1/4th Battalion In Malta

London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

1/4th Battalion In Malta


THE 1/4TH BATTALION IN MALTA — FORMATION OF THE 2/4TH BATTALION

Under escort of H.M.S. Amphitrite, and accompanied by four other transports conveying the remainder of the 1st London Infantry Brigade, the Galician, carrying, in addition to the l/4th Londons, two companies of the l/3rd Londons and a section of the 1/lst London Field Ambulance, made a fair passage through the Bay and reached Gibraltar without mishap. Here the convoy broke up, and the transports proceeded independently to their destination.

Nine days of the comparative peace of ship's routine formed a pleasant interlude for the l/4th Battalion after its recent trying duties on the railway line. The passage to Malta was too short to allow the monotony of ship's inspections, watches, and roll calls to pall, and the interest of the troops was constantly quickened by the incidents of a sea voyage — all so strange to Londoners whose horizon hitherto had for the most part hardly extended beyond Hampstead Heath or Chingford. Occasional fleeting glimpses of France and Spain, the gambols of a school of whales, the brilliant hues of the African shore, and the indescribable blue of the Mediterranean all contributed to render the Battalion happy and indifferent to the discomforts of their quarters 'tween decks, where the heat was certainly trying after the Gates of the Mediterranean had been passed.

The first glimpse of Malta on the morning of the 13th September was uninspiring. From the sea no vegetation can be seen owing to the system whereby the scanty soil is walled up along the hillsides to prevent it from being washed away ; and the island presents to the passing voyager an aspect of monotonous drab rock. No time was allowed for despondency, however, for, with the pilot on board, the Galician steamed into the Marsamus-cetto Harbour at Valetta where the Battalion could feast on the riot of colour which unrolled before its eyes.

The responsibilities of the 1st London Brigade for the defence of the Fortress of Malta began immediately, for the day after its arrival the infantry of the regular garrison left for the front.

In the early hours of the 14th September the l/4th Londons disembarked, and being allotted quarters under canvas in Chain Tuffieha Camp, was introduced to the ardours of a sub-tropical summer by undertaking the longest march it is possible to make in the island — a. very trying experience indeed.

Chain Tuffieha is a summer station on the west coast of the island about eleven miles from Valetta, and is an important outpost of the main defences of the Fortress. It lies in a broad, fertile valley known as the Wied Tal Paules, which traverses the island from east to west, its eastern limit being the coast at St Paul's Bay. To the north of this valley lie the Melleha and the Marfa Ridges, two of the northernmost barriers against invasion. The coast round these two ranges of hills possesses a considerable number of sandy landing-places in well-sheltered bays, which, as they face Sicily at about three hours' passage from that island, required special guarding at this period.

The Battalion now settled down seriously to its training, and it was found necessary to deal with some 250 men as recruits. These, however, were passed through the Barrack Square stage of their training as expeditiously as possible in view of the heavy duties which fell to the Battalion in guarding the northern coast.

The guards found from the main body of the Battalion at Chain Tuffieha were mostly night guards at the landing-places, at St Paul's Bay on the east coast, and at Chain Tuffieha Bay, Karraba Ridge, and Cneina Bay on the west coast. In addition to these, C and H companies were immediately despatched on detachment, the former to Selmun Palace (which conmiands the promontory between the shores of Melleha and St Paul's Bays), the latter to Melleha (which dominates the head of Melleha Bay and the Marfa Ridge beyond it). The latter detachment was subsequently moved down the ridge to the coast near the head of Melleha Bay. The guards found by these detached companies were at Cala Mistra Fort (at the foot of Kalkara Ravine), Ir Razzet tal Blata, L'Imgiebah, and Chain Zeituna by the Selmun force ; and at Melleha Bay, Torri L'Ahmar cross roads, and Marfa Palace by the Melleha force.

The duties of the detached companies were found to be particularly onerous, and the proportion of N.C.O.'s and men employed not only on guards, but also on such necessary duties as signals, look-outs, and water-carrying fatigues, continuously totalled rather more than a third of the total strength of the detachments. Arrangements were therefore made for the relief of the detachment companies every seven or eight days, and this procedure was maintained throughout the Battalion's duty on the island.

