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Royal Marine Brigade 1914


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The marine brigade which was sent to the continent in 1914 consisted of four battalions, which I have seen listed as Plymouth, Chatham, Portsmouth, and Deal. In fact however, the Deal contingent was less than 200 men. The other large marine formation was the Royal Marine Artillery, from Eastney.

Was the RMA sent as the fourth "infantry" battalion of the RM brigade?

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Terry, this is what I found in MGeneral Julian Thompson's book, "The Royal Marines - from sea soldiers to a special force".

On August 2, 1914 the Admiralty ordered the formation of the "Flying Column" Royal Marines. To this end a battalion from Plymouth, Portsmouth,, Chatham, and the RMA was provided. The Brigade was sent to Ostend, August 25th, under the command of Brigadier General Sir George Aston, RMA. After a week, the Brigade was withdrawn to Britain where the RMA battalion was replaced by RMLI from Deal.

Plans to form the RMA battalion into the artillery unit of what was to become the Royal Naval Division came to naught due to a lack of 18-pounder guns, and the RMA was absorbed into the Howitzer, and Anti-Aircraft Brigades which served with the Army in France.

In September with the likelihood of a German advance to the Belgium coast increased. Since the War Office was unable to find trained formations to operate in this area, the Admiralty with Kitchener's full support, formed two brigades of Naval Reservists (who had been surplus to requirement after the fleet had been brought up to strength), and the RM brigades into an infantry division.

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The numbers of 1914 stars issued to the Royal Marines are:

- Chatham Bn = 1222

- Deal Det = 189

- Plymouth Bn = 756

- Portsmouth Bn = 1019

- Royal Marine Artillery = 999

It would make sense to assume that the Deal detachment would have been employed to bring the Plymouth Bn up to strength, and the RMA were used as the fourth infantry battalion.

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In his history ‘The Royal Naval Division,’ Douglas Jerrold has the following:

“When it was decided to incorporate it [the Marine Brigade] into the Naval Division, the only change considered necessary was the disbanding of the RMA Battalion (It was intended to use the personnel of this battalion to form divisional artillery, but the scheme had to be abandoned owing to difficulties of supply and training.) and the formation of a fourth RMLI battalion. This was done by drawing one company and one platoon from the battalions provided by the three Marine Divisions at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. These battalions were commanded by Lt-Colonel R. McN. Parsons, RMLI, Lt-Colonel Luard, RMLI, and Lt-Colonel Mathews CB., RMLI, and the new (Deal) Battalion by Lt-Colonel Bieth, RMLI. The whole Brigade after a short period under Major-General McCausland, had been placed under Brigadier-General Sir George Aston, KCB., and, when they returned from Ostend, they went into active training at Portsmouth, till they were ordered overseas again, this time to Dunkirk, at the end of September.”

When describing the events of October, Jerrold refers to the ‘Deal Battalion,’

however as has been pointed out already, on the medal roll they number only 189 and indeed Fevyer and Wilson refer to them as the Deal ‘Detachment’ RMLI

Perhaps the formation of the Deal Battalion was not quite as strait forward as Jerrold suggested and delays in this formation resulted in a relatively small contribution to the force which went overseas in late September 1914?

Regards

Michael D.R.

Another quick look at Fevyer & Wilson shows that all bar half a dozen of the Deal men had Plymouth numbers which suggests that this homogenous group was sent overseas while the rest of the new battalion was still being collected

Edited by michaeldr
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Many thanks for your input. I have just acquired a nice RMA group of four (1914 star trio plus Navy LSGC) to a gunner. His documents show that went to both Ostend and Dunkirk in 1914, and then spent most of the rest of the war on the western front with the RMA Anti Aircraft Brigade.

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Terry,

As sometimes happens, I seem to have come into this topic backwards! Sorry.

Having previously dealt with the Deal Battalion, may I add something re the RMA, which I now understand is your main interest here

Again using Jerrold

As outlined above by Chris, the pre-war Committee of Imperial Defence had agreed that, on the outbreak of war a force of RMs called the Advance Base Force were to seize, fortify and protect any temporary Naval Bases necessary for the Fleet or the provisioning of an army in the field. The plan was for a Royal Marine Brigade made up of four infantry battalions: one each to be drawn from the three RMLI Divisions and the fourth from the depot of the RMA. This is the formation which went on what Jerrold calls ‘hardly more than an excursion’ to Ostend.

When the RND was being formed one would naturally have assumed that the RMA were ready made as Divisional Artillery, however Jerrold hints at plotting by the Admiralty’s arch enemy, the War Office, to ensure that the “plan was abandoned owing to difficulties of supply and training.”

Regarding Dunkirk where they were disembarked by 21 September,

Jerrold mentions that about fifty RMA men [plus 50 from each of the three RMLI Divisions] manning a force of armoured cars belonging to the RNAS. To these existing armoured cars were added more vehicles including ‘a number of motor omnibuses.’ They patrolled a wide area around Dunkirk, including Amiens, Albert, Arras, Courtrai and Ghent. Patrols were of three to ten cars each and they were active against German cavalry, Lieut Williams RMA being wounded in one such engagement in late September.

