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In the army again
How stood the army which Robert had rejoined? On 1 Aug the regular army had 247 432 men; the army reserve 145 347, special reserve 63 933, channel isles militia 5 613, Territorial Force 268 777, Territorial Reserve 2082, Bermuda & Isle of Man volunteers 330. This came to a total of 733 514. The regular army consisted of cavalry division, six infantry divisions, and line of communication troops totalling 76 battalions. An army division consisted of 3 brigades, 12000 infantry and three Royal Engineers companies. When it crossed to France the BEF infantry was supported by cavalry (mostly used as scouts and observers) and each division had 767 field guns armed by artillery (mainly 18 pounders and a few 60 pounders and howitzers). Each division also had 24 machine guns (still new and rare) and engineering, supply and communication units. A brigade had four battalions, and each battalion 1036 men. A battalion was divided into four companies of 230 men but as some men were transferred to battalion signals transport etc. A company would have the strength of about 190. Each company was further divided into platoons of 45 men commanded by a lieutenant or 2nd lieutenant. Finally there were four sections for each platoon under a corporal or lance corporal. The men could be further split into Lewis gun and rifle sub sections.
For Robert only being out of the Colours for a year returning wouldn’t have been too difficult. This wouldn’t be the case for older reservists especially those in Section D, men whose liability had ended but within three years opted for 4 years more liability, still with the 6d pay per day. These men would have to adjust to a lot of changes, the new four company 16 platoon organisation, new drill and administration. The fitness of many also left a lot to be desired. 15 shots per minute rapid fire were expected but some reservists had never used the new Lee Enfield.303 rifle. They also had to do a lot of route marching, which led to sore feet. The number of reservists available to the regiment was probably about 1500,
Robert arrived at Woking on the 6th August in one of the two batches; the first of 386 men arriving 1am and the second party of 171 at 4.40pm. Inkerman Barracks were of course familiar to him having been there back in 1906. That was of course in the 1st Battalion and he now found himself in the 2nd Battalion (as the 1st was of course still in India). The 2nd had been at the Inkerman Barracks since 1912. In response to the rumours of war the regulars of the 2nd had already been medically inspected on the 2nd and 3rd of August. The new arrivals had a lot of extra things to do after they arrived including what to do or not so overseas, They were shown pictures of German soldiers but the pictures apparently had no resemblance to the Germans they were to see in battle.
Clothing was issued (some might possibly have been issued at Chichester Barracks) – the uniform, one spare vest, underpants, three pairs of socks. Robert’s uniform would have been the service dress cap; 1902 Pattern Service Dress tunic and trousers; greatcoat; pair of long puttees worn between the ankle and just below the knee; a pair of reverse leather ammunition boots; set of 1908 Pattern web equipment which in ‘battle order’ would consist of haversack, cross straps, belt, pair of carriers, cartridge (ammunition pouches) with three charger clips in the top pouches and two in each of the lower ones, an entrenching tool & water bottle. In his kit would a knife, fork, spoon, mess tins, wash roll include soap, ground sheet or rain cape, and rations such as a tin of bully beef or hard tack biscuit and comforts such as balaclava, gloves or scarf. All this could mean up 70lb to carry whilst marching, though if worn correctly the weight would be evenly distributed. Finally there was the short magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) no1 mark III rifle. The men’s own clothing was left behind in kit bags, supposedly kept save though returning men were to find some if not all missing. 163 pairs of boots were found to be too small. Medical inspection and inoculations were carried out. Several men were found to be medically unfit.
Robert would have had his small book. As well as personal details this included details of offences
which could lead to death or lesser punishment if on active service or imprisonment or less punishment if not. Then it lists offences leading to penal servitude or less on active service then list of other offences which could lead to imprisonment. Following this penal stoppages from ordinary pay; fines for drunkenness, Scales of such in barracks room; saluting officers (and diagrams of officers badges of rank); points to be observed when on guard; 9) points to be observed on outposts; how to prevent sore feet (before march wash and dry with water and inside of socks well rubbed with soft and yellow soap. After march feet well washed and clean socks. Then how to deal with blisters “men are cautioned about getting boots too small for them”. Following this instructions for cleaning the rifle and carbine; instructions for cleaning clothing and for washing shirts, khaki clothing, socks and woollen goods; guide to field cooking and recipes for cooking (mess of 60 men), In ness tin for one man – plain stew, Irish stew, curry stew, sea pie (but meat not fish), meat pudding
Next came information on furloughs, marriage, civil employment. Finally particulars of service and
The soldier’s will form. All men were encouraged to complete this will. If Robert did it was never found. He may also have kept his Booklet Health memoranda for soldiers 1907
For Robert only being out of the Colours for a year returning wouldn’t have been too difficult. This wouldn’t be the case for older reservists especially those in Section D, men whose liability had ended but within three years opted for 4 years more liability, still with the 6d pay per day. These men would have to adjust to a lot of changes, the new four company 16 platoon organisation, new drill and administration. The fitness of many also left a lot to be desired. 15 shots per minute rapid fire was expected but some reservists had never used the new Lee Enfield.303 rifle. To brush up on musketry training was carried out at Bisley on the 8th and 9th. They also had to do a lot of route marching, which led to sore feet. Returning to barracks it was discovered that 50 men were wearing boots too small. 40 were exchanged at once and more ordered. Between this and entrainment for France 123 in all were exchanged, many being too narrow.
