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CarylW

'Dockers' Battalion' Birkenhead & Liverpool

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CarylW

I was interested to read in the Times that in April 1915 a 'Dockers' Battalion' was formed in Birkenhead and Liverpool. The Times for April 1st states "The first company of the dockers battalion will be recruited in Birkenhead". Found a further 20 articles about this battalion

I'm assuming they were a King's Liverpool Regiment battalion with Lord Derby being involved? If so which battalion were they and were they a home unit and did any of them serve overseas?

First I've heard of it!

My paternal great grandfather and grandfather were both Birkenhead dockers at that time, one in Cammell Laird. Also interesting to read that on the other side of the Mersey in Liverpool they were recruiting men from Cunard & White Star line for the battalion, because my maternal Liverpool grandfather worked for the White Star Line at that time as a crew member.

Caryl

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sw63

If you would like to look at a typical Dock Btn soldier's records, try 2242 Frederick John Adams of the 1st Dock Btn Liverpool Regt.

Simon

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Ken Lees

I have come across quite a few service records of Liverpool men who served in these Docks Battalions. They were not soldiers as such, from what I can tell. Their attestation papers were completely different and related only to dock work.

I don't think any of them served overseas.

Ken

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centurion
 were both Birkenhead dockers at that time, one in Cammell Laird. 

Not trying to be picky but wouldn't that make him a shipbuilder  rather than a docker?

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sw63

From the records:

General Conditions under which a Man enlisting in a Dock Battalion, [...] of the Liverpool Regiment, will be required to serve:-

1. He will engage to serve His Majesty as a soldier in a Dock Battalion of the Liverpool Regiment in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war, at the end of which he will be discharged with all convenient speed.

2. When attested by the Justice he will be liable to all the provisions of the Army Act for [...] time being in force, that is to say he will be subject to Military Law and Discipline, and so far as they are applicable, to Army Orders and Regulations.

3. He may be required to work any reasonable hours by day or night, and at any job that may be required.

4. Any complaint or difference of opinion regarding rate of transport pay, conditions of work, or other matter connected with Dock Labour, must be referred through the usual channels to the Commanding Officer, who will consult the Joint Labour Committee of the Port of Liverpool if necessary.

5. Men serving in a Dock Battalion, Liverpool Regiment, will be paid the Infantry pay of their rank, and in addition will receive transport pay at the rates recognised by the Joint Labour Committee of the Port of Liverpool, such transport pay to be in no case less than 35/- a week, unless on any day they have failed to parade in accordance with Regimental Orders. The following are the Infantry rates of daily pay:-

Company Serjeant-Major - 4s.

Serjeant - 2s. 4d.

Corporal - 1s. 8d.

Private - 1s.

6. Under no circumstances will men belonging to a Dock Battalion be entitled to either Lodging Allowance, Separation, Ration, or any other allowance, to Army Pension for themselves or their dependents, or to a Gratuity on enlistment or discharge or otherwise. They will be insured as civilians under the National Health Insurance Acts and make the ordinary contribution of 4d. a week, and in case of injury will be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act. No medical attendance will be provided from Army sources, and all benefits under the National Health Insurance Act will be drawn from civil sources.

Simon

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CarylW
Not trying to be picky but wouldn't that make him a shipbuilder  rather than a docker?

No. He was a 'dock labourer' working for Cammell Laird. Dock labourer = "Docker". My uncle, on the other hand, was a shipbuilder at Lairds, a riveter to be exact!

Thanks for the replies here, very interesting. Simon, what is the source of your records? Can I quote them?

Caryl

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sw63

Caryl,

It is an Army Form from the Service Record of F J Adams, but the top of the page is too damaged to read the serial number, sorry.

docksoldier.jpg

Simon

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CarylW

Thanks for that Simon. I must look through the records for more

Just came across an interesting Pathe film showing initially the Dockers battalion marching then Kitchener inspecting the 'Liverpool Pals' on the steps of St George's Hall then goes forward some time in the history of Liverpool. Didn't know this footage existed http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=74990

Caryl

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Ivor Lee

Caryl

There were two Liverpool Docks Battalions

The best source of information on the Liverpool Docks Battalions is Keith Grieves article ‘The Liverpool Dock Battalion: Military Intervention in the Mersey Docks,

1915-1918' in Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire for the year 1981.