The training of the Battalion proceeded smoothly but under conditions of some difficulty, partly owing to the number of men constantly engaged in coastal defence duties, and partly owing to the unfavourable conditions of terrain. Every square yard of the rocky hillsides which is covered with soil is devoted to some sort of cultivation by the thrifty inhabitants, and the walling up of the soil on the hillsides, which has already been alluded to, converts every hill into a series of steps, over which manoeuvres are both laborious and painful. In spite of these obstacles, however, a good deal of useful work was achieved, and the Battalion rapidly began to take shape as a useful and well-disciplined unit. There can be no doubt that the experience gained by all ranks in taking their share in ordinary garrison duties at so early a stage in their embodied career proved of infinite value later when the l/4th Londons ultimately took their place in the fighting line ; and, moreover, the knowledge that they were subject to the critical — and at that period not always sympathetic — surveillance of the regular staff of the Fortress provided the strongest possible incentive to all ranks to conduct themselves with credit to their Regiment and to the Territorial Force.

Early in October a very thorough course of musketry instruction under Fortress arrangements was begun, firing taking place on the Naval ranges of Chain Tuffieha. The companies were thus employed as follows : — 2 on detachment, 2 on musketry course, 3 on company training, and 1 finding all the duties at Battalion Headquarters, the whole being worked on a roster so that each company was kept for training and detachment purposes at its greatest possible strength.

During the early days of the Battalion in Malta a few changes of distribution took place among officers as follows :

Major R. J. J. Jackson was evacuated to Cottonera Hospital sick. He unfortunately remained in hospital until early in December 1914, when he was invalided to England. Command of F Company was taken by Lieut. F. C. Grimwade, and the Machine-Gun Section was taken over by 2/Lieut. T. I. Walker, Lieut. S. Elliott transferring to E Company. The Battalion was also joined by 2/Lieut. R. C. Kelly who, however, remained with the unit for a few weeks only, at the end of which time he was appointed to the Secret Service, and with this he remained until the end of the War.

The middle of September, when the Battalion landed in Malta, found the hot season waning, and although the temperature remained high for some weeks the full intensity of the sub-tropical summer was not experienced. In the early part of October, however, the scirocco, a warm south-westerly wind which originates in the Sahara, followed, with all its usual enervating effects, which were indeed quite as trying as the intense heat of the sun had been. Towards the end of the same month the wet season set in in earnest, and from that time until the early part of December the camping groimd at Ghain Tuffieha was swept by tropical rains and sand storms of considerable violence, which from time to time caused a certain amount of material damage and not a little discomfort to the troops. The memory of suddenly having to turn out and clear blocked drainage trenches and lay on to straining tent ropes in the — sometimes — vain endeavour to prevent one's temporary home from vanishing into thin air, and to rescue one's kit from a mud bath, is now sufficiently remote to be contemplated without acute distress, but the feelings which these encounters which the elements evoked at the time were by no means so calm !

During the worst phase of the Malta climate the Battalion remained under canvas, and it is of some interest — though admittedly of little consolation — to remark that no battalion had previously spent the winter in Malta in other than permanent barracks.

Thanks to the untiring efforts of the Battalion Medical Officer, Major J. F. F. Parr, the bill of health during these marked variations of climate remained extraordinarily clean, and in spite of its exposed situation the Battalion suffered less from sickness than the others of the Brigade which were accommodated in modern barracks.

The month of December, however, saw the beginning of the most delightful season in the island's year. The temperature was mild but the evenings cool ; vegetation began to spring up with almost startling rapidity, and the prospect of the island, seen from the tops of the hills, when looking down on to the terraced fields set in a sea of the deepest azure, formed a most welcome and delightful contrast to the sun-baked and drab view which had greeted the Battalion on its arrival three months earlier.

At the end of November the detachments were re-distributed, the defence duties on the northern coast being dealt with by one company only, half at Selmun Palace, which formed its headquarters, the other half at Melleha Bay. A fresh detachment was formed by the despatch of another company to Verdala Barracks (in the Cottonera Lines, the Southern Fortress of Valetta), for the duty of guarding prisoners of war, notably the crew of the German raider Emden who had just been landed on the island.