For information on Robert’s likely experience during the war I have relied on the battalion diary and also the diaries and accounts of other soldiers. One of these was Edward Ernest Stoner [WSRO RS 2/45-50] who was in the Royal Engineers but attached to the 2nd Royal Sussex battalion as a signaller as soon as he and it arrived in France. He was born in 1891 signaller, joined up 5th January 1909. He survived the War, lived in Bedhampton Havant and on 25/11/1954 received a letter saying Her Majesty had approved the award of the Imperial Service award for services to the Post Office. He wrote in a mall leather covered pocket book.
Stoner was in Aldershot when the War broke out. The atmosphere in Woking would have been similar. “Aldershot… a maze of open top waggons, transports etc. reservists singing – in a tense excitement women in dozens inquiring for their friends, relations… evening 5th patriotism was very pronounced God Save The King was sung also Rule Britannia and Old Lang Syne. Before embarking for France was able to meet his ‘girl’ a few times. He went over on SS Agapenor at 11.45 from Southampton. Large numbers of ships were moving troops, men & women cheering and waving hankies as the train passed. [His] had a slight collision in the Southampton waters and succeeded in cutting a decent lump out of a small craft. Stopped with other transports in some harbour at 4am (Ventnor) left at 4.15’
In France offerings – tobacco and drink ‘all of which we had been ordered to refuse under penalty of court martial but needless to say some of the men accepted’
On the 9/8/1914 a message from the King was received for the men in Woking
You are leaving home to fight for the safety and honour of my Empire
Belgium, whose country we are pledged to defend, has been attacked and France is about to be invaded by the same powerful foe
I have implicit confidence in you my soldiers. Duty is your watchword, and I know your duty will be nobly done
I shall follow your every movement with deepest interest and mark with eager satisfaction your daily progress; indeed your welfare will never be absent from my thoughts,
I pray God to bless you and guard you and bring you back victorious
(WSRO MS 2/46)
There was also one from Lord Kitchener
An always look upon looting as a disgraceful act. You are sure to meet with welcome and best trusted, your conduct must justify that welcome and that trust. Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound. So keep constantly on your guard against any excesses. In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must resist for temptations; and while treating all women with perfect courtesy you should avoid intimacy. Do your duty bravely. Fear God and honour the king. Kitchener Field Marshall
On 12th August from Inkerman barracks the men boarded two trains for Southampton, one at 11.30 and the other at 12.40. Detailed plans for mobilisation had been made 1912 to just before August 1914, including for example detailed timetables for the special trains. The Battalion was in the 2nd Brigade of the 1st division. Its fellow Battalions in the Brigade were the 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashires, 1st Battalion Northampton Regiment and the 2nd Battalion Kings Royal Rifles. The battalion marched through Woking on 12th by the band of Gordon’s Boys Home. It seemed like whole town turned out. Men and women cheered and waved hankies as the trains passed. At the dock the men had a meal and then marched onto the ship. No smoking on ship was permitted (but I would imagine was ignored by some) and lots of the men were sea sick. The first party left on the SS Olympia at 11.30 pm and the rest on the SS Agapenor at 11.45. This holed a collier on the way out and stopped with other transports at Ventnor at 4am, leaving fifteen minutes later. It docked at noon on the 13th 30 mins after Olympia. SS Agapenor had only been launched at the beginning of the year.
