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Reinforcements had been "...attested only six weeks before they came to us." True?


clive_hughes
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While researching a particular casualty of 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, I was struck by a remark made in July 1916 by its Medical Officer, Capt. J.C.Dunn, that some reinforcements were "...attested only six weeks before they came to us." 

Dunn's account in The War The Infantry Knew 1914-1918 is part of a lament at the quality of some 540 "new drafts" sent to the unit on the Somme, regardless of whether they were volunteers, Derby Scheme men, or conscripts.  He alleged that a good few were physically poor specimens, and that generally these drafts were badly trained, and had fired only five rounds during what passed for their preparation for active service - six weeks since they had enlisted.  Dunn blamed this on the War Office not being ready to replace losses properly.  

This seems an alarmingly short induction period, as I thought that as 1916 wore on into 1917 the earlier standard six months training had become four.  But six weeks I haven't come across in a soldier's papers, except in unusual circumstances, eg. in 1914, experienced motor drivers being signed up for the ASC Special Reserve and being employed in that capacity in France within a few weeks; and former Territorials re-enlisting in units which were quickly sent abroad that summer. 

The casualty whose papers I was looking at was a November 1915 Derby Scheme man, a bricklayer whose medical details show him as more or less 5 feet 9 inches and with no real physical problems beyond the endemic bad teeth of the period.  He was mobilised on 22 January 1916, joined a training unit on 25 January, was posted overseas on 14 July, and reached the 2nd Battn. RWF on 24 July - six months later.   He was mortally wounded in High Wood that August.   

I don't doubt that the general standard of mid- to late-war recruits was less than that required by the Regulars in peacetime, or that Dunn's colleagues had a hard time trying to prepare the new men for the realities of lethal combat.  Was it, however, as bad as he portrays?  

Clive

 

Edited by clive_hughes
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I think not.  Even today it takes a 6-ish weeks to train 'Phase 1' basic "soldier"..... in any arm.  The training then diverges into specialisation.  In this case, using today's verbology, Infantry Phase 2 would have been IBD Etaples (it served a purpose regardless of what was later said) and Infantry Phase 3 was at the unit (tactics + rifles/grenades/Lewis gun etc) to those deemed proficient and capable.  A new soldier could perform perfectly well in this scenario given balanced team integration at unit level - which certainly was the operational imperative.

I take the view that a professionally qualified Medical Officer would have a limited view on training and training standards and this is an out-of-scope observation at best. 

His comments on physical standards are within scope and merit note.   

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On 04/11/2022 at 20:53, clive_hughes said:

While researching a particular casualty of 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, I was struck by a remark made in July 1916 by its Medical Officer, Capt. J.C.Dunn, that some reinforcements were "...attested only six weeks before they came to us." 

Dunn's account in The War The Infantry Knew 1914-1918 is part of a lament at the quality of some 540 "new drafts" sent to the unit on the Somme, regardless of whether they were volunteers, Derby Scheme men, or conscripts.  He alleged that a good few were physically poor specimens, and that generally these drafts were badly trained, and had fired only five rounds during what passed for their preparation for active service - six weeks since they had enlisted.  Dunn blamed this on the War Office not being ready to replace losses properly.  

This seems an alarmingly short induction period, as I thought that as 1916 wore on into 1917 the earlier standard six months training had become four.  But six weeks I haven't come across in a soldier's papers, except in unusual circumstances, eg. in 1914, experienced motor drivers being signed up for the ASC Special Reserve and being employed in that capacity in France within a few weeks; and former Territorials re-enlisting in units which were quickly sent abroad that summer. 

The casualty whose papers I was looking at was a November 1915 Derby Scheme man, a bricklayer whose medical details show him as more or less 5 feet 9 inches and with no real physical problems beyond the endemic bad teeth of the period.  He was mobilised on 22 January 1916, joined a training unit on 25 January, was posted overseas on 14 July, and reached the 2nd Battn. RWF on 24 July - six months later.   He was mortally wounded in High Wood that August.   

I don't doubt that the general standard of mid- to late-war recruits was less than that required by the Regulars in peacetime, or that Dunn's colleagues had a hard time trying to prepare the new men for the realities of lethal combat.  Was it, however, as bad as he portrays?  

