2/25th London Regiment
Whilst officially the 2/25th didn't leave England, it seems quite a number were attached to other battalions and served in France. In particular a number killed were attached to the 2/10th London Bn. There are a number of soldiers in the records who served in France, but the records only show they served in the 2/25th, and do not indicate the battalion they were attached to. Therefore the following narrative may only partially apply to soldiers of the 2/25th, that is only until they were attached to other battalions.
The Second Line - August 1914 to May 1919
On the 4th and 5th August, 1914 the 1st Line (1/25th), having been recalled from training, had passed through Headquarters, at Fulham House, and left for coast duties. The Drill Hall and yard being thus left free, the training of recruits was undertaken.
Colonel Gilbertson Smith, T.D., who had retired from the command of the battalion on the 18th April, 1913, had been assisting in the mobilisation and, in his capacity as Honorary Colonel of the battalion, had supervised the enrolment of recruits. Many more men than were required having offered themselves, he took care that the names and addresses of the unsuccessful applicants were kept. A day or so after the outbreak of war, he offered to raise a cyclist battalion for service overseas. On the 26th August, the offer having been formally accepted, he caused postcards to be sent to all those on the waiting list, summoning them, if still at liberty, to attend for enrolment on the 29th. In this way the nucleus of the new unit was formed, though several hundred more men were necessary to complete establishment. He arranged for a few officers, N.C.O.'s and men, who had formerly served under him in the old 26th Middlesex and its successor, the 25th Londons, to meet him for a conference later in the day.
At this meeting he told off the members in parties to picquet twelve of the main roads leading out of London, the next day. He chose positions for these groups at places which were from twelve to twenty miles out, where he knew, from experience, cyclists were in the habit of foregathering on Sunday mornings. The object of these parties was to carry out an intensive recruiting campaign and so successful was the plan that, at 9 a.m. on Monday, the 31st August, there was a crowd of several hundred cyclists outside the gates at Headquarters. There was no delay or confusion. The doors were opened and the men formed into files arranged to pass before tables at which sat ex-officers and N.C.O.'s, who rapidly filled up the attestation forms. As these were signed, the men were sworn in by groups, passing then to the canteen for the eyesight test and to the "White Room" for general medical examination.
So rapidly and efficiently was this work carried through that, after only five hours forty minutes actual recruiting time, the Colonel was able to telephone to Headquarters of the Territorial Force Association for the County of London that the new battalion stood at full strength, complete even to buglers, motor cyclists and transport drivers. It is on record that this fact was duly reported by the Association to the War Office.
Men of all classes were to be found among the recruits. The particulars furnished disclosed representatives of many professions and trades -architects, lawyers, accountants, schoolmasters, clerks, civil servants, publicans, motor mechanics and a bus conductor were numbered among them. One thing they all had in common-they were cyclists and, for the most part, very experienced ones. Although a comparatively large percentage were found to be members of Rifle Clubs, or men with a knowledge of shooting, only ten per cent. were revealed as ever having been drilled. An attempt was made to group certain classes and, as a result, one company was formed from architects, lawyers, accountants and similar professional men and, in another, whether by design or accident, were to be found civil servants and bank clerks. "H" Company was formed exclusively from members of well-known cycling clubs, while younger recruits from public schools were drafted to form the machine gun section. Ages covered the wide range between 18 and 41, with an average which worked out at about 29.
On the 1st September, while the battalion was still only a few hours old, the Colonel attended at the offices of the County Association to interview Lord Esher, the President, who, after informing him that his command would be known as the 25th Reserve Cyclist Battalion, The London Regiment, called for the names of its proposed officers. This list was made out on the spot. It having been disclosed that the store houses of the Association had been emptied by the equipping of the existing battalions of the County of London Territorial Force, the Commanding Officer was given a free hand to purchase c10thing and equipment for the new unit. He was also authorised to take over the men's cycles at valuation.
Composition of 2 /25th on Formation, August, 1914 :
Colonel Gilbertson Smith, T.D.+*
Major P. J. Sutton.*
.. .. ..
Capt. E. Latham.+*
Lieut. Wm. Smoothy.
. . . .
C. A. Turner.
Sergi. .. ..
H. C. Mitchell.
Cycl. Sergi. . .
S. O. Pacey.
A. R. Churchill.
2nd-Lt. H. C. Mortlock.
W. B. Howe.*
2nd-Lt. F. M. Stoneham.
