THE SEVENTH BATTALION
1914 - 1916
This information is from a number of pages I was given from a larger unknown book. It covers the 7th Battalion from September 1914 until mid November 1916 and has a partial list of medals awarded to the battalion.
The 7th Service Battalion was formed at the depot, Shrewsbury, on September 22nd, 1914, and left the depot at 4.30 in the morning of Saturday, September 26th, for Codford, Wilts. The battalion as it marched off consisted of four officers (Lieut. H. Linton, 2nd Lieut. W. H. Ingrams, 2nd Lieut. W. L. Lloyd and 2nd Lieut. W de B. Wood) and 750 men, and on arrival at Codford was accommodated in camp. The following officers were awaiting the arrival of the battalion at Codford: Major Sir Robert Cockburn, Bart., who was appointed to command, Lieut. and Qr.-Master E. H. Bennett, and 2nd Lieut. F. Johnston. The battalion was in camp with the 76th Brigade, which at that time consisted of the 10th Royal Welch Fusiliers, the 6th South Wales Borderers, the 10th Welch Regiment (Rhondda Battalion) and the 7th K.S.L.I., and was commanded by Br.-General H. Archdale (R.W.F.). It was at once apparent that the battalion contained a number of men of superior education, many of whom, after some persuasion, applied for and were granted commissions within a few months of joining.
The men arrived clothed in motley, about 60 per cent had red coats, and the rest civilian suits. A few had service dress, but no overcoats other than civilian ones. Hats were very various and included form of civilian headgear. There were no rifles and no equipment. The effect, on parade, of a man in a red coat, drab trousers and a bowler hat defies description.
There was a great shortage of N.C.O.'s, those the battalion had were either re‑enlisted soldiers, promoted at the depot, or ex-N.C.O.'s, rejoining as instructors, and for home service only. Many of the latter were elderly men who had been out of the service anything from ten to twenty years, actuated by the highest motives, but with a scanty knowledge of the "new drill." The word "platoon," for example, was a novelty, and was variously rendered "pathoon," "pontoon" and even "spitoon."
The Regimental Sgt.-Major was T. Lillis (LSGC) (late Signalling Sgt. of the 1st K.S.L.I.), and the Regimental Qr.-Master-Segt. A. P. Lunam. The camp at Codford was badly sited, a fact not so much apparent at this time, since the weather for the first fortnight was splendid. Had the local farmers been consulted much discomfort could have been avoided. In fact, the first intimation received by the owner of the land (the late Dr. Yeatman-Biggs, then Bishop of Worcester) that troops were encamped at Codford St. Mary was in the form of complaints from his tenants. Hurrying down there he encountered a battalion cook (not of the K.S.L.I.) sawing up one of his best oak fences. "You seem to be making yourself very much at home," expostulated the Bishop. "Yes," said the man, "the old cock what owns this place won't know it again." 2nd Lieuts. J. G. Hopcraft and H. S. Hopcraft joined in the evening of September 26th, and 2nd Lieuts. H. M. Pendlebury and R. G. Smithard on September 28th, bringing the strength of the battalion up to 11 officers and 750 other ranks. Lieut. H. Linton was appointed to the duties of Adjutant. There was no stationery available for the orderly room, and no Army Forms. The first three weeks were devoted to squad drill without arms. "D.P." Rifles were issued about October 20th.
The first battalion orders were issued by Major Cockburn on September 29th, 1914, and dealt almost exclusively details of camp discipline, concerning which the men knew nothing.
On September 30th the companies were formed as follows:
|| 2nd Lieut. Ingrams
|| 2nd Lieut. H. S. Hopcraft
||<Tuesday, 20 December, 2005 10:55/span>
|| 2nd Lieut. Lloyd
The following officers joined on the 30th, 2nd Lieuts. H. N. D. La Touche, J. K. Mylius and F. M. C. Houghton. On the 1st of October the Rev, F. H. Roach of Shrewsbury, a chaplain in the Territorial Force, was attached to the 76th Brigade temporarily, and joined the officers' mess 7th K.S.L.I.
