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Record of the XIth (Service) Battalion (Lonsdale) - In England

Soon after the outbreak of the War it became evident to those directing the Cumberland and Westmorland Terriotiral Force Association that many of the Border Counties men, though anxious to join the Army, hesitated to offer themselves for general service without knowing where, or with whom, they would go through their training, and whether they would be allowed to serve with their own friends.

The Earl of Lonsdale thereupon submitted to the War Office a proposal to recruit a special local Battalion for the Border Regiment, to be composed entirely of men from the hills and dales of Cumberland and Westmorland. The approval of the Army Council was given (War Office letter No. 20/Gen. No. 3162(A.G.I.) dated 17/9/1914) and an Executive Committee was formed, consisting of Lord Lonsdale (Chairman), Colonel Weston, M.P. (Vice-Chairman, Major Binning, Captain Wakefield, Mr. R.F. Hodgson (representing Carlisle district, Westmorland, and West Cumberland respectively), and Mr. Gerald Spring-Rice (afterwards Transport Officer to the Battalion), Hon. Secretary.

It was decided to raise three detachments for the 'Lonsdale Battalion" in three different localities, i.e., at:

1. Blackhall Racecourse, Carlisle. (Placed at the disposal of the promotors of the new Battalion by the Carlisle Racecourse Co.)

A and B Companies (from East and North Cumberland) enrolled by Major Binning, V.D., and captain Sale (late 4th Territorial Border Regt.), with Sergt. A.G. Brotherhood, ex-Quartermaster-Sergt. (4th Border Regt.), as Instructor.

2. Kendal

C Company (from Westmorland) enrolled by Captain Wakefield and commanded by Colonel Haworth, V.D., who had with him Lieut. G.C. Rivington. The Company proceeded to Battalion Headquarters at Blackhall in January, 1915.

3. Workington

D Company (from West Cumberland) raised by Messrs. Hodgson, Highton and McKay, and brought without delay to Blackhall.

The command of the Battalion was taken over by Captain Percy Wilfred Machell, C.M.G. (of Crackenthorpe, Appleby), late 56th (Essex) Regiment (Major, Lt.-Colonel, and Colonel Egyptian Army). He was gazetted Lieut.-Colonel (temp.) Oct. 15th, 1914, to date from Sept. 1st, 1914, and Major Binning, V.D., was appointed acting 2nd in Command.

Colonel Machell had seen a good deal of service. In 1884-5 he served in the Nile Expeditionary Force (medal with clasp and bronze star). Attached to the Egyptian Army in 1886, he was in command at the capture of Fort Khor (Order of the Osmanieh, 4th class); operations round Suakin and action of Gemaizah, 1888 (clasp, horse shot); Sudan, 1889-91, Toski Expedition, Brigade-Major No. 2 Column; capture of Tokar (clasp, and clasp on bronze star, Medjidie, 4th class); helped to raise and command 12th Sudanese Battalion, 1891-5; Inspector General Egyptian Coastguard, 1896; Advisor to the Ministry of Interior, Egypt, 1898-1908; (Grand Cordon of the Medjidie, 1902), (C.M.G., 1906).

For the first month Colonel Machell made his headquarters at Penrith, but on October 17th he moved them to Blackhall, and in a very short time the organisation of the four companies was in full swing. During October and November a great deal of “spade work” was got through, the Colonel having practically to run everything himself, as he had no company officers of the regular Army at all, and no Adjutant till December 3rd, when a most capable officer, Captain P. G. W. Diggle, 6th Border Regiment, was appointed.

In the early days the whole atmosphere was absolutely unmilitary, for the idea of soldiering is not natural to the men of the Northern Counties. They were recruited from among labourers, farm servants (a very large percentage of these), shepherds, keepers, miners, iron and steel workers, farmers' sons, small shop-keepers, clerks, and others, most of whom had never in their lives seen a soldier till now.

Among the small number of retired N.C.O.'s who joined the battalion must be mentioned ex-Colour-Sergeant J.H. Cowie (now captain in a Training Reserve Battalion), who came on the Staff as Regimental Sergt.-Major; he and Hon Lieut. and Quartermaster J.F. Dawson (who had served with the Cameron Highlanders at Tel-el-Kebir and later was Quartermaster-Sergt. in the 5th T. Border Regt.) rendered invaluable help in the making of the new Battalion.

The spirit of the men was excellent, but it was up-hill work for a very long time, as they had no idea of the meaning of discipline; it had to be instilled into them all by the C.O. himself. “Every detail had to be taught by him, for the officers, with very few exceptions, knew no more than the men, and had to taught themselves before they could teach. The simplest orderly-room work, such as making out 'crimes', 'guard reports' and 'detail', were done by him until the adjutant was appointed, and he always checked each of the returns personally. All attestations were made out, and recruits persoanlly approved by him, while the separation allowance claimed his particular attention. He organised the feeding of men (the messing gained the name of being the best in the Command); he arranged for the hutting, the clothing, the water supply, the lighting and conservancy of the Camp, and he it was who averted a strike that threatened over the wages question among the men engaged to build the huts. These things alone would have occupied the activities of six ordinary men, but in addition to all this the C.O. was constantly on parade, training and smartening up both officers and men, drawing up the programmes of work and seeing that they were carried out.” (note by P.G.W.D.)[1]

"I have to act drill-sergeant and buck and bark vociferously to get up a high standard….Men take the talking well. It is much better than punishing….Far better make a man than break him." (note by C.O.)[2]
"From earrly morning to dusk physical training, preliminary manual drill and movements were practised. The training was handicapped, however, for a long time by the lack of rifles, even those for drill purposes only." (note by J.H.C.)[3]

“During all this time men kept coming in. At first recruiters went out, the principal speakers being Captain R. Smith and Pte. Bell. Parties also went to the hiring fairs, but the best recruiters were the men themselves, who went home and said they were 'well done'. We had in fact the pick of Cumberland and Westmorland men to choose from, although, in spite of explicit War Office instructions, the regular recruiting agencies with but few exceptions, did their best to divert men from the 'Lonsdales'. But our own men being such good recruiters, we have failed”. (note by P.G.W.D.)