J. F. R. Burnett.
W. T. Baker.
R. G. Upton.
A. S. Cowland.+*
W. J. Matthews.*
E. R. Barton.t
H. F. Parkinson.
Capt. C. G. C. King.t* G. V. B. Hine.
G. J. Ridler.+
2nd-Lt. F. B. Ransford.
A. K. Hare.
F. C. Shackell.
Capt. H. Simpson.
M. C. S. H. Kittoe.
W. H. Cummings.
H. 2nd-Lt. R. H. Ridler. D. H. Pilcher. A. B. Carpenter.
+ Formerly 26th Mx.
N.B.- Soon after formation, 2nd-Lt. Cowland was transferred to the 1/25th and Lieut. H. G. Smith was posted to the 2 /25th.
A formidable task then faced the C.O. and his small body of trained assistants. It was necessary, first of all, to appoint colour-sergeants and N.C.O.'s. These were selected mainly from men who had had previous service in the Volunteers, Territorials or junior O.T.C.'s. Schoolmasters, and even those whose only experience had been gained in the ranks of the Boys' Brigade, were pressed into service to teach squad drill. Training was commenced in the field at the side of Fulham Palace which, the Bishop having kindly lent for this purpose, was thereafter known as "the Bishop's Field."
The Colonel had no reason to complain about the keenness of the men under his command. Within two weeks of formation, it was possible to engage in company drill and mounted parades, on Wimbledon Common, soon became the order of the day.
Each afternoon the Colonel lectured, in the Drill Hall at Fulham House, on "Things which a military cyclist ought to know." Once more he had no reason to complain of inattention or lack of appreciation. When question time came, he was literally bombarded with queries, a large percentage of which demonstrated that the recruits had not only bought all the available books on the various subjects, but had made very creditable attempts at digesting them.
He had reason to be thankful, during the intensive training which followed, that he had such efficient helpers. In his Second-in-Command, Major P. J. Sutton, he had a tower of strength. For administrative duties he could not have been better served than by the indefatigable Adjutant, Captain E. Latham, while his choice of Colour-SergeantInstructor S. J. Cleverly, as Regimental-Sergeant-Major, ensured strict discipline tempered, always, by a kindliness which literally captivated and held the men.
During this period, all ranks were receiving subsistence allowances, which was tantamount to finding their own billets. Parades, for the most part, commenced at 9 a.m. and finished about five in the afternoon, after which it was a favourite pastime, with a great number, to hang about Headquarters, until sometimes 10 o'clock, in the hope that a consignment of equipment or uniforms might arrive. It says as much for the equanimity of the quartermaster's staff as for the keenness of the men who waited that, on those occasions when stores of this nature were delivered after parade hours, they were almost invariably served out immediately.
It must be realised that only those who had served before were in possession of anything but mufti and that this was a source of great tribulation to everyone else. It was useless to reason that, given equipment, one could be just as good a soldier in a lounge suit as in the bear skin and scarlet of the Guards ; the fact remained that fond relations could not appreciate the transition and, as day succeeded day, some even began to question its existence. Gradually however, portion by portion, equipment was issued and the appearance of the battalion to, from, and on Wimbledon Common during this period cannot be properly imagined without photography's aid. A belt, cavalry mess tin and water bottle nestling round the waist of an otherwise normally dressed city clerk, could not inspire that feeling of martial ardour, in the heart of the wearer, which he desired to experience. It must be admitted that a company on parade in those days looked rather like a group of temporary messenger boys, waiting their turns at the Central Telegraph Office.
On the 22nd September, squad and cycle drill having been sufficiently assimilated, application was made, to District Headquarters, for permission to move away from London for training in the special duties of a cyclist battalion. This was not granted, but six days later a letter was received stating that the battalion was intended to be used on home defence work, and asking when it would be c10thed, equipped and fit to take up its duties to watch the coast line. The Colonel, in a burst of optimism as it later proved, replied that c10thing would be completed by the 7th October but that no arms had been issued. He was told that the battalion was to move on the 18th October, but this was subsequently cancelled as the unit was still unarmed and could not be supplied with motor transport.
