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Remembered Today:

Some questions about the recruitment process...


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The advertisements in the Portsmouth Evening News at #23 are interesting. I assume "3rd Portsmouth" must be 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Hampshire Regiment then based in Gosport as part of the Portsmouth Garrison but with the dual role of providing drafts for other battalions of the regiment serving overseas. The local TF battalion, 6th (DCO) Battalion Hampshire Regiment, then in India as the 1/6th Battalion did not spin off a 3rd line unit as 2/6th Battalion Hampshire Regiment remained in the UK. So the offer in the Portsmouth Evening News appears to be enlist in 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Hampshire Regiment in Portsmouth and avoid being conscripted and sent elsewhere. Since a man enlisting at Portsmouth Town Hall as invited would do his training with the "3rd Portsmouth" and on completion of that training if classed as A1 would be likely to be posted to a battalion of the regiment serving overseas, wouldn't that be something of a false prospectus?

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@Bordercollie Your message raises an interesting little point that I hadn’t noticed before. Here is my current understanding of the problem.


The 3rd Portsmouth bn was a pals-type bn which was started from scratch in September 1915 when the 2nd Portsmouth bn was full, and volunteers were still flowing in.


The three pals-type bns from Portsmouth were known as the 14th (1st Portsmouth), 15th (2nd Portsmouth) and 16th (3rd Portsmouth) bns of the Hampshire regt.


The 16th (3rd Portsmouth) never went overseas. Its men were used to replace casualties in the 1st and 2nd Portsmouth bns. It was abolished (or at any rate it lost the ‘Portsmouth’ title) when the army’s whole system of holding men in reserve units was reorganised in September 1916. Thus it only existed for a year.


The 16th (3rd Portsmouth) had nothing to do with the 3rd (Reserve) bn of the Hampshire regt which already existed at the start of the war and continued until the end.


The above is, it seems to me, the only possible interpretation of the content in several books I have in my library about Portsmouth in World War 1, as well as The Royal Hampshire Regiment 1914-1918 (Atkinson), and the Long Long Trail website.


So why is there any problem? Well, the Long Long Trail website describes the 16th (3rd Portsmouth) bn unmistakably but gives it the name ‘16th (Reserve) Battalion’ with no mention of Portsmouth. A possibly related point is that the Atkinson book says that 16th bn was ‘formed in September 1915 from the reserves of the 14th and 15th.’, which is quite a misleading way of putting it: a man volunteering in response to the newspaper ad in December 1915 did not belong to ‘the reserves of the 14th and 15th.’


These slight inaccuracies suggest to me two different possibilities: Perhaps the 3rd Portsmouth bn was always intended, even in September 1915, to be nothing more than a unit to hold men who would replace casualties in the other two Portsmouth bns? Or, alternatively, perhaps the 3rd Portsmouth was originally, and perhaps at the time of the newspaper ads still, intended to be one more full-strength bn fit for overseas service, but it became clear that there would not be enough volunteers for that, and so the bn was degraded to a mere holding unit?


My guess is the second of these, but it is only a guess.

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Thanks for putting me straight Bart150 I was unaware of the civic designations of the 14th, 15th and 16th Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment. I wonder whether the Army List supports the fist of your possible alternatives rather than the second. The 16th Battalion makes its first appearance in the monthly Army List in November 1915 under the title 16th (Reserve) Battalion (Portsmouth) - no mention of 3rd Portsmouth. At that stage it appears to have a commanding officer, a second in command, one captain and four subalterns on its strength. That appears to suggest that the War Office saw it as a draft finding battalion from the outset. Meanwhile the newspaper advertisements may suggest that there were other ideas locally.   

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Thanks for that information about the Army List, Bordercollie.


Enclosed is a snippet from a soldier’s service document. It seems to show that the name ‘3rd Portsmouth bn’ did have some official status – at a certain time at a certain level.


Notwithstanding that, I agree with you that there may well have been some misunderstanding from the start. Perhaps the Army always intended that the 3rd bn would be only a container of men in reserve, but, intentionally or otherwise, it didn’t make this widely known. People in Portsmouth would then naturally assume that the 3rd bn was to be a bn of the same type as the 1st and 2nd.


