British Isle Genealogy
 England, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man
   Wales, Channel Island, Isle of Wight


British Isles Genealogy | Fifth Leicestershire

4th Aug., 1914 - 25th Feb., 1915.

The Territorial Force, founded in 1908, undoubtedly attracted many men who had not devoted themselves previously to military training, nevertheless it took its character and tone from men who had seen long service in the old Volunteer Force. Hence, those who created the Territorial Force did nothing more than re-organize, and build upon what already existed. In the 5th Leicestershire Regiment there crossed with us to France men who had over 30 years' service. At the outbreak of war in 1914, R.Q.M.S. Stimson could look back on 36 years of service, and, amongst other accomplishments he spoke French fluently. Other names that occur to us are Serjt. Heafield, with 28 years, and C.S.M. Hill with 16 years, both of Ashby, and both of whom served in the Volunteer Company in South Africa. R.S.M. Lovett (27 years), of Loughborough, also wears the South African medal for service in the same Company. Then there are Pioneer-Serjt. Clay (27 years' service), C.S.M. Garratt, of Ashby, C.S.M. Wade, of Melton, R.Q.M.S. Gorse, of Loughborough, Signal-Serjeant Diggle, of Hinckley—all long service men. The senior N.C.O. in Rutland was C.S.M. Kernick, who had done 18 years' service when war was declared.

The infantry of the 46th (North Midland) Division consisted of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, the Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, and the Staffordshire Brigades. Our brigade, the 138th, was commanded at first by General A.W. Taylor, who was succeeded a few days before we left England by General W.R. Clifford. Staff officers changed frequently, and we hope we did not break the hearts of too many. Staff-Captain J.E. Viccars survived most of them, and we owe him much for the able and vigorous assistance he was always ready cheerfully to give us.

The 5th Leicestershire was a County Battalion, organised in eight companies, with headquarters respectively at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Oakham, Melton Mowbray, Hinckley, Market Harborough, Mountsorrel, Shepshed, and one at Regimental Headquarters at Loughborough. The companies thus were much scattered, and it was only at the annual training camps that we met as a battalion.

The Territorial Force was better prepared for mobilization than is generally supposed, and if the history of the assembly of the regiment at Loughborough in the first week, their train journey to Duffield in the second week, the purchase of horses, the collection of stores, the requisitions for food and the sharpening of bayonets, be demanded, it can be read in the orders printed many months before war even threatened. The orders were drawn up by Lt.-Colonel G. German, T.D., our former commanding officer, now D.S.O., and by his conscientious and indefatigable adjutant, Captain W.G. King Peirce, who was killed early in the war fighting with his old regiment, the Manchesters. It is due to these officers to record that every detail was studiously followed and found exactly correct. We heard of one officer who, at the time the printed book of orders was issued, was so fearful lest it should fall into the hands of some indiscreet or improper person, that he packed and sealed it, addressed it to his executors, and locked it up in a safe, so that even sudden death on his part would not force him to betray his trust.

Of all hard-worked people in the early days it is possible that upon Major R.E. Martin fell the greatest share. Not only did he see that supplies were forthcoming, and that dealers delivered the goods expected of them, but he set himself to design water-carts, and troughs-water-feet-for-the-washing-of, and cunningly to adapt stock material to the better service and greater comfort of all, many of whom were for the first time dragged from the civilities and luxuries of home life.

At Loughborough from the 5th to the 11th of August we did little more than pull ourselves together generally, and enjoy the good will of the inhabitants, led by our firm friend, the oft-repeated Mayor, Mr. Mayo, J.P.

