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Remembered Today:

Staffing of overseas battalions


Keith_history_buff
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Introduction:

Although this mentions events in 1914 prior to the outbreak of war, it has a direct impact as to the composition of a county infantry regiment's overseas battalion, and the "nature" of that battalion as at the outbreak of WW1.

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Whilst doing some research on "place of birth" and "place of enlistment", I had to access some officer service files at Kew. One of those was a very particular and out of the ordinary case.

Percy Temple Bent has an officer's file at Kew. The first enclosure is a copy of his birth certificate, which documents his birth in Yokohama, Japan. He appears on the 1911 Census at Marlborough College. His file documents the fact that he was in the Officer Training Corps whilst there. 

In 1914, he was employed as 'clerk HGC' in Yokohama. He wanted to enlist in the ranks, the nearest unit of the British Army being that in Tientsin. There is some interesting correspondence in the file, whereby permission is granted for him to enlist. (As well as the issue of headcount, there was the question of whether the cost of travel from Yokohama to Tientsin would be chargeable to the public purse, even if he arrived and failed the medical.)

The presence of a man fluent in Japanese would have made Bent a very useful asset later that year in operations in Tsingtao. Upon the 2nd Battalion being returned to the UK, he was commissioned, and was to die on 1 July 1916.

Of particular interest is the following paragraph at the foot of the letter:
 

Quote

As in all probability some 260 men will be going home on discharge this Autumn, is it impossible for the General Officer Commanding himself to give the necessary authority [given that the battalion was 7 men over strength]?


 

IMG_3607.JPG

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From what I have seen of overseas deployments in prior years, it has been typical to see a battalion in India for about 15 years, albeit redeploying every couple of years. The 2nd Battalion spent only a short amount of time in South Africa, from 15 January 1910 to October 1912, Similarly, their predecessors in China had performed a tour of duty of relatively short duration 
 

  

On 16/04/2020 at 12:52, Sav said:

2nd Batt Somerset Light Infantry.

Timeline

On 11th November 1908, the Battalion was sent to Malta on the Hired Transport "Rohilla",

The 17th September 1911, the Regt. set sail on the Hired Transport "Somali", heading for Tientsin and Peking. They arrived on 28th October 1911, stopping at Singapore, Hong Kong and Colombo. 

The 2nd.Batt. Somerset Light Infantry arrived in India in 1913 after service in China during the time of the Chinese Revolution (1911-12) protecting British and other foreign residents and interests. 

20th October 1913 Set sail on Hired Transport "Soudan" to Quetta India, arriving 23rrd Nov.

The Somersets spent most of the war at Quetta on the Northwest Frontier but they did not keep a War Diary nor are there any Muster rolls etc in existence. They remained in India until 1926.

 

Percy Temple Bent was the only man of the 2nd Battalion to have enlisted in 1914 as of the outbreak of war. Merely 6 men in the battalion at the outbreak of war had enlisted in 1913. (This is published on the thread: Army Number Sequences: Please Mind the Gap.) 

There is a surviving service file for 10886 Frederick Ernest Mayston, who was serving with the 1st Battalion SWB in Bordon. His service record documents him being 'Examined [at Rushmoor Camp] for service in Singapore and found fit 24 July 1914’. I have found it odd that this cryptic note implies being sent on overseas service, albeit not to China with the rest of the battalion.

Given that the SLI spent 2 years only in China, it makes me wonder when the 2nd Battalion SWB were scheduled to redeploy from China.

My question is thus:
For the more remote outposts, would there only be one draft sent out during the trooping season?

As for Bent being the only 1914 enlistment in the battalion as at August 1914, this can be explained thus:
 

  

On 25/10/2011 at 10:41, Stebie9173 said:

The "trooping season" (when troopships took men to and from their stations out in the Empire) was September to March, and the age for overseas service was 19




 

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I’m not sure if I’m interpreting you correctly and therefore I’m unsure if this will help.  The overseas postings of infantry battalions to garrison India were intended to be long term affairs, just as you’ve mentioned.  Most battalions occupied two, or more stations (often a wing at each, if two) and rotated companies in order to familiarise the battalion as a whole, but also to keep the men interested and not overly settled. When battalion locations were published annually in the U.K. the principal station (where the battalion HQ and at least a wing was located) was mentioned, but not the outstations.


Conversely postings to China were more like defined operational tours with a specified intent aligned with HMG’s and, concomitantly, British-India’s foreign policy.  Following the 2nd Boer War the same thing occurred in South Africa and was intended to keep a watchful eye on the Boers and SA politics.  They were in essence aid to the civil powers.  As such these latter tours were by comparison with India short, with battalions on a roulement cycle for as long as a presence there was required.  I hope that is of help.  My apologies if it’s not what you were looking for.

 

In short, India was so large a garrison commitment that it had a status and infrastructure akin to ‘Home’ (in logistical terms it was far more because of the sheer scale of the sub-continent).  The others were mere operational stations by comparison, with far less demanding a commitment (by the Army as a whole) to contend with.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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I was a bit perplexed when I saw the letter on the file, and it made the reference to '260 men.. going home this autumn' which I had read as one way traffic. SimilarIy, it was only when I saw these details that I discovered why and how he was the only 1914 enlistee with the battalion - his local enlistment was prior to commencement of the subsequent trooping season. This later led me to wonder whether only the one draft would be sent out, or whether more would take place. 