If that is so, then Gates, the author of Portsmouth and the Great War was still confused when he wrote in 1919. His book doesn’t give any indication that the 3rd had a different status from the other two. He writes ‘Thus in little more than twelve months Portsmouth raised three Battalions, each 1,100 strong …’ and ‘Of the three Battalions which marched so proudly out of the town it is sad to have to record that not one has returned ..’


To research this little point further the thing to do, I think, would be to see whether anything similar happened with any other pals-type bns elsewhere. After all, it would be odd if the Portsmouth pals-type bns formed a unique case.





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Reading this reminds me of the Hull battalions.


The 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th (Service) Battalions were raised in September 1914 from men volunteering in Kingston upon Hull. These units were additionally entitled 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th City of Hull battalions and were known as the Hull Pals, nicknamed the 'Hull Commercials', 'Hull Tradesmen', 'Hull Sportsmen' and 'T'others' respectively.


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This note of a discussion in November 1914 (from WO 162/3 at Kew if my indexing system is to be believed) may shed some light on thinking at the War Office. It seems that the War Office view was that a depot and a 3rd battalion would be fully employed providing drafts for six active service battalions. This means that the Hampshire Regiment's 1st, 2nd, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions would absorb the capacity of their depot and 3rd battalion and so other arrangements would be needed to provide drafts for any additional Service Battalions that the Regiment raised.


The approach to this problem in the Queen's Regiment was to form depot companies for their later Service Battalions and so their 10th Battalion from Battersea and their 11th Battalion from Lambeth each established a depot company as a draft finding sub-unit. In October 1915 (only five months after the two battalions were raised) the two depot companies were amalgamated to form 12th (Reserve) Battalion which suggests that independent depot companies did not prove to be a sound model.


I believe that attempts were made in other regiments to expand the establishments of the depots and reserve battalions beyond 500+2,500 but that was equally unsatisfactory and so additional reserve battalions were formed. 


Note on interview with AG Nov 1914.pdf 

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Thanks very much, Bordercollie, for that interesting document from November 1914. It stimulated some thoughts. Here is where I’ve got to:


Point 3 of the document seems to imply that the number of reserve bns in a regt should be the number of non-Territorial bns serving in the field divided by 6 and rounded up. Thus, eg, a regt with 7 bns in the field should have 2 reserve bns.


However, on examining the regimental data on The Long Long Trail I find that some regts had more reserve bns than that calculation produces. Therefore I have to interpret the 1914 document as meaning that the number of reserve bns in a regt should be AT LEAST the number of (non-Territorial) bns in the field divided by 6 and rounded up, and that the actual number could be more.


In any case, as you point out, by mid-1915 the Hampshire regt had more than six active bns and only one reserve bn. Therefore a new reserve bn was needed. Therefore there seems no doubt that the new 16th bn was intended by the WO from the start to be a reserve bn.


However, I don’t think they told the people of Portsmouth that. They naturally assumed, if they thought about it, that the 16th would fight in battle just as the 14th and 15th would.


The 16th was a pals-type bn. The accepted definition of a pals-type bn is one that meets two criteria: (1) it recruited from only a certain defined area within its regiment’s normal recruiting area; and (2) initially it was managed by a local committee rather than the WO. Unquestionably the 16th met those criteria just as much as the preceding 14th and 15th did. Indeed it is included in the Wikipedia list of pals-type bns.


A pals-type bn normally had its locality in its name; eg 16th (2nd Salford Pals) bn, Lancashire Fusiliers or 13th (2nd South Down) bn, Royal Sussex regt. Therefore there was a good argument for calling the 16th Hampshire the 16th (3rd Portsmouth) bn, Hampshire regt.


I assume (though I’m open to correction) that a reserve bn in a regt would supply men to any of the active bns of the regt that needed them. It was not the case that one particular reserve bn was explicitly dedicated to the needs of certain other active bns in the regt, while another reserve bn was dedicated to the needs of certain other active bns.


Therefore the 16th (reserve) bn might supply men to any of the 1st, 2nd, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th bns. So might the long-existing 3rd (reserve) bn.