It did not demand much wit to foretell that sooner or later we should be asked to offer ourselves for service abroad. The question was put for the first time on the 13th of August, at Duffield. A rough estimate was made that at least 70 per cent. would consent gladly and without further thought, and of the others hesitation was caused in many cases because men wondered whether in view of their positions in civil life they had the right to answer for themselves. It should be understood that a very large number were skilled men, and had joined the home army merely because they thought it a good thing to do. And because they liked it, and knew it was a good thing to do, they were content to accept humble places in a force formed for home service and home defense only. Also, at that stage it was not perfectly certain that everyone would be wanted, and when the question of war service abroad was raised, and other men were not serving at all, it is only natural that the thought passed through some men's minds that the appeal was not for them. We think that the battalion might be congratulated upon the general spirit of willingness shown, especially as in the 17th August when the question was put again more definitely, the percentage of those ready to extend the terms of service was estimated at 90.

There were other phases of this call for extension of service, too numerous to detail here; for example, on one occasion we were asked to get six companies ready at once. This for a time upset everything, for, as we have said, the original eight companies were taken from different parts of the county, and there was a strong company comradeship, as well as a battalion unity; and if six be taken out of eight it means omissions, amalgamations, grafts, and all sorts of disturbances.

We left Duffield on the 15th of August, and marched to Derby Station. Our train was timed to start at 11 p.m., and seeing that we arrived at Luton at 2 p.m. the next day, the rate of motion was about 6 miles an hour, not too fast for a train. But the truth is we did not start at 11 p.m., but spent hours standing in the cattle yard at Derby, while trucks and guns were being arranged to fit one another. As that was our first experience of such delay, the incident was impressed upon our minds, and it counts one to the number of bars we said our medal should have.

As in Loughborough, so in Luton, our billets were schools. There was one advantage about the Beech Hill Schools of Luton, namely, that the whole battalion could assemble in the big room, sit on the floor, and listen in comfort to words of instruction and advice. But day schools were not intended for lodging purposes, and here again was displayed Major Martin's skill in the erection of cookhouses and more wash-tubs and other domestic essentials. The moment we got settled, however happened to coincide with the moment at which the education branch of the Town Council determined that the future of a nation depended upon the education of her children, and thus it came to pass that on the 28th of August we moved out of the schools, and entered billets in West Luton.

The long rows of houses were admirably suited to company billets. Occupiers dismantled the ground floor front and took in three, and generally four men at various rates. On the 2nd of October a universal rate of 9d. a day each man was fixed. That made twenty-one shillings a week towards paying off a rent which would average at the most twelve shillings. The billets delighted us, and we hope the owners were as pleased. We thank them and all we met in those billeting times for their kind forbearance.

The headquarters and billets of senior officers were at Ceylon Hall. The building was owned by the Baptists, and we found their committee most willing and obliging. On one occasion they lent us their chapel and organ for a Sunday service, and set their own service at a time to suit ours, when churches in the town could not help us.

Altogether we were in Luton just 3 months training for war. To a great extent the training was on ordinary lines. A routine was followed, and all routines become dull and wearisome. We had been asked to go abroad, we had expressed our willingness to go. This willingness grew into a desire, which at intervals expressed itself in petulant words of longing—"Are we ever going to France?" The answer was always the same: "You will go soon enough, and you will stay long enough." This increased our irritation. Suddenly, on one still and dark November day, parade was sharply cancelled, we clad ourselves in full marching order, there was just a moment to scrawl on a postcard a few last words home, tender words were exchanged with our friends in the billets, and with heavy tread and in solemn silence we marched forth along the Bedford Road. There was a pillar box beside the road. It was only the leading companies that could put the farewell card actually in the box, for it was quickly crowded out, and in the end the upper portion of the red pillar was visible standing on a conical pile of postcards.

Never had a field day passed without some reference to the 16th milestone on the Bedford Road, but on this particular day orders did not even mention the milestone. This in itself was sufficient to convince us that real war had at length begun. Long before the 16th milestone was sighted, we were diverted into a field, our kit was commented upon, and we marched back to the same old billets. For convenience of reference this incident is entered in our diary as the march to France along the Bedford Road, and no bar was awarded. The march formed a crisis in our history, for subsequent to it leave home was not sought so eagerly. Positively the last words of farewell had been said, and it was difficult to devise other forms of good-bye nearer the absolute ultimate with which to engage our home friends, who, to our credit be it said, were just as anxious as we were.