Clive

 

Hello Clive, I agree with TullochArd’s comments concerning basic training norms, but suggest you consider sending a pm to forum member Muerrisch, who I know has researched the 2nd RWF of that time in some considerable detail and his knowledge of the unit second to none.  Captain Dunn was greatly respected, above and beyond his medical knowledge, and the period after 1st July 1916 was a great crisis for infantry manning, as the casualty rates exceeded even the most pessimistic anticipation.  I don’t know the extent of any shortcuts that there might have been, but perhaps regular reservists, whose training in theory could have been shorter, might have been rushed through.  They would still have had to undergo attestation at the point of reporting for duty.  Anyway, that’s all just my conjecture, but I’m sure I’ve read about such short cuts previously, during various ‘emergency’ periods during the war, when the unthinkable had to be seriously considered.

Best regards,

FS

Edited by FROGSMILE
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Many thanks TA and FS,

No question that the physique of the new recruits was much as Dunn described, or that the remaining Regulars had a hard time with them.  Frank Richards of the same unit at this period comments that there were hardly 50 of the old 1914 rankers left.  

There would indeed have been some barrel-scraping going on in the Home depots, and I'd have thought it would only have got worse generally as the Somme fighting ran on into November, drawing in ever more replacements in the wake of heavy losses.  By about August the first true Conscripts of the Military Service Act (January 1916) were appearing at the Front, and Dunn is again correct in his statement regarding the "mixed" origins of these men. 

I still struggle with his "six-week" statement, even if applied to a minority of the drafts; but I know where you're coming from FS, and I'll ask the experts about their views.   

Cheers,

Clive 

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19 minutes ago, clive_hughes said:

Many thanks TA and FS,

No question that the physique of the new recruits was much as Dunn described, or that the remaining Regulars had a hard time with them.  Frank Richards of the same unit at this period comments that there were hardly 50 of the old 1914 rankers left.  

There would indeed have been some barrel-scraping going on in the Home depots, and I'd have thought it would only have got worse generally as the Somme fighting ran on into November, drawing in ever more replacements in the wake of heavy losses.  By about August the first true Conscripts of the Military Service Act (January 1916) were appearing at the Front, and Dunn is again correct in his statement regarding the "mixed" origins of these men. 

I still struggle with his "six-week" statement, even if applied to a minority of the drafts; but I know where you're coming from FS, and I'll ask the experts about their views.   

Cheers,

Clive 

I imagine it would only have been 6-weeks for regular reservists who had left the service close to the war’s start, but as you say Clive, it needs more research to tease out the facts.  I will be greatly surprised if Muerrisch isn’t able to give you the answer straight away, as I know that he did a lot of work concerning reservist statistics. 

Edited by FROGSMILE
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Hi frogsmile,

Sadly, Muerrisch is unable to receive PMs.  Hopefully he may will become aware of this topic at sometime, and offer his comments.

Clive

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2 minutes ago, clive_hughes said:

Hi frogsmile,

Sadly, Muerrisch is unable to receive PMs.  Hopefully he may will become aware of this topic at sometime, and offer his comments.

Clive

Thanks Clive, I’ll be interested to learn what you find out as and when. 

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I must have looked at many 1000s of service records covering plenty of different infantry units across the whole timeframe of the war.

This is still a very small sample of course!

I've never come across a record where a man has had such a short period from enlistment to deployment overseas. On the contrary, I am often struck by how many records I come across that seem to show a delay to deployment - sometimes due to some particular valid reason e.g. as a result of a sickness. Of course, not all service records have survived but those that did survive had nothing to do with this variable, so I think the record set as a whole is a suitably representative sample.

I have come across a few War Diary entries where a remark has been made on the relatively poor quality of the drafts received. But I don't recall seeing the explanation for this as being because of such a very short time period between enlistment and deployment overseas.

It is generally reasonably straightforward to pin down service numbers to general enlistment dates for a given type of Battalion in a given Regiment. So, for a given time period - say July to December 1916, you can work out approximately what service numbers were being allotted to your unit of interest (in conjunction with Medal Rolls). Then you look for as many service records as you can find to explore each man's period of time between enlistment and deployment.