As well as Ernest Stoner the early movements of the Battalion was told by Sergeant George Allcorn in an account printed in the Southern Weekly News (SWN) on 9th January 1915. George came from Hellingley and had enlisted on 23 March 1896 in Eastbourne aged 18 years one month, having previously been a farm labourer. At 5 foot 11 and half inches he must have been one of the tallest men in the Battalion. ‘All the embarkation and disembarkation was accomplished with absolute satisfaction. Our first camp six miles from Havre was in a potato field and the sun was blazing….on leaving there we had three or four hour s marching to a station and train journey of two days and two nights, to Esquires’ where there were three days ordinary fatigue duties and route marching. The Battalion diary says the camp was at Bleville five miles from Havre where they arrived between 8 and 9pm on the 13th.
The account of Private Michael Pankhurst (SWN 24/10/1914) relates that at Le Havre ‘The enthusiasm of the French reception knew no limits and every British soldier was idolised ‘, Michael Pankhurst was born in 1885 and grew up in Ore, East Sussex. He was to survive the war although not with the 2nd Royal Sussex. He was later to serve in a Labour Corp and then the South Wales Borderers.
Sergeant F M Packham, B company [WSRO RS 2/54 Memories of an old contemptible] however recalls that in the camp at Le Havre there was some friction, indeed nearly a riot, with the French who noticed the Roussillon Plume in the Regiment’s cap badge. [Tradition has it that the Regiment picked up the plumes from the caps of the French Roussillon regiment which they defeated at the Height of Abraham, Quebec in 1759]. He also mentions on a friendlier note that they were offered fruit and drinks by locals but were forbidden to accept, although some did.
The war diary records they left at 9pm on the 14th for Estreux ‘Battalion was received in a very friendly spirit by the French public. ‘At Arras the Mairie and a deputation of 23rd French Regiment presented bequests to the commanding officer’. Seeing the town Robert would have had no idea his name would be commemorated there. Estreux (near Valenciennes) was finally reached at 6.30pm on the 15th. The next day the Battalion joined the rest of the brigade at Esquetieres [?] and due to the number of men their billets were very scattered around the village. On the 17th the men were inoculated against typhoid. There were only 2400 typhoid admission in whole war in the western front. Also on this day and the following two there were route marches. I hope they all had good fitting boots by now. The massed drums played at 6pm on the 18th
Another diary [WSRO RS 2/59] was started by an unknown soldier on the 13th and continued
after 23/8/1914 by Drummer George Benjamin Whittington 2nd RSR. George had joined the Regiment on 20th January 1911 and his career seems to have been a record of minor demeanours. Keeping the diary was another one as the keeping of diaries was forbidden, in case they fell into enemy hands and gave away useful information. Arriving at Havre he noted the horses were disembarked by slings and ‘as a generality the French respectable girls are charming even to the peasantry but the doubtful type is perhaps even coarser than her English prototype’. 14 August ‘a high wind has arisen we who slept under sky resort to tents for protection about 1.30am. Reveille about 2.30am. Confusion owing to darkness and rain and awful thunderstorms. Eventually arrived at railway station’. The trains, Sgt Packham also remembered were box wagons, uncomfortable and sometimes slower than walking and the unknown diarist wrote there was great discomfort to troops in cattle trucks owing to terrific downpour of rain practically the whole way. He also commented that Rouen was a fine city and noted that French reservists were harvesting crops. Amiens was arrived at sunset. He compared the wooded countryside to that of the Scottish borders. The populations of the towns passed by en route gave them fruit, bread, coffee, cigarettes, tobacco, chocolate.
On August 19th the first mail arrived consisting of five bags letters only, which had been posted on the 10th and 11th August. One of the letters was for Private William John Southgate D company who replied to his wife Bess the same day “My dear Bess, just a line or to in answer to your welcome letter which I only got tonight. I shall have to leave you to guess where we are as we don’t dare say where we are. don’t go selling anything unless you can help it because you get 1s a day for yourself and 4d a day for each child…which wont be so bad”. Many more letters along these lines would have been written at this time. Later William was to receive a certificate which stated “Private William John Southgate 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment served with honour and was disabled in the Great War honourably discharged on 10 sept 1915. George R”. There was a brigade concert in the evening.
The 20th was spent cleaning billets followed by a 14mile march to Aresties [?] on the 21st passing through Lalouzie[?] The diary by the anonymous writer is now taken over by G Whittington & G Scutt of B company. Drummer George Benjamin Whittington 2nd RSR had joined the Regiment on 20th January 1911 and his career seems to have been a record of minor misdemeanours. This was a glorious summer’s day. At one point they thought they saw German Uhlans approaching (Mounted cavalry with 26ft lances of steel, sharpened both ends) but they turned out to be our Lancers. On the 22nd a 5.30am start for a 16 mile march to Reminal Barti [?] arriving 3pm. But after only two hours in billets there were orders to immediately turn out. Things were about to get hot!