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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Emma Cunliffe-Owen and the Sportsman's Battalion


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Hi there,

I'm doing some research into Emma Cunliffe-Owen and her forming of the Sportsman's Battalion.

How unusual was it for a woman to raise a battalion? It's not something that I've come across before - so wondered if Cunliffe-Owen was unique in forming a battalion or if there were any other women doing the same around this time - or in the Second World War?

I'm very new to military history, so any help would be much appreciated.



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Hi and welcome to the forum, there are a number of threads on this woman if you do a forum search.


Essentially the concept of ‘locally raised Battalions’ was a uniquely British phenomenon at the start of the Great War, often referred to as ‘Pals’  Battalions.   When Kitchener raised the first  100,000 volunteers most came from the traditional recruitment base of the Army many volunteers from the middle classes were horrified at their comrades.  General Sir Henry Rawlinson suggested men would be more inclined to join if they were recruited with men of similar interests and class, which was a major issue in 1914.


These Battalions were funded privately until taken up by the War Office when up to strength.  The ‘ Sportsmen’ Battalions were raised within the Royal Fusiliers by the lady you research.  

The Royal Fusiliers ‘adopted’ a number of Territorial locally raised Battalions see https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/royal-fusiliers-city-of-london-regiment/


It was unusual for a lady to raise such a Battalion, often they were raised by local mayors and there was competition between communities to ensure the highest number of recruits.  The policy was subsequently to prove a disaster on the first day of the Somme Offensive when losses impacted on whole communities.  The system was unique to the Great War, therefore no relevance to WW2.


Emma Cunliffe-Owen afaik was the only woman who was involved  in raising one of these Battalions I suggest you contact the Royal Fusiliers Museum for more information


She was not unique in encouraging men to enlist in the Army in the Great War, including the Pankhursts..




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  • 2 weeks later...

More.as subject matter if anyone is interested, Prime free flick the Battalion is about the Russian Women's battalion. 

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Hi both,

Thanks so much for taking the time to reply, it is much appreciated. The context on the raising of the battalions is very interesting and helpful - both in the UK and Russia.

I've contacted the Royal Fusiliers Museum for further information.
All the best

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