But for these changes the routine of training proceeded with little variation, and it began to be thought by some that the Battalion would be condemned to continue its duties in Malta until the end of the War ; but on the 22nd December 1914 a warning order was issued that the Brigade would leave the island at an early date.

On the 23rd the Battalion (less E and F Companies on detachment), marched to Valetta to be reviewed by His Excellency the Governor on the Marsa, a sports ground near the town. The review took place on the following day and the Battalion returned the same evening, arriving in camp at 6.30 p.m.

The following Fortress Order was published on the 24th December :

The Commander-in-Chief, after having inspected the units of Lord Lucan's Brigade this morning, desires to place on record his great satisfaction at the evident progress made by them to become efficient soldiers of the King. His Excellency, who fully appreciates the patriotic sentiments which have caused such a magnificent body of men to respond to the call of the Empire in this hour of national danger, has had much pleasure in telegraphing to Lord Kitchener reporting the high state of efficiency and fitness which the Brigade has reached. Such a result, which must have been apparent to everyone who saw them on parade this morning, could only have been obtained by the whole-hearted devotion to their Country's cause of every officer, N.C.O., and man, and the Commander-in-Chief wishes to congratulate the Earl of Lucan and the whole of his Brigade on achieving such highly satisfactory results.

No further preparations for departure were made until after the Christmas festivities, which were rendered very enjoyable by the arrival of many good things from home and by special gifts from the Corporation of the City of London and the Regimental Association, the latter organisation providing a gift of a pipe and tobacco-box for every officer, N.C.O., and man. Christmastide over, however, the Battalion concentrated on its preparations for leaving the island at short notice.

On the 28th December the detachment at Selmun was withdrawn, its place being taken by a company of the Malta Militia ; that at Verdala being relieved by the 1st London Regiment, which for the time being was to remain in the island.


On the departure of the l/4th Battalion overseas the following officers had been detailed to remain at head-quarters to supervise the formation of a Reserve Battalion :

Captain E. H. Stillwell.
Captain W. H. Hamilton.
Lieutenant H. G. Stanham.
Lieutenant H. Parkhouse.

These officers were assisted by a small number of N.C.O.'s and men of the l/4th Battalion who had been found medically unfit to proceed overseas. The intention in raising the new battalion originally was to provide a unit to supply reinforcements to the overseas battalion, but, as will be seen, this intention was subsequently modified to a large degree.

Recruiting for the new battalion, which was at first designated the 4th (1st Reserve) Battalion The London Regiment, and later was known as the 2/4th London Regiment, proceeded (as indeed for all the formations then being raised) with unprecedented rapidity, and within a fortnight over 400 men had been enrolled, while the ranks continued to be swelled daily by the advent of fresh recruits.

Colonel Vickers Dunfee, V.D., was appointed with effect from 6th September 1914 to command the new battalion with Hon. Lieut. E. V. Wellby (late Lieut. -Col. 4th V.B. The Royal Fusiliers) as Captain and Adjutant.

The available accommodation proving utterly inadequate for the growing numbers, the 2/4th Battalion moved on 23rd September, after inspection by the Lord Mayor, Sir Vansittart Bowater, to quarters under canvas at Folly Farm, New Barnet. The strength was now 6 officers and 480 other ranks, and steadily increased from this time until the establishment in all ranks was filled.

Training now began in earnest — so far as the wills of every officer, N.C.O., and man were concerned — but under the most acute practical difficulties, such as were general among the newly raised formations, owing to the lack of stores of all kinds, including clothing, arms, and equipment. Gradually, however, " wooden equivalents " gave place to rifles, and mufti made its final disappearance from the parade ground. During the following month the Battalion moved into winter quarters, occupying as barracks two vacant houses at Barnet, namely, " Littlegrove " and " Beech Hill," and also some stabling and out-buildings at " Oakhill."

The Battalion owes a considerable debt of gratitude to the owners of these houses and to other local residents, notably to W. H. Vernon, Esq., and Sir Philip Sassoon, for their generosity in providing accommodation and training facilities and for extending hospitality to the Battalion in various ways, generosity which was also extended to the 4/4th (Reserve) Battalion when it was formed in the following year. Facilities for musketry training were also provided by the Enfield Rifle Club, who very generously placed their range and the services as instructors of several of their members at the disposal of the Battalion.