If you have difficulty in getting a copy of this book there is a section in my book "No Labour, No Battle" on the Liverpool Docks Battalions.

I disagree with Ken in that they were soldiers. The men were dock labourers who were already members of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL), they were attested and placed under military law for home service.

Serving in the Battalion did not exempt the men from front line service. 53 men were sent to front line units during December 1917 and January 1918.

We also should not lose sight of the effect of the Battalion. The Battalion was almost certainly the reason why the Transport Workers Battalions were created. Also in April 1916 two Officers and two members of the Battalion were sent to France to advise on reorganising the dockers there.

Regards

Ivor

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wulsten

15th South Lancs were formed for work in Birkenhead docks where they remained.

as for soldiers i have checked out one chap John Leonard Parkinson served initially with the 1/4th Cheshires 18/8/15

then to the 1st Batt Cheshires and eventually 15th South Lancs, he also came from Birkenhead.

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Northern Soul
15th South Lancs were formed for work in Birkenhead docks where they remained.

Actually the 15th South Lancs (or some of them, at least) had moved to Barrow-in-Furness by Spring, 1917, and remained there for the next two years, quartered at Cavendish Park Military Camp and forming part of the Barrow Garrison. It's a bit hard to pin down just what they were doing but as far as I can gather a large part of it was routine stevedoring on the railway at Ramsden Dock. They left Barrow in March, 1919, and moved to Ireland under the command of a Colonel Herbert. Total strength at that time was about 250 - whether this was the cadre left behind after most had been demobilised or was representative of the wartime strength I don't know.

At least four of them died while serving in the Barrow Garrison (possibly more - I've never really checked, to be honest) and one of them was killed while labouring at Askam Ironworks, which suggests to me that although they may have been dockers in civilian life they obviously weren't allowed to dictate what work they were put to while in uniform. Private Tracey (buried at Barrow) was killed when he got trapped between two railway wagons being loose shunted.

I also recall that they were mentioned in contemporary newspapers as being one of the units that provided "firing parties" at local military burials, so they obviously had some military training.

post-754-1259094094.jpg

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Ivor Lee

Wulsten

The 15th South Lancs was a Transport Workers Battalion.

I know that James states that they remained at Birkenhead Docks but this is not completely accurate.

The TW Battalions were formed to work wherever men were needed to move military stores at ports, on the canals and railways and detachments sent as required. In October 1917, for example, the 15th South Lancs had detatchments working at Barrow, Ulverston, Liverpool, Birkenhead, Manchester and Newhaven Docks as well as men on the canals in the Midlands and on the railways at Sheffield. They even has some men employed in agriculture.

Ivor

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wulsten

Cheers guys, thats added a bit more to Pte Parkinsons story

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CarylW

Thanks Ivor (and everyone else for the interesting replies)

I did wonder if anyone had written anything significant about this battalion because I would like to read more

So, for the ones who were sent overseas, this clause in the contract would no longer apply?

6. Under no circumstances will men belonging to a Dock Battalion be entitled to either Lodging Allowance, Separation, Ration, or any other allowance, to Army Pension for themselves or their dependents, or to a Gratuity on enlistment or discharge or otherwise. They will be insured as civilians under the National Health Insurance Acts and make the ordinary contribution of 4d. a week, and in case of injury will be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act. No medical attendance will be provided from Army sources, and all benefits under the National Health Insurance Act will be drawn from civil sources.

Or, when they were sent overseas, were they attached to regular army units and therefore be entitled to the full entitlements of a regular army soldier?

Caryl

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Ivor Lee

Caryl

It appears that with the need for men they started "Combing Out" the Docks Battalions although men who had enlisted in the Battalion before 15 October 1915 were exempt.

In December 1917 Lord Derby wrote to the Battalion that young men working as dockers had already been combed out at other docks and that the military authorities were anxious to do the same with the Liverpool Battalion. At the time there were 89 men in the Battalions under 26.