Regimental strength in October, 642

The weather in November was very bad; the carpenters building the huts could not work, and the men could not drill; railway sleepers had to be put down to make paths, for the whole camp was a sea of mud, although Blackhall Racecourse stands very high. Water was also a great difficulty, for the drinking water had to be brough in tank carts, other supplies, for washing, cooking, etc., having to be obtained from a windmill pump some way off. Lord Lonsdale had undertaken to provide the huts, and they were finally completed by Christmas, the men having been housed till then in the Grandstand, stabling, and various temporary shelters. he took a great interest in the Battalion that bore his name.

The War Office Authority, dated Dec. 3rd, 1914, stated that, “It having been decided to allot numbers to all Battalions, the Lonsdale Battalion is alloted number as follows: -

11th (Service) Battalion the Border Regiment (Lonsdale)

When the weather grew cold and neither blanket nor greatcoats could be obtained, Lord Lonsdale sent down a thousand of each from London. He also supplied an ambulance waggon, a water-cart, with two pairs of black horses, and later on obtained thirty chestnut mules for the transport. A special cap badge was authorised consisting of Lord Lonsdale's crest, a dragon, and every man who joined the Battalion was presented by him with the badge in silver.

As khaki was then unprocurable, the uniform was at first of dark grey cloth, similar to that of the old Cumberland Volunteers; but some two or three months later a proper khaki-coloured uniform was supplied.

The formation of the 5th (Depôt) Company of 250 men was authorised by the War Office in December. C Company, from Kendal, was brought to Headquarters on January 5th, 1915, and handed over by Colonel Haworth, V.D. In Battalion Orders, January 6th, 1915: “The Officer Commanding wishes to place on record his appreciation of the services rendered by Colonel Haworth” (later Commanding 3rd Volunteer Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers) “in raising and training C Company. The Officer Commanding feels that the Westmorland Company willnever lose the impression of Colonel Haworth's personality, and thanks him for contributiung this splendid contingent to the ranks of the Lonsdale Battalion.”

The full strength authorised, 1350 men, was reached in March 1915

“Training was preceeding all this time at full pressure, the men becoming keener and keener as the work became more strenuous. The D.P.[4] rifles came in” (12 rifles, with ammunition, were kindly sent from the private rifle range at Wemyss Castle), “and in addition to musketry pracitice, route marches and manœvres on a limited scale were in the orders of the day; in fact no opportunity was lost in making the Battalion a real fighting unit”. (note by J.H.C.)

Early in December the Battalion was brigaded with the 124th Brigade (Brig.-General Collings) under Western Command in so far as regarded the Lonsdales, the remaining battalions being under Northern. On March 18th, 1915, the Battalion was transferred to the 112th Infantry Brigade (Brig.-General MacKenzie) 37th Division, still under the Western Command.

The inspector of Recruiting from the War Officer, the Muskerty Staff Officer from Headquarters (Western Command), and a Staff Officer for Physical Drill (Inspector of Gymnasia), who inspected the Battalion at different times during March, reported to the Commanding Officer that it was “far ahead of other service battalions”.

Message from General, Western Command, to the Officer Commanding 11th (S.) Battalion Border Regiment (Lonsdale): -

"The General Officer Commanding in Chief was very much pleased with his inspection this morning. He is well aware of the difficulties under which you formed your Battalion, and he considers very great credit is due to you for the efficient training and administration of which he saw such evident proof. He is confident that wherever you go you will sustain the credit of the Western Command, and he wishes all ranks of your Battalion to be informed accordingly. He will watch their military career with the greatest interest."
By Order
(signed) D. MACINDOE,
Captain, for General Staff, Western Command,
on tour, 26th March, 1915.

The Battalion was brigaded with the 126th Brigade, 4th Army, at the end of April, and early in May with the 97th Infantry Brigade (Brig.-General Hacket Thompson), the other three Battalions consisting of Highland Light Infantry.

The Lonsdale Battalion moved to Prees Heath Camp, Shropshire, on May 8th, 1915, but the ground there being found unsuitable for Brigade Training the whole Brigade proceeded on June 22nd to Wensleydale, in Yorkshire, where they were under canvas. They remained there till the beginning of August, forming part of the 32nd Division (Major-General Rycroft).

After a week's musketry course at Strensall, again under cancas, August 5th-11th, the Lonsdale Battalion moved with the Division to Salisbury Plain (Headquarters, Codford St. Mary's). Colonel Jardine, late 5th Lancers, was appointed to the Command of the 97th Brigade. (Between the 9th and 13th August Lieut.-Colonell Machell, in company with other commanding officers, proceeded, under War Office instructions, to visit the trenches in France).

The Battalion is reported to have done extremely well in Divisional Training, and also in minor operations, i.e., bomb-throwing, entrenchments etc., and at the rifle ranges the men particularly distinguished themselves.

At 1a.m. on November 23rd, 1915, the Battalion left for France with the rest of the 97th Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General Jardine, D.S.O.)[5], forming part of the 32nd Division (Major-General Rycroft, C.B., C.M.G.).

References / notes

  1. Captain P.G.W. Diggle.
  2. Commanding Officer - Colonel Machell.
  3. ex-Colour-Sergeant J.H. Cowie.
  4. Drill purpose rifles.
  5. Distinguished Service Order.
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