Here is an example I did many years ago. Lancashire Fusiliers - Service Battalions including the Salford Pals Battalions who suffered horrendous casualties in the opening days of the Somme and so were in dire need of reinforcements. The plot shows all the records I could find for Derby Men/Conscripts within a certain service number range. They enlisted no later than mid-May 1916 - yet no one deployed overseas any earlier than the end of August 1916 - so at least 3.5 months after enlistment - with most deploying after a much longer period in training. All of these men typically spent a couple of weeks at an Infantry Base Depot in France before joining their active service units in the field.

Once you know a relevant service number range, you can also examine the records of men who unfortunately died by working out their enlistment date from their War Gratuities. It's a sad fact that some men died shortly after deployment overseas so this provides a supplementary means by which you might be able to spot men who deployed after a very short period of training as suggested by Dunn's remark.

Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule so what has been recorded by Dunn might well be correct - it's just that I don't think it was common by a long way.

You could try a similar study for the 2/RWF - let us know how you get on :)

Regards

Russ

 

LF - Posting Overseas 2.jpg

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I agree that it seems extremely unlikely to be common Russ and deeply respect your painstaking and meticulous research.  My hesitance is really to do with the reputation of Captain Dunn.  It’s significant that Dunn was/is renowned for his determination to tell the truth even when it was embarrassing.  He apparently decided to write his book in which the quoted comments were made, The War the Infantry Knew, because he was so concerned about what he perceived as whitewashing going on in the preparations for and contributions to the Official History of the Great War (all that from memory and I hope that I’ve got it right).  Speaking truth was clearly important to him and it’s with his integrity in mind that I’m reluctant to dismiss out-of-hand what he said without examination of the unit concerned.  I still think that forum member Muerrisch might well have the answer to this matter.

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Similar to Russ, I have looked at 1000's of service records.

Although I agree generally with what he has said in his post, I have also been astounded by how little time some actually spent in the UK training before joining a unit overseas.

An example in the area of my interest is the Z prefix, often referred to as the suicide club. In October 1914 for example, just taking the 1st battalion, some 50 men were sent overseas in October 1914, very very few had any previous service and had attested in early September 1914.

The attached gives one such example, no previous service, attested 2/9/14, joined 4/9/14 to the 5th RB, posted to the 1st RB on 7/10/1914, MIC states 9/10/14.

In the 3rd Division A & Q diary (WO95/1383-3) for January 1915 there is a breakdown of re-inforcements, it makes an interesting read.

 

Andy

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On 04/11/2022 at 20:53, clive_hughes said:

Dunn's account in The War The Infantry Knew 1914-1918 is part of a lament at the quality of some 540 "new drafts" sent to the unit on the Somme, regardless of whether they were volunteers, Derby Scheme men, or conscripts.  He alleged that a good few were physically poor specimens, and that generally these drafts were badly trained, and had fired only five rounds during what passed for their preparation for active service - six weeks since they had enlisted.  Dunn blamed this on the War Office not being ready to replace losses properly.  

As is the way with the GWF you pick up on something and have an inkling for more.  I made a note of the book you quote and have invested the grand sum of £3.19 (free postage of course) on a used copy to explore further - but not before reading a review which informed me the book was "A remarkable feat from Dunn, who pulled together numerous snippets of diary entries, anecdotes and memoirs of surviving members of His Majesty's Twenty-Third Foot, The Royal Welch Fusiliers, to form a cohesive account of their experiences in the First World War. The most famous of the contributors was Sassoon, who provided material he had written in the mid-1920s, ......." 

Based on this I must withdraw my earlier comment "I take the view that a professionally qualified Medical Officer would have a limited view on training and training standards and this is an out-of-scope observation at best." as this may not actually be Dunn's personal view. 

I am looking forward to reading the book.

