London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

Mobilisation — Departure Overseas of the London Volunteer Corps


MOBILISATION — DEPARTURE OVERSEAS

Of the London Volunteer Corps the unit now known as the 4th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) is one of the most ancient. Called out as a Trained Band in 1643 to share in repelling a threatened Royalist invasion of the City during the Civil Wars, it has had a practically unbroken history for nearly three hundred years. After the regular constitution of the Volunteer Forces in the middle of last century it achieved some distinction as the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Brigade, and despatched a machine-gun detachment to the fighting in South Africa in 1900. In 1903 it became affiliated to The Royal Fusiliers, as the 4th Volunteer Battalion of that distinguished Regiment. On the reorganisation of the auxiliary forces in 1908 by Lord Haldane, it acquired its present designation, which we will abbreviate to the more convenient title by which it became known in the Great War, namely. The 4th London Regiment.

Prior to the War the training provided for the Territorial Force was only such as to furnish the nucleus of a Second Line Army. Fourteen days in camp each summer, an easy musketry course, and a few drills at headquarters could not develop a soldier fit to meet fully trained troops. That this was recognised by Lord Haldane is evidenced by the fact that his scheme provided for a period of six months' training at home for all Territorial soldiers should war break out, prior to their despatch on active service.

But they were none the less given a definite role in the defence of the Motherland. Possibly this was not always realised to the full by all the officers and non-commissioned officers of the Regiment ; but it was unmistakably brought home to them one evening in February 1914 when a secret meeting of officers was convened at Headquarters in Hoxton for the explanation of the scheme of mobilisation and of the task which the Regiment would be called upon to execute should war occur.

At that date the scheme of Mobilisation was already complete. Under it the 1st London Infantry Brigade, of which the 4th London formed a part, was entrusted with the supremely important task of guarding the London and South Western Railway between London and Southampton during the mobilisation and embarkation of the Expeditionary Force from the latter port. The section allotted to the 4th Battalion was the main line from Waterloo Station to Farnborough (inclusive) ; the Alton branch from its junction with the main line near Brookwood to Bentley Station ; and the branch from the last-named station to Borden Camp, These dispositions were worked out in the greatest detail, and arrangements were made for the efficient guarding of all railway stations, signal boxes, junctions, tunnels and bridges, and for a system of constant patrolling of the line.

The Infantry of the Territorial Force not being supplied during peace time with war scale of transport, ammunition, etc., provision was made for this necessary equipment to be drawn on mobilisation, and waggons and horses in civilian employ were " earmarked " beforehand for this purpose.

The scheme having been explained, arrangements were made to detail all guards, patrols, and requisitioning parties in readiness.

When the war cloud over South-eastern Europe began to spread in July 1914 and threatened to envelop this country in the storm, the finishing touches were put to the scheme at a memorable secret meeting at Headquarters on the evening of Thursday, 31st July 1914. After that meeting few who attended it had any doubt as to what was about to take place.

The annual camp in 1914 for the 1st London Division (Major-Gen. W. Fry, C.B., C.V.O.) had been arranged for Sunday, 2nd August, and on that date, this country still not having declared its intentions as to the war, the 4th London Regiment entrained for Wareham, in Dorsetshire, where the camp was to be held, with a strength of 23 officers and about 650 other ranks under Lieut. -Col. G. P. Botterill.

Camp was reached shortly after noon, but scarcely had the Battalion marched in when an order was received recalling it to London. By 2.30 p.m. it was once again entrained, quivering with excitement and well-nourished on the journey to town with the most impossible rumours of gigantic battles, most of which apocryphal happenings it swallowed with gusto. At 2 a.m. on the 3rd August the 4th Londons marched into Headquarters, and after a few hours' rest began to put the wheels of the carefully assembled machine of mobilisation into motion. All went without a hitch. Field dressings, identity discs and small books were issued : separation allowance and next-of-kin rolls prepared. The " earmarked " horses and vehicles were collected, and with the aid of these, ammunition drawn from the Hyde Park Magazine.

Blankets, lanterns and other stores sent up the River from Woolwich were unloaded and conveyed direct to the platform at Waterloo Station, ready for issue to the Battalion on its arrival there. The machine was moving steadily. During the day the Regimental Colours were handed over to the Lord Mayor of London for safe keeping.

Shortly after midnight the 4th London Regiment entrained at Waterloo in two trains, from which at each stop the allotted platoons detrained : so that by the time the end of the sector was reached in the early hours of the 4th August 1914, the railway was already guarded. Eighteen hours before the declaration of war the Battalion was on its war station : a good lead from Territorial troops to the rest of the country !

The distribution of the Battalion was as follows :

Battalion Headquarters, Lieut.-Col. G. P. Botterill, Surbiton.

A and B Companies (forming No. 1 Double Company), Head-quarters at Clapham Junction, under Capt. H. J. Uvincan-
Teape.

C and E Companiea (forming No. 2 Double Company), Head-quarters at Woking, under Capt. G. H. M. Vine.

D and F Companies (forming No. 3 Double Company), Head-quarters at North Camp, under Capt. R. J. Jackson.

G and H Companies (forming No. 4 Double Company), Head-quarters at Bentley, under Capt. E. H. Stillwell.

The Transport Section returned to Headquarters at Hoxton to complete the formation of the Battalion transport on a war footing.