As far as I am aware the men combed out were sent to front line units and came under normal army regulations and conditions.

The clause in their contract about insurance is similar to the conditions applied when soldiers were employed by civilian employers. During the war tens of thousands of soldiers in UK were employed in agriculture, in factories and in transport working for civil employers. When a man was employed in this way it was the civilian employer who was responsible for paying the soldier, insurance coveretc came under the civil regulations rather than from the Army budget.

Ivor

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CarylW

Thanks Ivor. I understand now

Caryl

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pbrydon

The attached is fromThe War Illustrated 24th April 1915.

P.B.

post-63-1259485103.jpg

Sorry the page I have just posted is not clear,if anyone would like a better copy please send me a PM and I will send a clearer copy

P.B.

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CarylW
The attached is fromThe War Illustrated 24th April 1915.

P.B.

Sorry the page I have just posted is not clear,if anyone would like a better copy please send me a PM and I will send a clearer copy

P.B.

PB Thanks for this. I'll PM you, would really like to see this more clearly. I know it is hard to scan a whole page of a newspaper (how did you do that??)

Caryl

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Simon Jones

Someone whose father was in the battalion told me that once they were paraded and given a speech by the Earl of Derby when a voice from the ranks was heard: "He's got Knowsley Hall and we've got b*gger all".

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CarylW

I was aware that the Birkenhead dockers were involved in a lot of strike action during this time period but I hadn't realised quite the effect it was having on the soldiers at the front (presumably why the need arose for a 'Dockers' Battalion' to keep the docks open and running)

Found this little snippet in the Irish Times, April 25 1915

"Gunner Charles McGonigle RA, a Derryman writing from the front to a friend in the Maiden City speaks of the hardships of the campaign, but says he never heard a single man complain. They have no sympathy with the strikers at home. The conduct of the Birkenhead men they consider the worst. Of course, they realise the cost of living has gone up, but while the strikes were going on the men in the firing line were not on their proper rations. Let the strikers think aout the position of the men in the trenches who for four days never got a warm meal and who were enduring all that for the large sum of 8s or 9s a week

Caryl

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gillchadwick

What 'Dock Work' would have been considered a'Reserved Occupation'with no need to join an Army Battalion?

Gill

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CarylW
What 'Dock Work' would have been considered a'Reserved Occupation'with no need to join an Army Battalion?

Gill

I'd like to know the answer to this too, please?

PB Many thanks for sending the large scan of the newspaper, much appreciated

Caryl

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Ivor Lee

Gill and Caryl

It was not as simple as what was considered as "Reserved Occupation".

Each port had their own committee and it was the local Port Labour Committee who could decide a man's exemption certificate no longer applied so he was eligible for military service.

Ivor

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gillchadwick

Thank you Ivor for your reply and for the link to'The Labour Corps' which explains a lot.

Could I ask if the local port labour commitee would have been a special war time commitee or in the case of Liverpool and Birkenhead would it have been the 'Mersey Docks and Harbour co'?

Also excuse me for being cynical,but would these commitees have been open to a certain amount of corruption i.e. if a 'man's face didn't fit' could his exemption cetificate have been withdrawn;

Regards

Gill

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Ivor Lee

Gill

I am not an expert on the way the Ports operated.

From my reading I think that each Port had their own Port Labour Committee who were responsible for hiring labour at the Port.

I think these organisations were in operation before the war.

My wife's grandfather was a Docker in Liverpool prior to WW1. Sorry but I am not sure whether it was the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company or there were separate committess at each port. I suspect the latter as when Birkenhead dockers went on strike Liverpool dockers did not.

I can remember him telling me how every morning the men would go to the Dock gate and those wanted for the day would be selected. He certainly told me that if your face fitted you were selected if it did not you were not.

In theory Dockers were exempt unless there was surplus labour at the Port but some of the documents at The National Archives show that there were wide variations at who and how many the Labour Committees saw as surplus. If you are interested there are two interesting files NATS 1/1060 and NATS 1/1061.

I think I have a contemporary book that explains the situation more clearly than I have. If I can find it I will add some more information.

Regards

Ivor

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