Looking at the intake breakout of time-serving men in 1914, there were going to be a sizable amount of the 2nd Battalion that would be heading back from China to Great Britain, given they had enlisted in 1907 and 1908 on 7 & 5 as well as those finishing 9 & 3 colour service. 

1609696258_Dispositiontable.JPG.6c45826be081097222bd9f11d150aba0.JPG
(Intake data derived from the service numbers of the men on the Tsingtao Roll, compiled by Dixon & Everett, in Dixon's book on Tsingtao.)

Looking back at some old correspondence, I did note that when the 1st Battalion of the regiment was in India, they had three drafts apiece in 1908 and 1909.
 

From 1908 the 1st Battalion in India received the following drafts (no list of names survives):

 

'9 January 1908 - 37 NCOs and men joined from 2nd Battalion

11 March 1908 - 49 NCOs and men joined from 2nd Battalion

11 October 1908 - A draft of 80 privates arrived from the Home (2nd?) Battalion

11 January 1909 - 120 NCOs and men joined from the Home Battalion

1 April 1909 - A draft of one Colour Sergeant and 3 boys joined from the Home Battalion

24 December 1909 - A draft of 1 Sergeant, 2 Corporals, and 150 Privates joined from 2nd Battalion - transport Dongola.'



Source:
Former curator of RRW museum at Brecon

Being aware of these drafts did make me wonder if there was just one draft that would be sent out, or whether it would still be the same setup of, say, three or so drafts during that trooping season. Although the distribution of men is towards those of longer duration, if their time is nearly up, they still need to be taken back to be discharged to the Army Reserve.

The initial impression I had registered psychologically is that no drafts were coming any time soon, which is true at that time - it being the tail end of the trooping season, and the battalion being slightly over strength - but there is nothing to suggest there would not be drafts come the start of the next trooping season, had it not been for the outbreak of war.

Trooping logistics aside, you make a very interesting and pertinent point about the role of those garrisoned in China to be present as an aid to the civil powers, in contrast to being a small part of the larger force when in India. Thank you for your reply.

Regards
Keith

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I’m glad it was of some small use Keith.  You’ll forgive me if I don’t get into the precise statistics but the only observation I’d make is that there wasn’t a uniform number of men in drafts of replacements, and the number reaching the end of their contracts changed throughout the year.

The battalion orderly room via the combined efforts of the Adjutant, Paymaster and their staff would be periodically reviewing the turnover and wastage, keeping the Colonel informed and maintaining a link with RHQ and depot, plus the home service battalion (who provided the replacement drafts) in order to coordinate with the trooping season.  It was an ever moving feast and one year would differ from another to varying degrees.  In effect it was a supply and demand mechanism.  

There were also establishment changes to factor in, although these occurred less frequently than during Victoria’s reign and tended to peak and trough before, during and after major conflict.  In the case of 2nd SWB I can only imagine that it was feeling the effect of large numbers of men reaching the end of their engagements because they had all enlisted during one of these surges (perhaps in the years after the 2nd Anglo/Boer War, as there had been significant reductions subsequently when a lot of men left and had to be replaced).  
In such a circumstance when a large number concluded their service at the same time, then preparation was made via the chain of stakeholders that I mentioned to replace them with a similarly large draft.  This was sometimes handled by asking for volunteer transferrees from other regiments about to leave India, which was a longstanding and popular means of adjusting the balances and bolstering numbers.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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  • 3 months later...

A slight deviation, based upon an interesting item that had not been weeded from a British Army service record for a man who deserted for a fourth time rather than go overseas. (During his first ten years on the run, he enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, but was discharged after 5 years as S.N.L.R.) He appears to have gone to sea in 1913, and to have spent the war in the Mercantile Marine, based upon his family tree details. (The soldier is Frank Beasley Frost 1875-1939.)

One other soldier who did go out with the draft, and did not come back, is 8436 Sergeant William Miller, killed in action on 7 November 1914.

It is the first time I have seen paperwork in relation to a draft being sent out, for overseas service.

 

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A deviation from the original post, but a further interesting image, in relation to overseas service, from the same service record.

Interesting to see the following listing of kit for this overseas deserter, 'deficient of the following articles'

24784_gbrmil1914r4pt2_139705-00267.jpg

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  • 1 month later...
On 20/05/2021 at 15:13, Keith_history_buff said:

Percy Temple Bent was the only man of the 2nd Battalion to have enlisted in 1914 as of the outbreak of war. Merely 6 men in the battalion at the outbreak of war had enlisted in 1913. (This is published on the thread: Army Number Sequences: Please Mind the Gap.) 

There is a surviving service file for 10886 Frederick Ernest Mayston, who was serving with the 1st Battalion SWB in Bordon. His service record documents him being 'Examined [at Rushmoor Camp] for service in Singapore and found fit 24 July 1914’. I have found it odd that this cryptic note implies being sent on overseas service, albeit not to China with the rest of the battalion.

Given that the SLI spent 2 years only in China, it makes me wonder when the 2nd Battalion SWB were scheduled to redeploy from China.

As far as the army was concerned, Singapore was the station for the battalion

 

Bord1.JPG

Bord2.JPG

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