T.E. Sandall, History of the 5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment (1922)


Mobilization and Training

The various Companies of the Battalion having reached their respective Headquarters on Tuesday, August 4th, were dismissed with orders to hold themselves in readiness to assemble at their Drill Halls directly the hourly-expected order to mobilize was received. The preparation of the necessary detailed orders for Mobilization, and their careful revision from time to time, had been the anxious care of the Commanding Officers and Adjutants for several years. In the Spring of 1914 they were finally revised and approved by the Brigade and Divisional Commanders, and a printed copy was supplied as a confidential document to all Officers who were thus acquainted in minute detail with procedure and duties required. At 8.42 p.m. on August 4th, in accordance with a telegraphic order from Headquarters, Lincoln and Leicester Brigade, the laconic telegram "Rapid Mobilization" was despatched to all Officers from Battalion Headquarters at Grimsby. The response was excellent, and although Wednesday, August 5th, was the first official day of mobilization, several Companies had already reassembled on Tuesday night at their Drill Halls, and early on Wednesday morning, every Company was busily engaged in the work laid down for the first day, medical inspection, provision of necessaries, purchase of articles to complete deficiencies of kits, and careful inspection of arms and equipment, while the Commanding Officer [p11] and Battalion Staff took up their Headquarters at the Drill Hall at Grimsby. Orders were issued by telegram to the outlying Companies to proceed by train to Grimsby early on the following day, and by the afternoon of Thursday, August 6th, the whole Battalion had assembled and were billeted in the South Parade Schools, the Transport and Details in the Garden Street Schools, the Officers' Mess at the Grange Hotel, while Battalion Headquarters were of course at the Drill Hall in Doughty Road. From the first day the mobilization arrangements of this Battalion were very seriously hampered by the fact that whereas Territorial Battalions generally, including all others in the North Midland Division, were able to devote the whole of their time and energy to the procedure of mobilization, we at Grimsby were called upon at once for active guard duties for the docks and harbour, as protection was absolutely essential for the harbour, the electric power station, the wireless station at Weelsby, and so on, and the only available military force was the Battalion. The strength of the Battalion on assembly in Grimsby on the second day of mobilization was 24 Officers and 780 Other Ranks.

On Friday, August 7th, with the exception of the detachment on guard at the Weelsby wireless station the whole Battalion was employed in placing the docks in a state of defence, barricading piers, and digging shelter trenches on the beach at the mouth of the Humber at Cleethorpes, while plans had to be prepared to occupy the defences in case of attack.

At 3 a.m. on Saturday, August 8th, an alarm was given and orders were received from the Officer Commanding the Humber Defences, in view of a possible hostile raid, to occupy the positions prepared for the defence, and this was done at once. During the day the work of improving the defences was [p12] continued and the next night was spent with the Battalion occupying their defence stations, Battalion Headquarters being established on board one of the Grimsby and Hook of Holland Line vessels, S.S. Dewsbury, in the docks.

On Sunday, August 9th, the strain was relaxed, the Battalion was permitted to return to billets and we were able to devote ourselves to the necessary duties in connection with mobilization proper, and on Monday, August 10th, the Commanding Officer was able to report to Brigade Headquarters according to the pre-arranged plan that mobilization was complete, and the Battalion ready to move to its war station. The fact that this was possible, in spite of the manifold extra duties performed, as has been shown, speaks volumes for the keenness, energy, and enthusiasm of all ranks. The Colours of the Battalion were escorted to the Parish Church at Grimsby with due ceremony, and handed to the Vicar for safe custody.

The provision of the Battalion Transport necessary on mobilization was one of the most difficult duties, involving the collection and purchase of the waggons, carts, horses, harness and equipment required, as well as selection of suitable personnel. The Transport Officer, Lieut. B. K. Finnie, worked very hard, and the knowledge and experience of the second-in-command, Major H. Stephenson, were invaluable in aiding him in a very difficult task. In spite of many difficulties and occasional humourous catastrophies the vehicles were obtained, a very heterogeneous collection it is true, consisting of lorries and brewery waggons for four wheeled, and fish carts for two wheeled, carriages. The horses were also a somewhat miscellaneous collection, and the harness kaleideoscopic in character, but still by the fifth day of mobilization, according to plan, the [p13] Transport was complete, the horses branded and shod, and personnel with a knowledge of their duties obtained, thus forming an effective and useful, if not ornamental, Detail of the Battalion.