Prior to this date, the C.O. had made a moving appeal to all ranks to accept, by signature, the Imperial Service obligation. It must be recalled that the attestation form of the Territorial Force only bound the signatory to service within the British Isles. This was part of Lord Haldane's original scheme in 1908, and it was impossible, until conscription came into force later, for a Territorial to be sent overseas without his express consent, as witnessed by his signing for Imperial Service. So successful, in this instance, was Colonel Gilbertson Smith's appeal that 90 per cent. of all ranks took on for service overseas. Great was their disgust, therefore, when, early in October, intimation was received from the War Office that the Battalion was, in the future, to be known as the 25th (County of London) Cyclist Home Service Battalion, The London Regiment.
At a later date, possibly as a salve to wounded pride, the title was changed to 2/25th Cyclist Battalion, The London Regiment, though this did not lead to the cherished foreign experience.
It has been remarked that the Colonel was optimistic when he reported that the c10thing would be completed by the 7th October. That this was ill founded, was proved by the fact that when, on the afternoon of Saturday, the 17th October, the battalion was inspected by Major-General Sir Francis Lloyd, Commanding the London District, in the grounds of Fulham Palace, two companies were still without uniform. Nevertheless, the General expressed his complete satisfaction with the turnout in an address he delivered before leaving the grounds.
Efforts to obtain arms continued, and finally, ten days later, the Colonel, after spending the entire day between the Horse Guards and the War Office, succeeded in obtaining an order, signed "Kitchener," for the immediate issue of 500 rifles and bayonets. Two days later these arrived and turned out to be M.L.M. Mark ii. From the fact that they were packed in chests branded "EAST LONDON,” and bore the distinctive marks of every regular and irregular regiment of the British Army during the South African War, they were evidently relics of that campaign. The only point of similarity between these long "Lee Metfords" and the short "Lee Enfields", with which the British Army was universally equipped at the outbreak of war, was that both utilised .303 ammunition.
In accordance with instructions received, the C.O., on the 30th October, reported to the G.O.C. 2nd Army of the Central Force at Tunbridge Wells to receive orders as to the duties to be carried out bv the battalion on the coast, and returned with instructions to submit his dispositions for watching the Sussex Coast from Hastings (exclusive) to Littlehampton (inclusive).
Four days later, orders were received that the unit had been placed under the command of the G.O.C. Central Force and, later the same day, that it was to march at
9 a.m. on Thursday, the 5th November, for East Grinstead and Horsham, where it was to come under the orders of the G.O.C. the Second Army. As the twenty-one half-ton box-body cars, for which an indent had been made, could not be supplied in time for this move, six A.S.C. three-ton lorries, under Lieut. Lucas, reported at Fulham House and were, for the time being, attached for duty.
At 8 a.m. on the 5th November, the battalion paraded on the West Hill, Wandsworth, and from thence moved via Wimbledon Common to Mitcham Cricket Green, where a halt was made, and the unit drawn up for inspection by Lieut.-General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commanding Central Force. The Parade State disclosed a strength of 502 cyclists with a total strength, including drivers, of 525.
The march was continued by way of Croydon and Caterham, to East Grinstead, which was reached at twenty to one. After a mid-day halt of 75 minutes, the column pushed on to Lewes, which it reached at 4.40 p.m. to the accompaniment of many fireworks which, however, apparently were being discharged in honour of some other occasion than that of the arrival of the 2/25th Battalion, The London Regiment. It is interesting to note that, although this was the first time the battalion had carried out a route ride in full marching order, it nevertheless covered the distance of 56 miles in 6¾ hours riding time. This was no mean performance and the Colonel, having reported on it to Headquarters, Central Force, received a letter expressing the G.O.C.'s satisfaction. Headquarters was established in the Bear Hotel and officers, N.C.O.'s and men were accommodated in the town. It was far into the evening before the final billetting arrangements were completed and the announcement that the first parade would be at what seemed an unearthly hour the next morning, brought home to the troops the realisation that they were no longer quasi-civilians, but soldiers.
The battalion, which was now attached for administrative purposes to the 1st London Division, headquartered at Crowborough under Major-General Fry, at once took over its new duties. Two companies were retained at Lewes, five were distributed along the coast with company headquarters at Bexhill, Pevensey Bay, Brighton, Worthing, and Littlehampton, and the remaining one was stationed at Broadwater, in rear of Worthing, as a local support for the west sector.
The C.O. had been informed that coastguard stations were available for quartering the men and use as look-out stations, but it was found, on arrival, that most of these buildings had been disposed of by the Admiralty some years previously. As a result, the sentry groups and patrols had to find shelter in old boat-houses, sheds, Martello towers and other makeshifts.
