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Remembered Today:

Infantry COs too old at 47?


Muerrisch
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Thanks to the kindness of a Forum member my dawning suspicions regarding nice old codgers leading the British infantry in August 1914 have been confirmed.

The analysis is of the actual ages of all the Line COs and the COs of Reserve and Extra Reserve.

I have only done a superficial number crunch to start discussion.

The AVERAGE is 47 years. [and probably the mode, too, near enough].

There are 43 men in their 50s

Only two are in their late 30s.

I have also looked at the two senior majors in each regiment, not done the crunching but a fair number are in fact older, and most are a year or two younger, than the Lt Cols.

Given that in general people are thought to be younger for their years these days [or at least the military are supposed to be fit!] I find these figures staggering.

If you the reader are a man, aged 40 to 55, reasonably fit, are you seriously able to say that you could stand the rigours of campaign as well as a 20 year-old?

I know the CO had two horses, and batmen, but nevertheless, was this another aspect of the Old Contemptibles not being quite as good as once one thought?

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There is some good analysis of Inf COs, including age, in chapter 13 of Stemming The Tide.

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I heard an academic say recently that by 1918 that the youngest battalion co was in his late 20s

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I don't know the age of the youngest CO in 1918, late 20s doesn't sound too wrong to me, but the oldest appointed in 1918 was 47 (Popham) and Oddie of the 1/5 West Yorks was 51in 1918. And it wasn't just Territorials that were old, Gallagher (2nd Royal Inniskilling Fus) was 47 in 1918.

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Thank you, I have the book, not read properly yet. I trust he agrees with my figures?

He says "just under 48" which I reckon is pretty close to your 47.

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Yes I see "Stemming the Tide" comes up with my 47 years average.

Regarding youth, Lt Col W A W Crellin, DSO and Bar, one of my heroes, of a distinguished Manx family, commanded 15th Notts and Derby 1916 onwards at 23. He was about to become a very young Brigadier when killed in action two years later. I will sort his age out and add it.

He can easily be found on Google.

RIP Colonel Crellin.

I seem to have some grit in my eye.

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Certainly there were plenty of COs in their 20s by summer 1918, but there were also much older men who were equally successful in command. Take, for instance, Lt Col Hubert Mecalfe of the 21st Middlesex, who had retired from the Regular Army in 1902 and had little combat experience when he had command of his battalion in early 1918 at the age of 53. Yet he was awarded the DSO for his conduct during the March 1918 offensive and a bar for his performance during the April 1918 German offensive, when he was badly wounded.

Charles M

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Lt Col L A Bosanquet was 53 when killed with 9th Sherwood's in 1915.

B A Vann VC who also served in 9th bn was 31 when killed as CO of 1/6th bn.

Major (later Brigadier) Gater took over the 9th battalion aged 39, in November 1915

Lt Col Scothern would have only been about 26 when he took over the battalion in 1918. (If his birth year is correct!)

Not sure of the age of Col W R Thornton who led the battalion from early 1916 until 1918.

Obviously surviving Suvla Bay gave you a good chance of rapid promotion.

Steve

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An interesting question. Perhaps we should consider the various roles of the CO.

Wellington stated that the first role of the CO is train his men; I would add that he also needs to instill in them the confidence to defeat the enemy - this can be achieved by a man of 47

The second role, I was suggest, is to develop a plan which will confirom to his formation commander's aim - again not limited by age

The third, I would posulate, is to command sub-units and provide alterative direction when the plan fails or needs adjustment - again not limited by age

Finally, he needs to be sufficiently mentallyand physically robust to undertake all these activities in a hostile environment

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Here is one breakdown to add to the infamous "Colonels' Surrender". Bear in mind that for these men the senior officers, the RSM and RQMS, the sergeants and the old scrimshankers were like a family of which the CO was the father. Casualties were akin to bereavement.

Henry Delme-Radcliffe, aged 48, CO of 2nd RWF : this professional soldier, rather elderly for front line command, could take little more, and a spell of bitter fighting in atrocious conditions, during which he buried many of his old friends (the burials were meticulously recorded by the adjutant) and experienced what he must have feared was the death of his fine unit, brought him to the end of his tether. The unit War Diary records that he left, sick, on 26th October 1914; the diary of Travis Hampson, a Medical Officer of 19th Field Ambulance noted ‘The CO of the RWF spent the night with us, not wounded, but a bit of a nervous wreck. I think he will be sent down the line’. And so he was, and sent to recover at 47 Marine Parade, Brighton (from a very early date, Brighton and Hove were major contributors to hospitalisation and convalescence), from where he was able to write notes to the bereaved, saying that he himself had recently been invalided from the front. This might be an appropriate moment to leave his story: worse befell many others, some of them better deserving, but fate had one more twist for this hard-working, strict and courageous Victorian professional, a fate which included questions being asked in Parliament, and the great and the good being involved.

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Regarding youth, Lt Col W A W Crellin, DSO and Bar, one of my heroes, of a distinguished Manx family, commanded 15th Notts and Derby 1916 onwards at 23. He was about to become a very young Brigadier when killed in action two years later. I will sort his age out and add it.

RIP Colonel Crellin.

He's one of my heroes too, born Balklachurry 10th December 1892 and wounded in both hands at Troyon 20th September 1914, and finally wounded 7th October 1918 at Trois-Rois- Sector with 15th Battalion he was taken to 10th Casualty Clearing Station Poperinghe where he died of wounds on the 8th. Several other Crellins served with the Sherwood Foresters during the Great War, all related. BRONNO.

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I visit Crellin's grave at Lijssenhoek when I am in the area.

His family were highly decorated as I recall.

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His family were highly decorated as I recall.

Here are the other Officers awards to the Crellin family serving with the Sherwood Foresters.

CRELLIN Arthur Murray, MC and Bar.

CRELLIN John Frissel, MC and Bar.

CRELLIN William Anderson Watson, DSO and Bar, MID Three times. BRONNO.

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2/Lt John Frissel Crellin served for a very short time in the 9th battalion -

03/09/1916 - disembarked France

10/09/1916 - joined 9th battalion

26/09/1916 - wounded in battle

28/09/1916 to UK

18 days with us!

Steve

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