( I also noted another copy, a First Edition with a dedication by Sassoon himself, for the eye watering sum of £4600 and smartly emblazoned with "RWF" on the cover.  Have a quick double check of your bookshelves Frogsmile .......... you might be in for a windfall! )  

Dunn.jpg

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21 minutes ago, TullochArd said:

As is the way with the GWF you pick up on something and have an inkling for more.  I made a note of the book you quote and have invested the grand sum of £3.19 (free postage of course) on a used copy to explore further - but not before reading a review which informed me the book was "A remarkable feat from Dunn, who pulled together numerous snippets of diary entries, anecdotes and memoirs of surviving members of His Majesty's Twenty-Third Foot, The Royal Welch Fusiliers, to form a cohesive account of their experiences in the First World War. The most famous of the contributors was Sassoon, who provided material he had written in the mid-1920s, ......." 

Based on this I must withdraw my earlier comment "I take the view that a professionally qualified Medical Officer would have a limited view on training and training standards and this is an out-of-scope observation at best." as this may not actually be Dunn's personal view. 

I am looking forward to reading the book.

( I also noted another copy, a First Edition with a dedication by Sassoon himself, for the eye watering sum of £4600 and smartly emblazoned with "RWF" on the cover.  Have a quick double check of your bookshelves Frogsmile .......... you might be in for a windfall! )  

Dunn.jpg

Happy reading TullochArd 👍it is a classic.  Sadly the copy my book shelf holds is a 1990s reprint. 

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Thank you all for your observations and information.

Russ, you've put me in mind of someone who might well be able to do that number-crunching; indeed, might already have done so.  

Andy, I'm genuinely surprised to see someone with no previous service of any kind being sent to a fighting unit at the Front after barely a month.  In this case, by early October 1914 had the 1st RB (or all four of its Service battalions come to that) seen losses on such a large scale that they had to push in almost anyone as reinforcements?  

TA, it's a great book and I'm sure you'll enjoy reading it!  His preface explains how the volume was put together.  Dunn had served in the Boer War in an armed capacity (?Montgomeryshire Imperial Yeomanry) and earned a DCM there.  I wouldn't have cared to try to pull the wool over his eyes as a unit MO.  Sassoon did lend a hand (amongst others), and I get the feeling that by 1938 it's offering an alternative view of 2nd RWF's service to that presented by Robert Graves' Goodbye To All That in 1929.  However, that's a different topic...

Frogsmile, yes, my copy is a chunky 1999 paperback version.  I'm sure my heirs and descendants will be able to reap the rewards of my investment if it remains in one piece for the next 200 years.   

 

 

 

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A few years ago I was looking at some men, with Martin, who had been enlisted and were in France within days in Aug/Sep 1914 and not all had any signs of having had any earlier service.

Craig

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Craig,

Having seen the earlier mentioned example, I'm now expecting further instances of inexperienced men shipped abroad with indecent haste in 1914!  Thanks for that observation.

 

Clive 

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Clive,

as per Craig, I was also doing a little with Martin regarding numbering sequences. The KRRC will also have the same with the Y Prefix although I have not gone into the KRRC records that much.

The 1st in October 1914 were not seriously hit apart from a German attack in the late month, however had a lot of men taken POW on 26th August. I will check through the other battalions for you, but 56 Z prefix went to the 1st in October 14, a number of other went to the 2nd although if memory serves me correctly in numbered in the teens, more to the 3rd and 4th although a minimum amount to the 4th, 3rd had 30 odd. Will check my spreadsheets for you but the earliest Z prefix overseas was 1/10/14, less than a month after they attested. So all in all there were over 100 Z prefix men sent to the BEF with minimal training.

The next cases happened in 1915, the 2nd had a torrid 1915, what with suffering great losses at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers. It was noticeable that regulars from the other regular battalions were sent to the 2nd after both battles to give some experienced men followed by a lot of men, quite a few with low training periods.

Russ findings ring very true for 1916.

 

Andy

Edited by stiletto_33853
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Thanks for your comments stiletto

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On 12/11/2022 at 21:16, stiletto_33853 said:

Clive,

as per Craig, I was also doing a little with Martin regarding numbering sequences. The KRRC will also have the same with the Y Prefix although I have not gone into the KRRC records that much.

Andy

Ditto, but my work with Martin on the KRRC Y/ prefix was much less.  The Aug/Sep 1914 Y/ service numbers were typically 80-90 days from attestation to joining a fighting battalion.  I haven't yet found anything as short as Andy's Z/635, but I have definitely not dug as deeply.

Mark

 

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