Six days after arrival, orders were received to recall the local supports from Broadwater and for some days there were three companies training in Lewes. A range was found at Oxteddle Bottom and a limited course was firedthose companies on the coast being relieved for this purpose, one by one, by those in reserve. Another range having been found on the Crumbles, between Eastbourne and Pevensey, the company, which was subsequently stationed at the former, fired its course there.
On the 12th November, the day after the Broadwater company had been called in, battalion headquarters was moved into the old Grammar School, which proved also large enough to accommodate two companies. No shelter being available for cycles, these had to stand in the yard exposed to the weather for nearly two months, before authority was received to build a wooden shed to house them.Complaints having been received that a considerable amount of signalling had been going on, at night-time, all round the coast, efforts were made to suppress it. This was a matter of great difficulty, especially in the towns, owing to the brilliant illumination of the various marine parades and the undimmed lights in the houses facing the sea. Orders were given, and enforced, to correct this absurd state of affairs, but it took considerable time and much trouble to bring things into proper shape.
Signalling in the vicinity of Eastbourne led to orders being received to send a company there and, on the 23rd November, "G" Company, under Captain Simpson, duly arrived.
The duties assigned to a cyclist battalion in connection with coast defence have been set out elsewhere in this volume and need not be recapitulated here. It may be interesting, however, to outline the methods adopted by the 2/25th to carry out these duties.
Two days before the end of November, the unit suffered its first depletion by the transfer of fifty men, under 2nd Lieut. Kittoe, to the First Line at Oulton Broad. As a direct result of this, two look-out stations had to be closed down and a patrol substituted. This may serve to give some idea of the way in which all ranks were being worked at this period. The vast majority, for five months continuously, was on duty every alternate day for a full twenty-four hours. It was a lucky man who obtained three hours' sleep during his time on duty and he paid for the sleep in bed, which was his lot every other night, by attending at least two parades during his twenty-four hour spell off. One of these parades was for receiving instructions for his next day's work, and the other, of some three and-a-half hours' duration, for general training or manual drill.
The majority of posts were combined patrol and lookout stations, and a short description of a twenty-four hour tour at one of them, may be of interest. The half-company which was going on duty would parade at 2 p.m.- after having spent the morning from 9 till 12.30 at squad drill or some similar pleasantry. Sections under an N.C.O., having been previously detailed, would then proceed by cycle to the various stations.
Owing to the scarcity of men, a typical group would consist, as a rule, of not more than an N.C.O. and 6 men. Arriving at its destination, perhaps a Martello tower coyly tucked against a sewage works, it would take over. Its duties would consist of supplying a sentry on watch, another man to attend to the telephone in the adjoining salubrious building, and not less than four patrols, each of two men, during the long winter night.
The patrols were particularly onerous, especially in view of the bad weather that winter. Every man had to carry out at least one patrol and some had to do two. This consisted, in many cases, of tramping three miles or so over loose shingle, reporting to the N.C.O. in charge of the next company's look-out station and returning to the original base. Some of the patrols could be done wholly by cycle and others partly by this means and partly on foot, but all were hard and none took less than two hours to complete the round journey.
Soon after leaving London, the authorised strength of a cyclist battalion had been increased by 96 other ranks. In view of this, application was made to the Depot, at the time the draft was transferred to the First Line, for 150 men to bring the unit up to its new full strength. This requisition was partially satisfied, early in December, by the arrival at Lewes of So recruits, who immediately commenced training.
The 28th November was memorable as being the date on which the first report was received of a Zeppelin-one being sighted off Goring at 8.30 p.m. It was a matter for comment that its direction of flight was from the southwest to the north-east. It was not until some two months later, however, that definite orders were first received as to firing at hostile aircraft.
Coast duties continued without incident for some time and little or nothing occurred to disturb the regularity of the daily routine of the outlying companies. On Christmas Eve the headquarters at Lewes were transferred to a house in St. Anne's Crescent, where the officers' mess was also established.
On Christmas Day, the C.O. visited every L.O.S. throughout the area and festivities were observed in accordance with the conditions under which the various sections of the battalion were living. Those on the coast, for the most part, spent a portion of Christmas Day on duty at the various look-out stations. Most of the billet-keepers arranged matters so that something in the nature of a Christmas dinner was available. In many houses, this meant that two meals had to be provided. In cases where companies were messing together, special arrangements were made.