At 3.50 a.m. on Tuesday, August 11th, we entrained at Grimsby Docks Station, having handed over all Guard Duties to the 5th Manchester Regiment, which had arrived at Grimsby on the previous day, arriving at Derby at 9 a.m. The eight miles' march to Belper, the war station of the Lincoln and Leicester Brigade, in full marching order on a broiling hot August morning, after an uncomfortable night in a crowded train, was very trying for the men, who had had a very hard week's work with very little sleep, and the numbers who were compelled to fall out were uncomfortably large, and gave an indication of the physical unfitness of many for immediate active service.

At Belper, the Battalion was billeted in various schools, the officers in private houses, while Battalion Headquarters were at Bridgehill, where Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Strutt welcomed the Brigade and Battalion Staffs as their guests. The four Battalions of the Brigade were concentrated at Belper, the Headquarters of the Division being at Derby, and for the next few days the training consisted of route marches of gradually increasing length in full marching order with the object of hardening and improving the physical fitness of all ranks.

On Saturday, August 15th, the Battalion left Belper, marching to Derby, and arrived at 6 p.m. in accordance with the order to be at the entraining station one hour before the time fixed for the departure of the train, which was 7 p.m. Owing, however, to the dislocation of the train service by the entraining of the whole Division, we were kept waiting till 11.30 p.m., finally leaving at midnight [p14] for Leagrave Station, three miles from Luton, which was to be the home of the Division for the next three months.

The Battalion was billeted at Luton under various conditions, some Companies in factories, others in empty houses, while a certain proportion of men, to their great delight, were fortunate enough to be billeted in private houses. Battalion Headquarters with Orderly Room and Officers' Mess were established in an empty house in the Biscot Road. During the next week all units settled down to steady training, beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. daily, and on the 22nd a Divisional concentration march was practised for the first time. Naturally many mistakes occurred, and the criticism of the G.O.C. was severe, but the various units began from this time forward to regard themselves not merely as units but as factors in the North Midland Division.

The question of volunteering for active service abroad had first been mooted at Belper, when the response was rather half-hearted, to the great disappointment of the officers, but the numbers rapidly improved, and during the next week, some 650 men having volunteered, the Battalion was accepted as a unit for foreign service, as was the whole Division. Recruiting was now very brisk, and on August 31st the Division was reorganized for foreign service, those men who felt themselves unable to volunteer being billeted and trained separately, ultimately being stationed at Dunstable under Major H. D. Marshall, thus forming the nucleus of the Reserve Battalion.

The newly-organized Foreign Service Battalion was rapidly recruited up to establishment, but uniform, arms and equipment were lacking, and were only obtained gradually, the demands not being fully supplied for nearly two months. It is not [p15] necessary to describe in detail the training for the next two months; it is sufficient to say that it was strenuous and thorough. The work was varied by occasional Divisional Field days, and night operations were practised at least twice a week. As a rule Battalions with Band and Drums marched out in Brigade to the training area, which was of satisfactory extent, each Battalion there carrying out the day's programme of work, returning to billets again in Brigade; usually a haversack ration was carried, but frequently dinners were cooked in the field. Musketry for recruits was carried out on the Dunstable range, while a special range was constructed on Wardown Hill for trained men. Field firing was practised on a special range at Dunstable. On Sundays a ceremonial Church Parade was usually held.

During the first week in September the training programme had to be considerably modified for some days on account of anti-typhoid inoculation, which, necessary as it was realised to be, was very unpopular and incapacitated men for a few days, but this was quickly forgotten, and the prospect of Service in the Field being nearer, every branch of training was resumed with added energy and enthusiasm.

