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Remembered Today:

How common were mass desertions? 9th RWF SNCOs in July 1915


Buffnut453

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I started reading the War Diary for the 9th RWF to research a relative.  On the very first page, a few days after the Battalion arrived in France, there's the following entry (dated 26 July 1915):

8 serjeants court-martialled for desertion prior to battalion proceeding on active service.  Sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment but sentence suspended during war.

I'd never heard of so many SNCOs all deserting at the same time.  Have any other GWF pals come across an instance like this?

I'm also wondering if the suspended sentences were offered to give the men chance to atone for their crime?  It must have had an impact on unit morale to have so many SNCOs try to jump ship.

Am I reading too much into this?  

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11 hours ago, Buffnut453 said:

I started reading the War Diary for the 9th RWF to research a relative.  On the very first page, a few days after the Battalion arrived in France, there's the following entry (dated 26 July 1915):

8 serjeants court-martialled for desertion prior to battalion proceeding on active service.  Sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment but sentence suspended during war.

I'd never heard of so many SNCOs all deserting at the same time.  Have any other GWF pals come across an instance like this?

I'm also wondering if the suspended sentences were offered to give the men chance to atone for their crime?  It must have had an impact on unit morale to have so many SNCOs try to jump ship.

Am I reading too much into this?  

I’ve never seen such a large number of SNCOs recorded as all committing the same offence more or less simultaneously, so no I don’t think that you are reading too much into this.  Ostensibly there should be quite a story behind it (disaffection of some kind) as it’s a significant number to seemingly act in unison.  Eight sergeants is two full service companies worth, so effectively half the battalion’s establishment less the specialist staff appointments (drummer, transport, machine gun, etc.).

Edited by FROGSMILE
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2 hours ago, FROGSMILE said:

I’ve never seen such a large number of SNCOs recorded as all committing the same offence more or less simultaneously, so no I don’t think that you are reading too much into this.  Ostensibly there should be quite a story behind it (disaffection of some kind) as it’s a significant number to seemingly act in unison.  Eight sergeants is two full service companies worth, so effectively half the battalion’s establishment less the specialist staff appointments (drummer, transport, machine gun, etc.).

Many thanks.  I thought it was a bit out of the ordinary.  The interesting thing is that it took place before the Battalion had even seen combat.  Also, July 1915 precedes a lot of the war fatigue and the huge losses at the Somme and Passchendaele. 

It makes me wonder what stories were filtering back to the SNCOs from the Continent, even at this relatively early point in the War?  

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3 minutes ago, Buffnut453 said:

Many thanks.  I thought it was a bit out of the ordinary.  The interesting thing is that it took place before the Battalion had even seen combat.  Also, July 1915 precedes a lot of the war fatigue and the huge losses at the Somme and Passchendaele. 

It makes me wonder what stories were filtering back to the SNCOs from the Continent, even at this relatively early point in the War?  

You need to factor in any Lance Sergeants too, of which there would have been a number in the battalion.  They would’ve been collectively categorised by Bn HQ as sergeants even though their substantive rank was corporal.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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16 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:

You need to factor in any Lance Sergeants too, of which there would have been a number in the battalion.  They would’ve been collectively categorised by Bn HQ as sergeants even though their substantive rank was corporal.

Agreed....although I'm guessing at least a portion of the 8 SNCOs were experienced, pre-war soldiers.  It would take a lot to expect a new recruit from September 1914 to be an effective Sergeant when he didn't have any combat experience...or am I being too traditional, failing to realize that the rapid expansion of the British Army meant that, indeed, brand new recruits were promoted very quickly up to SNCO levels? 

I do have one relative who enlisted in August 1914 and was a L/Cpl when his Battalion went to France (he was later commissioned).  However, a leap up to Sergeant (or even Lance Sergeant) within 6-9 months seems a little too much for me.  

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Wonder if they were merely “late” back from embarkation leave and missed the Battalion departure for BEF?

Such absence would be considered desertion rather than AWOL as they would have been under orders for overseas service.

I’ve seen WW2 era Scots Guards service files with a “chit” signed by a man accepting he had been warned for a draft for overseas service and that he understood any absence from that date until embarkation would be deemed desertion.

Steve

Edited by tullybrone
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10 minutes ago, Buffnut453 said:

Agreed....although I'm guessing at least a portion of the 8 SNCOs were experienced, pre-war soldiers.  It would take a lot to expect a new recruit from September 1914 to be an effective Sergeant when he didn't have any combat experience...or am I being too traditional, failing to realize that the rapid expansion of the British Army meant that, indeed, brand new recruits were promoted very quickly up to SNCO levels? 

I do have one relative who enlisted in August 1914 and was a L/Cpl when his Battalion went to France (he was later commissioned).  However, a leap up to Sergeant (or even Lance Sergeant) within 6-9 months seems a little too much for me.  

From my own reading over past years there were definitely numerous cases of men quickly promoted to SNCO level in the Kitchener battalions.  You will know that they are often referred to as “Pals Battalions” and that they were frequently recruited from the same trade, sports club, or locality.  In those circumstances mature men who were already employed as charge hands and other forms of middle management were commonly promoted to sergeant.  It was a case of needs must, but also the theory that they already had experience of leadership and supervision, it was just a matter of learning military skills and organisational structures and routines.  Ergo I doubt that a significant number of the 8 were former soldiers.  A majority of former soldiers seem to have been swept up by the Army Reserve and the Territorial Force with the Kitchener battalions left with older veterans, who although useful in inculcating military knowledge and spirit, were too old to deploy and so with a few exceptions left behind in Britain.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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2 hours ago, FROGSMILE said:

Agreed....although I'm guessing at least a portion of the 8 SNCOs were experienced, pre-war soldiers.  It would take a lot to expect a new recruit from September 1914 to be an effective Sergeant when he didn't have any combat experience...or am I being too traditional, failing to realize that the rapid expansion of the British Army meant that, indeed, brand new recruits were promoted very quickly up to SNCO levels? 

I saw a shopkeeper who was a civilian one day, service battalion CQMS the next. No military experience, but invaluable experience in managing stores etc. The army side was easier to add on to suitable men, rather than the other way.

Craig

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11 minutes ago, ss002d6252 said:

I saw a shopkeeper who was a civilian one day, service battalion CQMS the next. No military experience, but invaluable experience in managing stores etc. The army side was easier to add on to suitable men, rather than the other way.

Craig

Yes I totally agree.  The stores accounting was straightforward, it was just the regulations and internal and external auditing and stock taking procedures with the chain of command really.  As these were all clearly laid out in manuals it wasn’t difficult for a grocer or retailer to pick up.

NB.  It’s weird how your quote ostensibly of me is actually a quote of ‘Buffnut’?

Edited by FROGSMILE
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The Regimental History notes that the battalion crossed to France having been taken over at the last moment by Lt Col H J Madocks from Sir Horace McMahon who had failed to pass the medical test for active service owing to defective eyesight. Coincidence?:unsure:

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4 hours ago, PhilB said:

The Regimental History notes that the battalion crossed to France having been taken over at the last moment by Lt Col H J Madocks from Sir Horace McMahon who had failed to pass the medical test for active service owing to defective eyesight. Coincidence?:unsure:

That answers at least part of the question I was going to ask. Does anyone know anything of the background of either. It was not unusual for service battalions to go to France with a different CO from the one they had had since raising and training but the change was not usually made at the last minute.

RM

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