On February 11th, an order was issued further increasing the establishment of cyclist battalions by eight officers. Those recommended by the Colonel, to fill these newly created vacancies, included two of the original motor cyclists.
A few days later, there was a wreck off Goring, where "C" Company was at that time stationed. Owing to the heavy seas, the lifeboat failed to make contact, but Corporal Wheeler, at considerable risk and with great courage, swam out to the distressed vessel and for this action was recommended by the Colonel for the Royal Humane Society's Medal, which was subsequently awarded to him.
The long expected transport vehicles at last arrived and proved to be 21 Talbot box-body cars, all straight from the factory. These vans were built on to the then modern four-cylinder chassis and every one, even when loaded to its total capacity of approximately half a ton, could reach 60 miles an hour with ease. Needless to say, this speed was not officially permitted, but nevertheless it was often attained and frequently exceeded. Two were posted to each company, leaving five for use by the machine gun section and headquarters.
When the battalion was originally formed, a number of men had been appointed as transport drivers and these were now transferred to the A.S.C. (T.F.) although they remained attached to the battalion for duty.
Early on the morning of the 27th March, the G.O.C. 2nd Army issued orders for an immediate concentration at Brighton of all troops, excluding those actually on look-out or patrol work. Instructions were telephoned to the various outlying headquarters, and the following shows the times of the departures for, and arrivals at, Brighton :
In another case, however, a look-out at Brighton reported a vessel behaving suspiciously. As on the other occasion, Newhaven was telephoned and, in this instance, two destroyers were sent out. Not being satisfied they took the boat in and found her to be loaded with oil destined for German submarines, which at the time-Faster, 1915 were very active round that portion of the coast.
It was known that one enemy submarine was operating from, or near, Pevensey Bay and, daily, seaplanes, aeroplanes and "blimps" passed over the locality in the hope of spotting her. This area was a very happy hunting ground, due to the fact that most vessels, passing either way along the channel, came in to "speak" Beachy Head. As the limit of vision from this coastguard station is only about twelve miles, it was a simple matter for one submarine to do an enormous amount of damage.
From Good Friday to Easter Monday, inclusive, five boats were torpedoed off Beachy Head ; in most cases sinking. In accordance with orders, the local company had to stand to on each occasion.
Rumours which had been floating round for some time crystallised on April 10th, when orders were received to prepare for a move. It was naturally hoped that this meant service overseas but, on attending at Tunbridge Wells, the Colonel was informed that the battalion was to proceed to Holt, in Norfolk, to take over coast duties from the Sussex Cyclist Battalion. Relief for the Londons was to be supplied by the Hampshire Cyclists, who commenced to take over on the 12th April. Within two days the substitution was complete and the battalion concentrated, ready to move, at Brighton and Lewes.
On the 19th, the companies from Brighton went to Lewes and the whole unit left the county town in two trains for Norfolk. Four companies and headquarters went direct to Holt and the other half battalion to Sherringham. This course was rendered necessary owing to the lack of billetting facilities at Holt, where the Sussex Cyclists were still installed. The transport, in the meantime, had proceeded by road from the South Coast, under Captain E. H. Barton.
The battalion took over all coast duties, from the retiring battalion, two days' later, on a line from Runton Gap (inclusive) to Shettisham, just south of Hunstanton, and came under Brigadier-General Fryer, Commanding the 2/1st South Wales Mounted Brigade.
It then found itself in an area quite different to that on the South Coast. Instead of sea fronts with rows of houses bordering on esplanades, it found a lonely coast line with occasional small villages or isolated farmhouses. It included Weybourne, with a beach having deep water at all states of the tide and low hills a short distance inland. These, if occupied by an enemy, would permit of a landing on the beach without molestation. An old rhyme, current in Norfolk from ancient times, ran thus :
There were innumerable small creeks running in from the sea, in other sections of the area, and close to Hunstanton there was a War Signal station where, if all accounts were true, wonderful things were done in intercepting German wireless messages. At any rate, this point had to be guarded closely, night and day. Finally, only just over twenty miles due south from the coast, was Norwich, a busy populous city with railways and factories; a big prize for an enemy if he could secure it. At that date a Brigade of Yeomanry and a few guns were the only troops between the cyclists and the city. The good people of Norfolk were quite alive to the fact that "there was a war on" and, consequently, were far more hospitable and interested in the cyclists than the South Coast population had been.