Regards

Michael D.R.

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Regarding Dunkirk where they were disembarked by 21 September, Jerrold mentions that about fifty RMA men [plus 50 from each of the three RMLI Divisions] manning a force of armoured cars belonging to the RNAS. To these existing armoured cars were added more vehicles including ‘a number of motor omnibuses.’ They patrolled a wide area around Dunkirk, including Amiens, Albert, Arras, Courtrai and Ghent. Patrols were of three to ten cars each and they were active against German cavalry, Lieut Williams RMA being wounded in one such engagement in late September.

Terry,

Another reference for you to RMA men at Dunkirk

From John M Morcombe’s “If you’re alive speak, if your dead don’t bother”

“All Marines serving in the RM Bde. at this time [Dunkirk] were long servicemen, with the exception of the RMA Bn. Which took some of their first 60 new short service recruits to Dunkirk as Motor Drivers.”

John has been known to visit the forum from time to time, and if you need further info it may be possible to e-mail him via the members list.

Regards

Michael D.R.

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  Michaeldr wrote:  Jerrold mentions that about fifty RMA men [plus 50 from each of the three RMLI Divisions] manning a force of armoured cars belonging to the RNAS. To these existing armoured cars were added more vehicles including ‘a number of motor omnibuses.’ They patrolled a wide area around Dunkirk, including Amiens, Albert, Arras, Courtrai and Ghent.

I have the medals to a Captain in the RMA and his papers show the following assignments for 1914 and early 1915:

He was assigned to H. M. S. Victory from 14 September 1914 to 31 March 1915, the first ten days as an Owner/Driver of the Royal Automobile Club, serving under the Naval Authority. On 24 September 1914 he was commissioned as an Honourary 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Marine Artillery and posted for service with the Royal Navy Motor Transport Company. From 27 to 29 September 1914 he was at Dunkirk and on 30 September 1914 at Cassell. He served with Royal Naval Division Motor Bus Company at Antwerp from 1 October 1914 to 9 October 1914 and took part in the defence of that port. From 10 to 15 October 1914 at Ostend and Dunkirk and on leave to England.

He was appointed as a Temporary Lieutenant, R. M. A. on 16 October 1914 and from that date to 16 February 1915 he was posted for service with the Royal Naval Division Motor Bus Company moving troops to the trenches, working in zones of both 1st and 2nd Armies. During this period he participated in the Battles of Ypres and Messines.

Are they the same buses that Michaeldr refers to? Regards. Dick Flory

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Dick,

Apart from the Douglas Jerrold and John Morecombe works mentioned above, the only other ref to the London Omnibuses which I have been able to find, is brief article by Tony Froom published by Len Sellers in his magazine ‘Royal Naval Division’ Issue No.8, March 1999, page 694

With these acknowledgements to Len and Tony, I have scanned the page and it follows below. Tony’s sources may also be of use to you

Regards

Michael D.R.

Antwerp

MOTOR OWNER DRIVERS.

By Tony Froom.

When the R.N.D. was sent to aid in the defence of Antwerp it was without most of the normal divisional support units. To help with some of the problems caused by the absence of transport, one of the ‘stop gap’ measures employed was to give 50 motor owner drivers temporary commissions as Hon. 2nd Lieutenants, Royal Marines, and these were sent over to France and Belgium with their cars together with a number of London buses that had been purchased.

In checking the issues of the Navy list for the first year of the Great War it will be noted that not all these motor owner drivers served with the R.N.D. Some were attached to the Directors of Naval Transport Offices (DNTOs,) based in various continental ports.

Gradually, over the early months of 1915, the services of many MODs were terminated and by June 1915 all remaining ceased to be mentioned in the Navy List. For example Hon.2/Lieuts RM had become Temporary 2/Lieutenants RM. and most of those remaining either transferred to the R.N.V.R. or R.M. Battalions within the R.N.D.

Others gained distinctions elsewhere Lieutenant C A Smith R.N.V.R. succeeded in getting himself attached to the 6th Division in the St Julian area, where he experimented with bullet proof shields, Bangalore Torpedoes, going on numerous patrol and trench raids earning the nickname ‘The Admiral’ and the DSO. It was after him that the Admiral’s Road and Cemetery were named. He was killed on the 10th June 1916 and is named on the Menin Gate Memorial, Addenda Panel 57. Lieutenant Wilding, a pre-war tennis champion was another ‘ex-MOD’ who was killed with the Naval Armed Cars on the 9th May 1915 and is buried in the Rue-Des-Berceaux, Richebourg-L’Avoue.

Sources:- I) Navy Lists Dec’14 - July 15.

2) 1914 Star to RN & RM pp l88.

3) Britain’s Sea Soldiers - Blumberg pp 116

4) Cross of Sacrifice Vol 2.

5) Ypres Salient - M. Scott pp 20 & 76.

6) Short Hist. Of 6th Div. - Marden pp l8.

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Michael and Dick,

Many thanks for your replies. This is the sort of thing that makes the forum such a great resource for all of us.

Terry

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