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Remembered Today:

Kitchener Man conundrum


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In an attempt to discover how quickly Kitchener recruits started trickling through to the Western Front, I stumbled on 10414 Pte William Burrell, 2nd Bn Royal Sussex Regiment. I am trying to establish when he enlisted. He is a fairly rare character, as he was shot for deserting (second offence) on 22nd May 1916 aged 19. This suggest he was 17 in 1914 and therefore unlikely to have significant (if any) military service prior to the war.

I am not interested in the shot at dawn part (there are already enough threads on this), but given his unfortunate status, it means that his service record is likely to survive, which in turn will reveal his enlistment date. From his Army number he enlisted very close to the declaration of War. I suspect, but do not know for sure, that he enlisted after 5th Aug. There are plenty of unattributed claims that he enlisted prior to the war. No. 10403 enlisted on 7th August, which suggests there is a good chance that Burrell enlisted on or about this date (i.e after the declaration of War), being only 11 numbers away.

He arrived in France on 10th Nov 1914, which suggests he either had previous military experience (unlikely given his age) or he was one of many partially trained R Sussex Regt men who were accelerated through the reinforcement pipeline.. If he had no prior service and enlisted on the 7th Aug, it would mean he disembarked with less than 100 days' training - well short of the prescribed amount.

If anyone can help establish

1. his enlistment date

2. any prior military service

I would be very grateful. MG

Edit

P.S. 10414 Pte Burrell and 10413 Pte Brooker were the two men with the highest (latest) numbers in the R Sussex Regt to qualify for the 1914 Star. The next nearest was 10346 Pte Stenning who I am fairly certian enlisted prior to the declaration.

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A quick glance on Ancestry & FMP doesn't show anything obvious.

Craig

Apologies - I should have mentioned that I have covered the obvious bases. I assume SAD records were separated, but are now in the public domain. MG

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Archibald Jellett L/10413 enlisted 11/8/1914 SWB Roll

He appears on same BWM & VM roll as L/10414 Burrell

Mike

Mike - thank you. This seems to be consistent with the evidence from the surviving service records. Army Numbers close to these two numbers suggest enlistments in August and this is very reassuring evidence. There is chance that Burrell and Brooker (both disembarked 10th Nov 1914) had served in the SR previously.

Interestingly their cohort was one of the most undfortunate I have seen. Numbers 10401 to 10420 (twenty men):

3 records missing, leaving 17 men with MICs:

  • 1 SAD (Burrell)
  • 7 KIA
  • 1 DOW
  • 3 Died during service

12 fatalities of 17 known men. A small sample but a rather unlucky group. MG

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I don't think these service records were separated, the record of his FGCM survives as WO 71/469 and might describe his service in sufficient detail to answer the question.

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In an attempt to discover how quickly Kitchener recruits started trickling through to the Western Front, I stumbled on 10414 Pte William Burrell, 2nd Bn Royal Sussex Regiment......

No. 10403 enlisted on 7th August, which suggests there is a good chance that Burrell enlisted on or about this date (i.e after the declaration of War), being only 11 numbers away.

He arrived in France on 10th Nov 1914, which suggests he either had previous military experience (unlikely given his age) or he was one of many partially trained R Sussex Regt men who were accelerated through the reinforcement pipeline.. If he had no prior service and enlisted on the 7th Aug, it would mean he disembarked with less than 100 days' training - well short of the proscribed amount.

Martin,

With regards to the speed with which Kitchener recruits trickled through to France - if we ignore the anomalies (locally recruited translators, and the like), then I suspect that a limited 'new army' element existed within the BEF right from the very start (for example, one of 'my' men was part of a contingent of RE dispatch riders who arrived in France on, I think, 12th August 1914, just 3 or 4 days after signing up). I don't have my research in front of me, but I know that he was only about 22 and had no previous military experience (not even a school OTC), and the others in his contingent were the same. The fact that he could ride a motorbike was enough. As an aside, he was subsequently commissioned 'in the field' in 1916, without ever having gone to an OTU. I've found at least a handful of incidents of Kitchener men with no previous military experience who arrived in France within weeks of joining up (including a metal-worker who arrived in France 2 and a half weeks after joining the RFC), which makes me think that they were not simply anomalies. Some had a very obvious 'in demand' skill (often ending up in the RE, ASC, RFC, etc), but I wonder if some of the infantrymen were simply very keen and willing, and were perhaps in better physical shape than some of the reservists.