The look-out stations taken over from the Sussex Cyclists extended from Sherringham eastwards to Hunstanton and then south to Snettisham. Originally, two companies with the M.G. section, were accommodated in the wooden huts in the Fairfield at Holt, the battalion headquarters; Hunstanton and Weyboume Hope each had one company, and Weyboume Springs and Wells two companies. This disposition, subsequently, was altered.
The battalion made a further acquaintance with Zeppelins on 30th April, when four which had raided Ipswich and Bury St. Edmunds were reported, on their return, to be passing out to sea over Wells. This was only the first of many similar reports of a like nature, nor was it unusual to hear sounds of firing out at sea. The actual coast duties were probably not so onerous as on the South Coast and, as a result, more time was available for training. It was the general rule for field training to be carried out, from May onwards, three days a week, affecting practically all men who were not actually on duty. Musketry was practised on Cawston Range.
The battalion, being less scattered than previously, it was possible on Whit-Monday to hold a sports meeting in a field near the Weybourne Springs Hotel. This, the first event of its kind since the formation of the unit, proved a great success, especially as it brought members of different companies more closely together. In this connection it must be remembered that, since leaving London, the previous November, the battalion had never been together as a whole and the majority of men knew no one outside the sixty or so others comprising their own company. On the South Coast the position was even more peculiar in this respect. In the case of one company, at least, the men were divided into two halves in November. These were on duty on alternate days, continually, till the following Easter, with the result that, except during the few minutes employed in changing over at look-out stations, the men of one half company had had no intercourse whatever with those of the other. On the East Coast, things were rather better, in that, for a large portion of the time, half of the battalion was stationed at Holt with two companies at Weybourne Hope Hutments and only two other outlying companies, at Brancaster Staithe and Wells respectively.
A slight alteration in duties took place at the end of May, when a company of the Royal Defence Corps assumed responsibility for the L.O.S. at Hunstanton, thus allowing the company stationed there to be transferred to Brancaster Staithe. The look-out station at Snettisham, however, was retained.
The men now commenced to reap the benefit of coast service. For the most part, the ensuing summer was a good one and for those companies stationed away from Holt it meant a very fair proportion of bathing parties - a dangerous form of exercise at Weyhourne for those unable to swim. The reason for this will be apparent a little later on. For the company stationed at Brancaster, there was a limited amount of boating and sailing available on the local waters, while shooting on the surrounding marshes was also not unknown.
In this connection, rather an amusing incident can be related. A small party, including a junior N.C.O., thought that a few wild duck (or possibly, with luck, wild geese) might prove an attractive addition to the official menu. With a small bore gun, they cautiously made their way to the marshes, and with pleasurable excitement noticed what appeared to be a very large sized goose near the water's edge. Forgetting nothing of their musketry training, they laid it low with the first shot. It was then they noticed a game warden in the distance. They sprinted to their victim, picked it up, and found it to be not as they supposed, but a good sized swan. What to do? To leave it to be found by the warden would be to start enquiries, which would localise the offence to themselves. To take it back to camp would be equally fatal. One man tried to put it under his tunic, but it was too large, so he took his coat off and completely enveloped the gory carcase, to the complete ruination of the garment, as he subsequently discovered. Picking up the bundle, they ran as hard as they could until, gaining distance, they were able to drop the swan in a ditch and hastily cover it with twigs, grass and leaves. They then made back for camp at full speed, and lived for many days in fear and trembling that the murder would out. This paragraph, perhaps, will be, to them, the first intimation that they were discovered - if not officially.
Reference has been made to the depth of water at Weybourne. Locally, it is said that in places the six fathom mark is only six fathoms out at high tide; in other words, that the beach slopes at 45°.
One summer night, a loud, grating sound led to investigation, which showed that the s.s. "ROSALIE," of between 2,000 and 3,000 tons register, had run her bows well up the shingle, though her stern remained afloat. Torpedoed on her maiden voyage, she had been beached to save sinking. Subsequently she settled and, later still, broke her back.