On September 29th, the Division was inspected in Luton Hoo Park by Lord Kitchener, who informed the Divisional Commander that the Division would be sent abroad as soon as the Reserve Battalions were recruited up to full strength, and on October 17th orders were received for the Division to hold itself in readiness for Foreign Service by October 31st. There was naturally much excitement and every man was given 48 hours' final leave during the next week. Training, however, was continued steadily, the looked-for date came and passed and [p16] many fanciful rumours circulated, but no order was received until midnight of Sunday, November 15th, when the Battalion was instructed to parade at 7.30 a.m. next morning to act as baggage guard to the Division. Our first destination was Ware in Hertfordshire and the march of 28 miles was a very severe test of endurance, but most satisfactorily performed by the Battalion, which arrived tired but cheerful at 7.30 p.m. It is of interest to note that this march was fully described in a special article in the Times with much friendly comment and kindly criticism, the name of the Division being of course withheld. On the next day the Battalion rested in billets, and on November 18th marched to Stansted in Essex, three miles from Bishop's Stortford, where Brigade and Divisional Headquarters were located. At Stansted, in spite of various orders to move, always countermanded within a few hours, the Battalion remained in comfortable billets until the Division went abroad. For the first three weeks there was ample room, but on December 9th the first N.M. Artillery Brigade also came into the area, and billets were henceforth rather crowded. Stansted Park made an admirable battalion training ground, and training was steadily continued. The weather during the three months at Luton had been very fine on the whole; afterwards the programme was constantly interfered with by bad weather. Brigade and Divisional Field days were only held very occasionally, attention being devoted principally to Company and Battalion work and musketry, varied by special practices in entraining, bridging, entrenching, and so on. The week before Christmas some 400 men returned to Luton to complete their musketry course, coming back on December 23rd.

The fact that no Christmas leave was given was at first a disappointment to many men, but was accepted [p17] cheerfully as a compliment when it was explained that the Territorial Divisions were at the time the only trained troops available in case of invasion, the New Armies not being yet fit for immediate service. During Christmas week the invasion scare was at its height, and we received orders to be ready to move at any minute. In these circumstances Christmas was celebrated in the usual fashion, with a holiday on Christmas day and Boxing day. Company dinners were held, an inter-Company football competition was carried through and a generally enjoyable time was spent, and then hard work began again.

On January 1st, 1915, the new four-company Battalion organization was adopted, and the next few weeks were devoted principally to Platoon, Company, and Battalion Drill. On January 5th, the Battalion went to Dunstable for three days for practice in Field Firing, with the exception of the recruits, who in their turn went to Luton on the 9th to complete their necessary training, returning on the 15th. The anxiously-awaited orders for Foreign Service were still delayed but at last on February 15th a definite warning order was issued, stating that the Division was to be ready to go abroad at short notice, probably on the 23rd, and all leave was cancelled.

On February 19th, to the gratification of all ranks, the Division was inspected in Hallingbury Park by H.M. the King; a special complimentary order was subsequently issued expressing His Majesty's pleasure at seeing the Division, and wishing it God-Speed.

The next week was one of feverish excitement, tempered by the expenditure of much energy, and very hard work. Clothing, boots, arms, and equipment were very thoroughly inspected, and all deficiencies replaced. The Machine Guns were [p18] converted to take Mark vii. ammunition. Our heterogeneous collection of lorries, carts, and harness constituting the Transport had been scrapped, and regulation waggons and limbers, with the necessary harness, supplied, the careful fitting of the latter being a matter of supreme importance. Brig.-General Taylor, the Brigade Commander, being found physically unfit for Active Service, was succeeded in the command of the Brigade by Brig.-General Clifford, who only took over command on the day before our departure.

The Battalion was now completely at war strength in Officers and Other Ranks, thoroughly equipped, although only armed with the old long rifle, well trained and physically fit as regards personnel, with the Transport in good condition. The Machine Gun and Signalling Sections had been carefully trained, and were very efficient, and all ranks looked forward with a cheery confidence to Active Service in the Field.