Brigade Headquarters were at Waterloo Station under command of Brigadier-General the Earl of Lucan. The Brigade Major was Major R. F. Legge (Leinster Regiment) ; and the Staff Captain, Captain Cornelius-Wheeler (3rd London Regiment, Royal Fusiliers).

On the evening of the same day Lord Grey of Falloden (then Sir Edward Grey), in the House of Commons, made his never-to-be-forgotten indictment of the duplicity of Germany's action in the pre-war negotiations and in her violation of Belgian neutrality, and the formal declaration of war followed.

The order for General Mobilisation, which was applicable to the Territorial Force equally with the Regular Army, immediately ensued, and orders to report forthwith were issued to all members of the Battalion who had not paraded for the summer training two days previously. It is to the credit of the Battalion that within twelve hours no member had failed to reply. The N.C.O.'s and men thus reporting for duty were as quickly as possible despatched from peace headquarters and reported to their respective companies on the line.

As the N.C.O.'s and men of the Battalion reported for duty they were subjected to medical examination, and a certain number were unfortunately unable to pass fit at the high standard required during the early days of the war, so that the strength of the Battalion on the 6th August was 24 officers and 785 N.C.O.'s and men.

The early days of August on the railway line afforded unmistakable proof, if such were needed, of the extraordinary power of the London soldier to adapt himself to circumstances. Men from offices, factories and docks, suddenly taken from their occupations and their homes settled down to patrols and guards, to cooking their food and taking responsibility, as to the manner born. All were swept forward on the high flood of a great enthusiasm, and buoyed up amid minor discomforts with intense pride that their country needed them and had given them a job of work to carry out. This enthusiasm certainly bid fair at times to show signs of excess of zeal. But the zeal was tempered with an immense sense of the dignity of each and every one as a soldier in the 4th Londons : the days on railway guard thus formed the basis of the esprit de corps which is essential to military success and which in pre-war days it had been difficult, by the nature of things, to develop. Scattered though the Battalion was over some 50 miles of railway, disciplinary trouble of a serious nature was conspicuous by its absence.

By the middle of August the greater part of the Expeditionary Force had been embarked to France, but the Brigade remained at its war station. During the dark days which ensued, when telegram after telegram told always of withdrawal before overwhelming forces of the German Army after the glorious resistance at Mons, the Battalion continued to guard the railway, and was busily occupied in recruiting to full strength and in completing its equipment. The strength of the Battalion rose steadily and rapidly, and by the end of August 941 N.C.O.'s and men were at duty on the railway line.

The duties on the railway were extremely heavy, and no training was possible except the rudimentary instructions of the recruits who were retained at peace head-quarters.

On the night of 31st August / 1st September orders were issued to the Brigade to withdraw from the line and return to peace headquarters. The move was satisfactorily completed by 12 noon on the 1st September, the duties of the Brigade on the railway being taken over two days later by the 3rd London Infantry Brigade. On return to headquarters the Commanding Officer informed the Battalion that the whole Brigade would be despatched on overseas garrison duty almost immediately, and called for volunteers, a call which met with a favourable response from all ranks.

The two following days were actively occupied with medical inspections, recruiting to fill the few remaining vacancies, etc.

On the afternoon of the 3rd September the Battalion was paraded for inspection by Major-Gen. W. Fry, C.B., C.V.O., commanding 1st London Division, who, in an address to the troops, announced that the destination of the Brigade was Malta ; and conveyed to the Battalion, to the great satisfaction of all ranks, the direct assurance of Earl Kitchener that the Battalion would be retained in Malta only until it should be passed fit to take the field. This announcement was received with enthusiasm as it served to allay the disquieting rumours of the possibility of the Malta station proving to be a " side-track " for the period of the war.

Shortly after midnight on the 3/4th September 1914, the Battalion (strength 29 officers and 976 other ranks, fully armed and equipped) paraded and marched to Waterloo amid scenes of enthusiasm and excitement in Hoxton which will probably never be forgotten by those who witnessed them, and entrained at 3.30 a.m. on the 4th September for Southampton, embarking on arrival in H.T. Galician (Union Castle Line).

The following officers proceeded overseas with the Battalion :

Lieut.-Col. G. P. Botterill, in command.

Major L. T. Burnett, second in command,

Capt. G. B. Scott, Adjutant (2nd Battalion The Leinster Regiment).
Major R. J. J. Jackson, commanding F Company.
Capt. G. H. M. Vine, „ E

H. J. T. Duucan-Teape, commanding A Company.

,, R. N. Arthur, ,, H ,,

,, H. P. L. Cart de Lafontaine, commanding D Company.

,, W. Moore, commanding B Company.

„ W. G. Clark, „ C

Lieut. C. R. Saunders, ,, G ,,

S. Elliott (Machine Gun Officer).

„ V. W. Edwards.

,, F. C. Grimwade (Signalling Officer).

,, P. B. K. Stedman (Transport Officer).

Lieut. H. W. Weathersbee.
2/Lieut. A. L. Long.

J. T. Sykes.

R. L. Herring.

R. V. Gery.

E. W. Bottomley.

T. I. Walker.

A. B. L;icy.

A. R. Moore.

T. Moody.

J. R. Pyper.

E. Giles.

Hon. Lieut, and Q.M., E. S. Tomsett (Quartermaster).
Major J. F. F. Parr, R.A.M.C.T., Medical Officer attached.

At 4 p.m. that afternoon anchor was weighed, and the transport convoy, conveying the first Brigade of Territorial troops to leave this country, dropped down Southampton water.




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