In July, orders to transfer, to ordnance factories, any men suitable for making munitions were received almost daily. In the same month, Provisional Battalions (formed of returned wounded soldiers and Territorials who had not taken on the obligation for foreign service) came into existence and the section of coast line from West Runton to Clay was handed over to one of them. In August the battalion was re-organised on the four company basis:
One Saturday evening in September (1915), an alarm was given from "G" (the Provisional Battalion stationed at Weybourne) that the Germans were landing at Weybourne Beach. The message, in accordance with standing instructions, was 'phoned on to all Superior Commanders and, as a result, the yeomanry came rushing into Holt and orders were received for the cyclist battalion, who turned out so soon as the alarm was given, to proceed at once to Weybourne. No sounds of firing could be heard, but the battalion moved off at about 3 a.m., passing through the yeomen, who lined each side of the road, only to find, on arrival at Weybourne, that all was quiet. Subsequently the G.O.C. arrived and had a somewhat heated interview with the O.C. Provisional Battalion. The cyclists and yeomanry were ordered to return to their billets, but all Sunday, troops, infantry and guns were moving on the railway through Holt to the coast and back again ; ample evidence that the message as to the landing had been taken seriously by the Higher Command. What the G.O.C. said to the O.C. Provisional Battalion would make interesting reading, but that, as Kipling says, "is another story," and would probably be unprintable!
The following month, (October), orders were received to construct strong points in various positions on the low cliffs. This meant excavations and lining with timber, a class of work to which cyclists were not accustomed. They were fortunate, however, in having in the Adjutant, Captain Latham, a professional civil engineer; under his direction the works were put in hand and were partially completed when War Office instructions were received to send all available men, and also all officers with machine gun training, to the First Line for service in East Africa. All coast duties, except the Brancaster Section, were handed over to a Provisional Battalion and the M.O. proceeded to select all those, with the unit, fit for foreign service. As a result, 375 rank and file left to join the 1/25th. The first detachment of 75, under 2nd-Lieut. Downs, left on ist December and the remainder, with Lieut. H. G. Smith and 2nd-Lieut. Chamberlain, four days later. It was still dark when the parade formed up on the Fairfield and marched to the station headed by the glee party of "H" Company, which had often cheered the battalion on the march with its part songs, to the tune of " The ten blue bottles." The 300 moved through the sleeping town and, just as day broke, the special train departed leaving the officers and the majority of the N.C.O.'s to lament the break-up of the battalion, but confident that the men they had trained would prove their mettle.
Recruits arrived from the Depot after Christmas. In January, 1916, the Adjutant, Captain Latham, was transferred to the Ministry of Munitions. All ranks were sorry to lose this very popular officer, who had never spared himself in promoting the efficiency of the battalion. Capt. M. Stoneham was appointed Adjutant in his place. Capt. King also left towards the end of January, on transfer to the i/1st Divisional Cyclist Battalion. A few days later, a Zeppelin raided Holt and every telephone line west of it was broken. No lives were lost, but a draft of recruits just arrived from the Depot had a shake up in their quarters, at Letheringsett, which was close to a searchlight station the Zeppelin was apparently anxious to locate and destroy. In January, it was learned that the First Line was to go to India instead of to E. Africa and Lieut. Smith returned, as an extra machine gun officer was not then required. He was subsequently attached to the Machine Gun Corps and went to France. Capt. Ransford went to a Divisional Cyclist Company. During February, there were heavy snowstorms and, as the Superior Command did not realise the reduced strength available still to carry on the patrolling, all ranks were worked hard; men were lucky if they got two nights a week on their bed boards.
To make matters worse, about this time the Authorities developed a mania for having cars, travelling at night, stopped and the battalion, or what was left of it, was constantly being turned out to block roads and catechise drivers and passengers. At last, however, orders were received to go to Bungay and, on 3rd April, the battalion moved. The distance was 43 miles and the riding time of 4 hours 25 minutes was not so bad, considering that the fittest men had been drafted to the First Line. At Bungay, billets were taken up and the battalion attached to the 2/1st Highland Mounted Brigade (Yeomanry). One hundred and forty recruits arrived from the Third Line, and on 19th April were inspected by Field Marshal Lord French at Benacre Park, where the tedium of waiting was enlivened by the doleful strains of the pipe band of the Highland Yeomanry. On the 25th April, the alarm sounded soon after midnight and gunfire was heard from the direction of the coast. It transpired, afterwards, that the Germans had carried out a tip and run raid on Yarmouth and Lowestoft. At the end of the month the battalion moved into camp on Beccles Common and stayed there till the end of October.
