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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Training for specialties


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I have a number of soldiers who were machine gunners, were in Lew Gun units(?), were snipers, were in signallers and so on.

Nowhere in their records do I find any reference to time away to train in these areas. But I assume it happened.

Only for an RGA officer do I find that he was sent somewhere as an instructor.

So here are my questions:

1. - How did one get chosen. Did someone see you could shott well and think how about sending you off to be a sniper? Or did someone realise you had worked for the Post Office and think you ought to be in signals? And so on.

2.- Was one trained or did one just learn on the job?

3.- If trained where? In ones initial training - in the case of South Africans at Potchjefstroom or at Borden. Or after some time actually in the lines was one then trained. If then would it have been behind the lines at some training place in France or would one be sent back to England?

4. - How long did training last?? Did one get paid more.

5.- Did people try to avoid some specialisations as too much work or too dangerous or just being taken away from pals??

Any ideas.



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All of the above,Kathie,i think you will find.

At the start of the war,people specialised,much like todays Army.

As the war went on,you were more likely to be put where you were needed.

My Great-grandad was a kind of Conscript,originally an Infantry Soldier with his local regiment,the 3/4th Royal Berks.

When he was finally called up,he was sent to the MGC,even though he was a Horseman by trade,and served for 15 months with them until he was KIA.

This was mainly due to the MGC expanding at the time and putting more Brigades into Divisions.

A good shot could without a doubt find himself Sniping for a living,but there again,could be in the Royal Engineers,digging Tunnels after 1916.

All the best.


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In theory, of course, all infantrymen should have been fully trained in all weapons of their arm before their battalions sailed to France; and all reinforcements should have been fully trained before leaving the depot. Unfortunately, the war developed too quickly for the practice to keep pace with the theory.

As the need for trained specialists became apparent, units in the field set up a variety of training programmes. Often, training directives were issued by the Army Command, but there was little uniformity at first among the schools of various Corps, or Divisions. Sometimes schools were set up within brigades or Battalions. Instructors were merely seconded temporarily from within the unit.

I am looking at an article concerning training schools in the 2nd Canadian Division.

By the middle of 1916 there were a Trench Warfare School, a Divisional School of Instruction, a Defensive Gas School, Brigade Machine Gun Schools, and Brigade and Battalion Grenade Schools. Battalions were to send promising men to various courses; for example, a Stokes mortar course of 3 days, a grenade course of 4 and a half days, or a Lewis gun course of 7 days. This organization would change over time and differed from that in other Divisions. Schools at Corps or Army level tended to train instructors for the Divisional schools.

By 1917 the depots in England preparing replacement drafts were also up to speed in training specialists. Often returning casualties were chosen for Lewis gun training.

As usual, I would appreciate comment from some of our genuine experts out there!

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For some specialist roles, people were chosen on the basis of some attribute/s that would suit them for the role. The issue of snipers is one that has been touched on. Shortly after the introduction of hand grenades, the role of Bomber was created. Later, with the introduction of the Mills bomb, all infantrymen were required to become proficient in its use. But early on, men were selected to be trained as bombers. I have never seen a list of selection criteria but I get the impression that things like stature and physique were considered; characteristics that suggested someone could throw something a long way.


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My Grandfather applied to train as a machine gunner after he was wounded as a rifleman on the Somme. He knew that the course, which was based in England, would last 6 weeks and this meant longer in Blighty before returning to the front.


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1. From several diaries I got the impression that at least on some occasions people were send to training behind the lines as reward or when the CO thought they could use - and deserved - a break.



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