It was about this time that our attention was drawn to the anomaly of the discharge rule. A man who had served for four years could take his discharge as a time-expired soldier. At the same time men were enlisting freely. One young man of under 21 was said to have claimed his discharge on the very day that his grandfather, newly enlisted, entered upon three days' "C.B." for coming on parade with dirty boots.

It was in Luton, too, that we overcame our distrust and dislike of vaccination and inoculation against typhoid. We remember C.S.M. Lovett being inoculated in public to give a lead to others, and we smile now to think that in those days it was power of character and leadership only that accomplished things, and incidentally made the way smooth for a Government's compulsory bill.

We were inspected several times, in fact so often that the clause "We are respected by everyone," which comes in our regimental ditty—(and how could it not!!)—was given the alternative rendering "inspected." Twice his Majesty the King honored us with a visit, and in addition General Ian Hamilton, Lord Kitchener, and others.

Regiments differ much; each has its peculiarities. The 5th Leicestershire a county battalion, if in nothing else, excelled individually in work across country. Though all may not have been as clever as "Pat" Collins (G.A.), who acted as guide to the commanding officer for many months—and we have the commanding officer's permission to add "counselor and friend"—there was never any difficulty in finding the way in the day or at night. If we may anticipate our early days in France, a few months hence, we can remember being occupied all one night in extricating parties of men who had lost their way hopelessly in open country in the dark. Those were men who came from a city battalion, brought up amongst labeled thoroughfares, street lamps, and brilliantly-illuminated shop windows. We practiced night work at Luton, and all was easy and natural, though we added to our experiences, as on the night when in the thrilling silence of a night attack the fair chestnut bolted with the machine gun; and having kicked two men and lost his character, reverted to the rank of officer's charger.

On a day in October the whole division had entrenched itself in the vicinity of Sharpenhoe and Sundon. To enliven the exercise night maneuvers were hastily planned. Our share was to march at about 11 p.m., after a hard day and half a tea, and to continue marching through the most intricate country until five o'clock the next morning. At that time we were within charging distance of the enemy, and day was breaking. Filing through a railway arch we wheeled into extended order and lay down till all were ready. When the advance was ordered, though we had lain down for two minutes only, the greater number were fast asleep. Despite this hitch the position was taken, and then a march home brought the exercise to an end at 8.10 a.m. For this operation we voted a second bar to our medal.

To those who knew all the details of the plan the most brilliant feature was the wonderfully accurate leading of our Brigade Major, now Brigadier-General Aldercron. He led us behind the advanced posts of the enemy and it was their second line that we attacked.

Many officers were joining us. Since war had been declared, E.G. Langdale, R.C.L. Mould, C.R. Knighton, S.R. Pullinger, C.H. Wollaston, G.W. Allen, J.D. Hills, and R. Ward-Jackson had all been added to our strength. Later came D.B. Petch, R.B. Farrer, and J. Wyndham Tomson, of whom Petch was straight from school, and he, with the last two named, served a fortnight in France before being gazetted. Their further careers can be followed in later chapters with the exception, perhaps, of Hills, who himself writes those chapters. As his service is a combination of details, many of which are typical of the young officer who fought in the early days of the war, for general information we narrate so much. John David Hills, though not 20, had already seen six years' service in his school O.T.C., including one year as a Cadet Officer. He surrendered his Oxford Scholarship and what that might have meant in order to join up at once. He passed through the battalion from end to end, occupying at various times every possible place: signaling officer, intelligence officer, platoon commander, company commander, adjutant, 2nd in command, and finished up in command of what was called "the cadre." For some time, too, he was attached to the brigade staff, and when we add that he excelled in every position separately and distinctly, and won the admiration and love of all, we may spare him further embarrassment and let the honors he has won speak for him.