Training at Barnet continued until 14th December 1914, when, after inspection by Lieut. -Gen. G. H. Moncrieff, Honorary Colonel of the Regiment, the Battalion, which had now grown to a strength of 27 officers and 986 other ranks, joined the Brigade in billets at Maidstone. Here the Brigade received on the 17th a warning order to proceed on foreign service at short notice. The necessary preparation of equipment, medical inspection, inoculation, etc., was at once put in hand, and the Battalion was inspected by Major-General W. Fry, C.B., C.V.O., commanding 1st London Division, who addressed the troops.

It was fortunately possible to grant forty-eight hours' leave to all ranks before departure, destined to be the last home leave for some nineteen months, and on 23rd December the Battalion entrained at 10 a.m. for Southampton, where it embarked on H.T, Avon

(Royal Mail Steam Packet Company), the strength on embarkation being 27 officers and 889 other ranks.
The following officers proceeded overseas with the Battalion :

Colonel Vickers Dunfee, V.D., in command.
Major V. H. Seyd, second in command.
Captain W. G. Hayward, Adjutant.
Captain G. H. Moore.
Captain H. Morris.
F. C. Read.
,, H. G. Stanham.
,, H. Parkhouse.
Lieut. L. C. Coates.
W. N. Towse.
,, A. H. Simpson.
2/Lieut. R. N. Keen.
W. A, Stark.
W. R. Botterill.
,, V. S. Bovvater.
,, S. N. Davies.
„ R. C. Dickins.
,, W. H, Stevens.
,, N. L. Thomas.
,, J. R. Webster.
,, L. A. Dickins.
,, L. R. Chapman.
,, H. W. Dennis.

E. G. Lovell.
,, H. W. Vernon.
Hon. Lieut, and Quartermaster, J. E. W. Lambley (Quarter-master) ; Lieut. Casey, R. A.M.C., Medical Officer attached.

Just before departure the following telegram was received by Colonel Dunfee from General Sir Ian Hamilton, G.C.B., D.S.O. :

Had arranged to go down and see your Battalion. Unfortunately situation renders imperative my presence at Headquarters. Can only, therefore, wish you best of good luck and hope we may meet again.

At about 5 p.m. on the 23rd December H.T. Avon put to sea, and the following day at daybreak the convoy assembled, consisting of : —

H.T. Avon— 2/4th London Regiment and two Companies

2/3rd London Regiment.
H.T. Ewalia—2/2nd London Regiment and 2/3rd London

Regiment, less two companies, under the escort

of H.M.S. Eclipse, which accompanied the transports as far as Gibraltar.

The following appointments were made on H.T. Avon :
Colonel Vickers Dunfee to be O.C. Ship ; Captain and Adjutant W. G. Hayward to be Ship's Adjutant.

Christmas was spent at sea with as much good cheer as circumstances permitted, and after an uneventful voyage Malta was reached and H.T. Avon dropped anchor in the Grand Harbour at Valetta on 31st December 1914.

On the 30th December the l/4th Battalion marched from Ghain Tuffieha to St George's Barracks and handed over its arms and equipment, as it was understood that these would be required for the relieving troops.

The strength of the l/4th Battalion on leaving the Island was 24 officers and about 850 other ranks. Major J. F. F. Parr remained on the Island and took over the duties of Medical Officer to the 2/4th Battalion, his duties in the l/4th Battalion being assumed by Lieutenant Casey, who had just arrived with the 2/4th Battalion. In addition Captain R. N. Arthur and Lieut, V. W. Edwards transferred to the 2/4th Battalion together with about 85 N.C.O.'s and men who were found medically unfit for active service. These officers, N.C.O.'s, and men reported on the 3rd January to the 2/4th Battalion which was thus brought to about war strength.

On the 2nd January the 2/4th Battalion disembarked and marched to quarters at St Andrew's barracks, and the same day at 6.35 a.m. the l/4th Battalion paraded for the last time at Ghain Tuffieha, marched to Valetta and embarked on the Avon. That afternoon the Avon, conveying in addition to the l/4th Battalion the l/3rd Londons, put to sea under sealed orders, which were subsequently found to be for Marseilles.