If the name ‘Portsmouth’ were attached to the 16th that would suggest that it existed to supply men only to the other two Portsmouth bns, the 14th and 15th. But that was not the case. So that was a good argument to avoid including ‘Portsmouth’ in the name.


Consequently there was a good argument for calling the 16th the 3rd Portsmouth but, on the other hand, another good argument for not calling it that. They were two irreconcilable arguments. So it is perhaps not surprising that different names were used by different people.


I notice that the same situation arose with quite a few other bns in the army that were both pals-type and reserve, and so were not named after their locality; eg among others the 15th Royal Sussex, 13th South Lancashire, 12th East Lancashire.


It may well be that I have missed something in the above thoughts. If so, I’d be very happy to hear.

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I agree with your analysis Bart150, for the most part. Following the November 1914 file note a War Office letter was issued which authorised an increase in establishment for the depots and special reserve battalions of those regiments that had more than six field service battalions and no extra reserve battalion.  However as casualties mounted it became apparent that even greater draft finding capacity was needed than that identified in November 1914.


In a War Office letter dated 8th October 1914 instructions had been issued for work to begin on raising the 4th New Army. A service battalion would be formed by each special reserve and extra reserve battalion of the infantry of the line provided that the strength of the parent battalion was not reduced to less than 1,500 and that at least 250 recruits were available over that number to form the nucleus of the service battalion. Service battalions began to be formed on this basis but in April 1915 77 of these new service battalions were converted to reserve battalions to increase the draft finding capacity to support battalions already in the field. One of the battalions converted at that time was 13th Battalion the Hampshire Regiment. I suspect that this rerolling of battalions in April 1915 is why you have found the ratio of reserve battalions to service battalions is generally greater than 1:6.


I think it is generally true that reserve battalions found drafts for any battalions in their regiment as required but there may have been some linkages between particular reserve battalions and particular service battalions. For example in his book “Your Country Needs You” Martin Middlebrook says that 9th (Reserve) Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment supplied “…reinforcements, mostly for the 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions.”  Many pals-type battalions formed depot companies to be left behind when they went overseas to provide them with the drafts that they needed. This would be the obvious arrangement needed to maintain the character of a pals-type battalion, but as in the case of the Queen’s Regiment that I mentioned in an earlier post these depot companies were soon amalgamated with similar sub-units in their regiment to form additional reserve battalions.  So if a reserve battalion was formed by amalgamating the depot companies of several pals-type battalions at that stage the primary role of that reserve battalion would probably have been envisaged as  providing drafts for the associated pals-type battalions but I suspect that soon changed. It had certainly changed by January 1917 when Haig issued an order rescinding the right of a soldier not to be posted without his consent to a regiment other than that in which he had originally enlisted. After this soldiers sent from a reserve battalion to the BEF could end up in any regiment, let alone battalion.


If you have access to a copy of CT Atkinson’s “Royal Hampshire Regiment 1914-1918”, chapter IV describes the expansion of the Regiment in 1914 and 1915. The raising of the 14th Battalion at Portsmouth by a strong local committee is mentioned. It was initially allocated to the 40th Division but was transferred to the 39th Division in April 1915. The 39th Division was not brought together around Winchester for training until August 1915 and by that time the Battalion had reached its full establishment and had been accepted by the War Office.  By April 1915 recruiting had been going so well that the committee had embarked upon raising the 15th Battalion and Major O’Farrell who had been second in command of the 14th Battalion was transferred to command the 15th. The 15th Battalion was allotted to the 41st Division (described by Atkinson as “the junior ‘K’ division) which was not really organised until September 1915. This raises the question of where the 16th Battalion would have fitted into the New Army order of battle had it been raised as a service battalion. Unfortunately Atkinson makes little mention of the 16th Battalion other than O’Farrell transferring (again!) in September 1915 to command it and the 1st Battalion receiving a draft of 300 men in 1916 from the 13th and 16th Battalions some of whom were of poor physique. But that does at least confirm that the 16th Battalion was not confined to providing drafts for the 14th and 15th Battalions. Apparently the records of the committee that had raised the Portsmouth battalions were destroyed in an air raid on Portsmouth in 1940.

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