Clothing was a lasting trouble. We were now wearing out our first suits, and from time to time there confronted us statements that sounded rather like weather reports, for example—"No trousers to-day; tunics plentiful." Then the question arose as to whether a man should wear a vest, and, if so, might he have two, one on the man, the other at the wash. Patient endurance was rewarded by an answer in the affirmative to the first part of the question, but the correspondence over the second portion has only just reached the armistice stage.

And as with men, so with animals. "The wagon and horses" sounds beautifully complete as well as highly attractive, but in the army we must not forget to see that harness comes as well. And this thought, the lack of harness, carries us to another great event in our history, the end of the Luton days, the march to Ware.

Why was the march to Ware planned exactly like that? It is not in the hope of getting an answer we ask the question. Wagons and horses and no harness, and whose fault? Wagons and horses with harness, and carrying a double load to make up,—no fault, a necessity. Officers away on leave,—but let us set things down in order. Barely a fortnight after the march to France along the Bedford Road, on Saturday, the 14th of November, a proportion of officers and men went on leave as usual till Monday, and all was calm and still. At 1 a.m. on Monday, orders were received to move at 7 a.m., complete for Ware, a distance, by the route set, of 25 to 30 miles,—some say 50 to 100 miles. Official clear-the-line telegrams were poured out recalling the leave takers. Wagons were packed—(were they not packed!)—billets were cleared, and we toed the line at the correct time. For want of harness, the four cooks' carts and two water carts were left behind; for want of time, meat was issued raw; for want of orders, no long halt was given at mid-day. One short and sharp bit of hill on the way was too much for the horses, and such regimental transport as we had with us had to be man-handled. This little diversion gave regiments a choice of two systems, gaps between regiments, or gaps between sections of the same regiment, and gave spectators, who had come in considerable numbers, a subject for discussion. But the chief feature of the day was that we reached Ware that day as complete as we started. We arrived at 7-20 p.m. except for two Companies who were detached as rear guard to the Division. The tail end of the Divisional train lost touch and took the wrong turning, and for this reason the two Companies did not come in till 11-30 p.m. We understand that the third bar on our medal will be the march to Ware.

Amongst those who watched us pass near the half-way post we noticed our neighbor, General Sir A.E. Codrington, then commanding the London District, who as an experienced soldier knew the difficulties and gave us, as a regiment, kindly words of praise and encouragement.

We have often wondered what was the verdict of the authorities upon this march. As this is regimental history only, it may be permitted to give the regiment's opinion. We fancied we accomplished passing well an almost impossible task. It is true that not long afterwards we were well fitted out and sent to France. We are persuaded, too, to add here that we said we owed one thing at least to our Divisional Commander, General E. Montagu-Stuart-Wortley; we were the first complete Territorial Force Division to cross the seas and go into action as a Division against the Germans. And it may be that the whole Territorial Force owe to our General, too, that they went in Divisions, and were not sent piecemeal as some earlier battalions, and dovetailed into the Regular Army, or, perhaps, even into the New Army. We live in the assurance that the confidence the Army Council extended to us was not misplaced.

Having rested a day at Ware, we marched to Bishops Stortford, where we cannot say we were billeted neither can we use again the word rest, for the town was over-crowded, and queues were formed up to billets; queues composed of all arms of the service, and infantry did not take the front place. Let us say we were "stationed" there one week. The week was enlivened by strange rumor of German air attacks, and large patrols were kept on the watch at night.

On the 26th of November, the time of our life began when the regiment marched into billets at Sawbridgeworth. The town was built for one infantry regiment and no more. The inhabitants were delightful, and we have heard, indirectly, more than once that they were pleased with us. We soon learnt to love the town and all it contained, and we dare not say that our love has grown cold even now. The wedding bells have already rung for the regiment once at Sawbridgeworth, when Lieut. R.C.L. Mould married Miss Barrett, and we do not know that they may not ring again for a similar reason. In Sawbridgeworth, our vigorous adjutant, Captain W.T. Bromfield, was at his best. Everyone was seized and pulled up to the last notch of efficiency, pay books were ready in time, company returns were faultless, deficiency lists complete, saluting was severer than ever, and echos of heel clicks rattled from the windows in the street. Best of all were the drums. Daily at Retreat, Drum Sergt. Skinner would salute the orderly officer, the orderly officer would salute the senior officer, then all the officers would salute all the ladies, the crowd would move slowly away, and wheel traffic was permitted once more in the High Street.