This is my first post on GWF for about 3 years...... :thumbsup:

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Is 45 days enough time to train a soldier?

Enlisted into the territorials on the 17th of September 1914, In France on the 1st November 1914.

Cheers,
Derek.

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There are of course many small anomalies that can be explained. The dispatch riders, motor car drivers, highly specialised telecoms engineers etc. All types were accelerated through. This is an accepted fact. My interested is in establishing exactly when the system for reinforcing the infantry en masse started to show pressure. On the surface there were plenty of men, but a limited number of trained men. In very simple terms mobilisation absorbed Sections A and B of the Army Reserve. Reinforcement drafts fro No. 2 onwards were largely Section D and Special Reservists. These largely ran dry in early 1915, before K1 arrived. The gaps were plugged with the TF and the Indian Army. The supply and demand of reinforcements was far from even. Some hard hit regiments with smaller pools of reservists were forced to accelerate the training of Kitchener recruits to get them to the front as fast as humanly possible. That's the esy part.

The difficult part is to differentiate between raw recruits and men with previous military experience. Time-expired soldiers who re-enlisted were given new numbers. In most cases it is impossible to differentiate between these men and raw recruits. To be absolutely certain we need the attestation form declaring no previous military service and the disembarkation date.

The closest I can get is to find men with Army numbers issued after declaration, with confirmed disembarkation dates. In the cases where they were killed or died, their age is sometimes recorded, which gives us some idea if they could have had prior service. Many SR men transferred to the Regulars, and many ex-SR or ex-Militia men re-enlisted. In all some 64,000 ex-servicemen re-enlisted and assuming the Infantry represented 60% of these some 38,000 men would have re-entered the infantry this way, or roughly 500 men per regular Regiment. Clearly many would have been too old and not fit enough for the rigours of the western front and there is anecdotal evidence many (how many?) were diverted to help train Kitchener's Army.

Added to this, the number of available reservists was overstated until early 1915 as the weekly returns did not properly segregate the unfits and recovering wounded from the pool of reserves. When these adjustments were made over a period of a few weeks, the number of available men nearly halved. Due to the unfortunate coincidence of a number of factors, some regiments were desperately short of trained men and had to resort to pushing partially trained men through the system. The Black Watch claim every trained man was in F&F by mid October, so it stands to reason that post Ypres regiments such as the Black Watch would be in dire straits.

The Royal Sussex Regiment was one of these hard hit regiments - despite having only one regular battalion in theatre. It was certainly was drawing down Kitchener recruits in early Jan 1915. Scores of them. Tracking back from this date , using the medal rolls it is clear that some arrived as early as mid November. The unfortunate Burrell and Brooker are two examples. I am trying to establish how widespread this was and whether.

I have also identified a number of men who enlisted in Sep/Oct Nov and who appear to have served less than 100 days before entering the fray. The AO authorising the raising of K1 and K2 outlined a six-month training schedule. Clearly this was not adhered to in some cases.

So, I am scouring the records for any evidence of large scale, infantry based acceleration of Kitchener recruits. MG

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Hi Martin

I looked at Burrell's file on Thursday at the NA. It only confirms his age as 21 years and 9 months. His commanding officer Villiers says he joined the Battalion in December 1914.

Mandy

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Hi Martin

I looked at Burrell's file on Thursday at the NA. It only confirms his age as 21 years and 9 months. His commanding officer Villiers says he joined the Battalion in December 1914.

Mandy

Hi Mandy - just a public big THANK YOU for taking the trouble to dig up Burrell's file. Shot at Dawn is a subject that I am not normally drawn to - it is always far too controversial for my liking. Burrell stood out as a Kitchener recruit that appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Way too early to be sent out.

I am extremely confident that Burrell enlisted after Kitchener's call and arrived in France on 10th Nov 1914 - basically with half the recommended training. Having now looked at his SAD file it seems quite astonishing that he was sent out. I know you have seen the file, but for the benefit of others, in the 3-4 months he served before being sent out he had committed 5 separate offences in October alone, and continued to commit offences when in France. It seems he was regularly in trouble. It seems very odd that this type of character was sent out when the reserves were full of men of good character champing at the bit to be sent out.

It is purely my speculation, but there seems to be a possibility that he was sent out early as a way of getting rid of a trouble-maker. The consequences are known, but I wonder why a half trained recalcitrant was ever sent out. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I also wonder if sending him out early added to his problems. In a period when scores of men were being discharged as unlikely to become an efficient soldier, it seems quite odd that this volunteer was not weeded out beforehand. MG

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