing his command of the Battalion said in his Farewell order that he “wishes to express his thanks to the officers, staff sergeants NCOs and men for the hearty support that he has received from all ranks during the four years that he has been in command which has made his period of command one of the most pleasurable periods of the 29 years that he has served with the Royal Sussex Regiment” and he knew that “the battalion will maintain the high reputation that it has borne for so many years in war and peace”.
The January 3rd 1912 inspection report by Brigadier General C Young commanding Rawalpindi Infantry Brigade described the 1st as “A thoroughly good steady and reliable Battalion composed of…smart well set up men. Well officered, well trained in all respects. Fit for active service”.
On the 28th January a new draft of men arrived and an equivalent number left. This was followed on 11th February by Brigade manoeuvres for a week at Baraco camp about 14 miles from Rawalpindi. In April they moved to Gharial for the hot season beginning on the 12th with 50 men and NCOs as the advance party with four companies and the band on the 18th and four companies and drums on the 19th. Robert arrived on the 21st. It was the first year all the battalion had been together for the hot season. On the 8th May footless hose were taken into use by all ranks, and on the 13th a new messing system introduced identical to that used in England and on the 29th “sanction received for spekes and chains to be used again in wear with headdress in review order”.
1st and 2nd of June saw regimental sports on the Gharial flats and 10-14 September the annual rifle meeting. I have seen photographs which show B company’s 1912 winning team for hill running and football. The Viceroy of India passed through on his way to Kashmir 9-10 October and the band and drums took part in a massed band performance. The Battalion furnished the Guard of Honour lining the Kashmir Road on his departure. 7th, 8th and 10th October saw a regimental boxing tournament and on the 12th an Arts and Crafts Exhibition. The final event at Gharial was the annual field firing 16-18 October. The return to Rawalpindi started in the beginning of November, Robert being in the last party under Captain Gouldsmith arriving on the 7th. On the 24th the battalion went to Sowaha for Brigade manoeuvres.
Back on 6 July 1912 there had been an order for 115 NCOs and men who had enlisted for seven, eight or nine years to go into the army reserve on conversion of their army service. 125 men did so and Robert was one of them. He was discharged on 27th February 1913. .