The ordinary routine of military life was broken into at times by sudden and violent efforts dictated by lightning ideas of the Divisional or Brigade Staff, or by the latest news from the front. There was a time, for example, when we could think of one thing only,—the recessed trench. That gave place to the half company trench, a complete system, embracing fire trenches, supports, inspection trenches, with cook houses, wash houses, and all that a well regulated house could require; and so important was it, and its dimensions so precise, that an annotated copy was printed on handkerchiefs.

Then came a sudden desire to cross streams, however swollen, and a party rode off to Bishops Stortford to learn the very latest plans. We had just received a set of beautiful mules, well trained for hard work in the transport. As horses were scarce, and the party large, our resourceful adjutant ordered mules. Several mules returned at once, though many went with their riders to the model bridge, and in their intelligent anxiety to get a really close view, went into the water with them.

On another day we did a great march through Harlow, and saluted Sir Evelyn Wood, V.C., who stood at his gate to see us pass.

Football, boxing and concerts, not to mention dancing, filled our spare time, and there was the famous race which ended:—Bob, Major Toller, a, 1., Berlin, Capt. Bromfield, a, 2. And we are not forgetting that it was at Sawbridgeworth that we ate our first Christmas war dinner. Never was such a feed. The eight companies had each a separate room, and the Commanding officer, Major Martin, and the adjutant made a tour of visits, drinking the health of each company in turn—eight healths, eight drinks, and which of the three stood it best? Some say the second in command shirked.

Officers had their dinner, too. After the loyal toast there was one only—"Color Sergt. Joe Collins, and may he live for ever!" The reply was short—"Gentlemen, I think you are all looking very well." It was his only thought, and we were well. We know how much we owe to him as our mess sergeant; he studied our individual tastes and requirements, and kept us well for many months. Good luck to him!

It was not till January, 1915, that a most important, and as a matter of fact the very simplest, change in our organization was made. To be in keeping with the regular forces, our eight companies were re-organized as four. This system would always have suited our County battalion even in 1908, and our only wonder is that it was not introduced before.

When, on the 18th of February, the G.O.C. returned from a week's visit to France, and gave us a lecture upon the very latest things, we knew we might go at any time. Actually at noon on the 25th we got the order to entrain at Harlow at midnight, and the next morning we were on Southampton Docks.

We left behind at Sawbridgeworth Captain R.S. Goward, now Lieut. Colonel and T.D., in command of a company which afterwards developed into a battalion called the 3rd 5th Leicestershire. This battalion was a nursery and rest house for officers and men for the 1st Fifth. It existed as a separate unit until the 1st of September, 1916, and during those months successfully initiated all ranks in the ways of the regiment, and kept alive the spirit which has carried us through the Great War.

The Fifth Leicestershire

The Fifth Leicestershire
A record of the 1/5th Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment, T.F., during the War, 1914-1919

Search British Isles

British Isles Genealogy Records

Channel Islands Genealogy
England Genealogy
Ireland Genealogy
Isle of Man Genealogy
Scotland Genealogy
Wales Genealogy

Other Genealogy Records

Free Genealogy
British Isles Books
Genealogy Library
Canadian Genealogy
Genealogy Gateway
Family Tree Guide

Cyndi's List

Sites I Visit

Garden Herbs
Trade Recipes

Sip of Wine
The Little Tea Book

British Isles Genealogy


Add/Correct a Link


Comments/Submit Data


Copyright 2004-, the web pages may be linked to but shall not be reproduced on another site without written permission from BIGenealogy. Images may not be linked to in any manner or method. Anyone may use the information provided here freely for personal use only. If you plan on publishing your personal information to the web please give proper credit to our site for providing this information. Thanks!!!