2nd Lieut. N. M. Hughes-Hallett joined for duty on October 5th. About this time the battalion was frequently practised in night work and in short route marches. The step set was never less than 140 to the minute, there being a superstition that this was the correct light infantry pace. The men were, of course, without arms. These route marches were usually about five miles, and served to get the men into condition, and to introduce the officers to such elementary matters as the care of the men's feet and the fit of their boots. With the exception of the Commanding Officer and Adjutant, who had both had militia service, and the Quarter-master, who had been Regimental Sgt.-Major in the 2nd K.S.L.I., all the officers were in their first few weeks of service. Discipline was admirably maintained. Those gazetted on September 14th were scrupulous in addressing those gazetted on September 11th as "Sir." All officers, except Head-quarters, were drilled and exercised in word of command for four hours every morning under a colour-sergeant of Marines. The men, actuated by a keen desire to learn, were gluttons for work; the naive ignorance of the majority of all things military, however, provided many amusing incidents. One man, checked by a sergeant for failing to salute the Adjutant, replied with some indignation at the unjust rebuke, "Why, I 'ardly knows 'im!" At this date, October 10th, the battalion was officered by one major, two lieutenants and twelve 2nd lieutenants; the latter, with the exception of Wood, Johnston and Smithard, being all under twenty years of age, having joined straight from school. All were from public schools, five being from Shrewsbury. The evenings were devoted to the earnest study of "Infantry Training," and the discussion of drill problems. Thus, even in the earliest days, few, if any, of these very young officers failed to realize the heavy responsibility of what was likely to be expected of them. Work on the parade ground began at daylight and continued, with one hour's break for dinner, until dark. Invariably on first parade at dawn, looming out of the mist, would be seen the figure of the Brigadier. On October 14th the bad weather began. The men had no tent boards, and all approaches to the camp became knee-deep in mud. At the supply depot one subaltern of the R.A.S.C., and eleven civilians, with such transport as they could raise locally from the farmers, were engaged in rationing 14,000 troops. Small wonder if the bread did not always arrive to time, or if the rations were received spoilt by the rain.
A vacancy at the School of Instruction, Chelsea, having been allotted to the battalion, the names of all officers present in camp were placed in a hat, 2nd Lieut. Johnston drew the lucky number and proceeded to a fortnight's course at Chelsea on October 19th. On October 20th all the men were provided with "Kitchener's blue" suits, and uniformity in dress, at least, was insured on parade. On October 24th Lieut. E. C. R. Bailey from the Territorial Force joined, and on the 26th Lt.-Colonel W. J. Newell (Indian Army retired) arrived and took over command.
Early in November the weather got steadily worse. From October 25th until November 10th it rained in torrents every day. Roads to the camp became impassable, and training was suspended. Even route marches were impossible, the troops being soaked through before the last man of the company had struggled through the mud on to the road. The men, of course, had no change of clothing, and no washing accommodation. There was nothing to be done day after day, but to lie, in an indescribable state of mud, in tents without floor boards, listening to the rain beating on the canvas. Rumours of other battalions training in billets in their home towns affected some of the troops in the Brigade to such an extent that mass meetings were held, and cases of men refusing to go on parade by companies occurred. One regiment of South Wales miners marched away, and it was supposed that they had gone to train in their home counties, but this was not the case. The rest of the Brigade remained cursing the rain and Codford.
On November 1st, Captain C. W. Daubeny joined for duty, and on November 4th, the following message was circulated from the G.O.C.-in-Chief Southern Command to be read out to all troops. "Let your men know we are doing all we can for them." The same day notice was received that the whole of the 25th Division would move into billets in Bournemouth.
The 76th Brigade was allotted the district, situated ill north Bournemouth, known as Winton. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood viewed the coming of the troops with mixed feelings. The battalion under Lt.-Colonel Newell moved into Bournemouth on November 12th, 1914. Lieut. Ingrains acted as Adjutant, and Lieut. Linton, who was not fit for active service, returned to duty at the depot. Immediately after arrival in Bournemouth, all ex-soldiers (i.e. trained men) were ordered to be sent to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion K.S.L.I. for drafts for overseas. There were only 50 of these all told.
Training at Bournemouth was slightly less strenuous, owing to the short days. The battalion at this period was at company training; the surrounding country affording very good facilities for this, but, being in billets, and each company being left largely to itself, the battalion, as such, did not progress as quickly as it might otherwise have done.
There were two Brigade tactical exercises early in December, consisting of a defence of the coast at Bournemouth. The number of chines along the coast to the west of Bournemouth made the exercise rather monotonous.
On December 18th Colonel Newell left the regiment, on sick leave, and died suddenly at his home two days later.
At the close of the year the regiment was officered as follows:
Major Cockburn, Commanding; Captain Daubeny; Lieuts. Ingrams, Johnston, Wood, Bailey, Rangecroft and Bennett; 2nd Lieuts. Smithard, Caesar, Pendlebury, J. G. Hopcraft, H. S. Hopcraft, Lloyd, Hughes-Hallett, Hopkinson, Robinson, Silvester, Shaw, Rust, La Touche and Mylius. A total of 22 officers.