Beccles Common will always be remembered for its "plagues" - small frogs, mosquitoes, daddy-long-legs and earwigs. The training of the new recruits was hampered by having to find digging parties on coast defences at Kessingland. A medical officer now reported for duty, Capt. J. Howard Jones, R.A.M.C., and remained with the battalion till December, 1918 ; also a Regimental Institute was started in a marquee. Summer-time was notified for the first time in May, 1916, and reveille at really 5 a.m. on Beccles Common, was a daily affair.
Some Morris tubes were obtained and a range, where Major Sutton and R.S.M. Cleverley undertook musketry training, when men could be spared from the coast defence fatigues, was constructed.
Here, in June, a rumour went round that the battalion was to go to France as a complete unit. Some colour was given to this by the introduction of long dismounted route marches, the men carrying packs, etc.; but all hopes of the rumour being true were dispelled by an order, at the end of the same month, to send a draft of 100 other ranks to Base, B.E.F., France.
In August, musketry started at Garboldisham, Great Yarmouth Ranges; the first opportunity the second edition of the battalion had had of using its rifles. The original "Tower" rifles had been withdrawn before leaving Holt and a new rifle had been issued, with a bolt action but a different rifling to the service weapon, so that all drafts, before proceeding overseas, had to go through a course with the service arm. About this time, there was a call for men to help to get in the harvest and 100 other ranks left for this purpose. During that summer, the men made the acquaintance of the "Pulham Pigs," small dirigibles which passed over the camp from Pulham St. Mary to the coast and back again at night, spending the day over the North Sea searching for submarines.
At Beccles, a bugle band was started and used to play the battalion to Church on Sundays, and various Brass Hats carried out inspections at intervals. Winter had set in, by the middle of October, and the tents were stiff with hoar frost at reveille, but the sick parade still remained very small. On the 25th of the month, the battalion went into billets at Halesworth, two companies and H.Q. being billetted in the Maltings, whilst one company went to Bramfield and another to Wenhaston. Field firing was carried out on the beach at Benacre and, in the middle of November, good-bye was said to thirteen of the sixteen motor cyclists, who were transferred to the Machine Gun Corps Heavy Battery ("Tanks").*
In December, six officers were transferred to the battalion from the 10th London Regiment and, on Christmas Eve, a surprise turn-out was ordered but, after standing to for several hours, the parade was dismissed without anything happening. A false alarm, the reason for which remains a secret.
In January, 1917, the strength was increased by the transfer of men from various infantry battalions of the London Regiment and, during the same month, the sound of guns from the Coast, early one morning, was found to be caused by another German tip and run raid, this time on Southwold. From then onwards the battalion was in a state of constant change. Men arrived; were taken on the strength and in due course left for B.E.F. The officers and N.C.O.'s, however, remained with the battalion.
In February, a draft was sent to Salonika and Lieut. Parkinson (who had taken over the Motor Transport after Lieut. H. G. Smith left) was transferred to B.E.F. and seven of the motor lorries departed, never to return. In May, the battalion went under canvas on the Layers, at Saxmundham, next door to the Suffolk Cyclists. In June, the Battalion had two days' manoeuvres under service conditions and arrived back in camp on a Saturday afternoon. Early next morning, 17th June, machine gun fire was heard to the south and orders were given to vacate tents and scatter round the camp field as a Zeppelin was about. As dawn broke, the Zeppelin was seen above, motionless, but no "eggs" were dropped. She then began to move away very slowly, towards the coast. One of our aeroplanes came up from the south, but could not get up to her level. Another plane, however, came up from the west, reached the Zeppelin and started firing at her. In a few moments she became a mass of flames and, enveloped in black smoke, began to fall. The battalion turned out and the motor cyclists, having found the wreckage at Theberton, mounted guard over the remains whilst the Suffolk Cyclists erected a barbed wire fence round the field. The Suffolks returned to camp, but the Londons remained encamped on the spot till 15th July, by which date all valuable portions of the wreck had been removed. The bodies of the crew were disentangled from the wreckage and laid in a barn near by and finally buried in Theberton Churchyard. There were two survivors, one with both legs broken and the other uninjured ; these were taken off to Bury St. Edmunds. After this excitement, nothing occurred to break the monotony of existence except frequent arrivals of new men and their subsequent departures for B.E.F., France.
In October (1917), the battalion went into winter billets, two companies and H.Q. at Saxmundham and two companies at Peasenhall. The following month, there was a call for men for the new Agriculture Labour Corps and some thirty cyclists were found who professed knowledge of the subject.
Christmas Day was spent in as festive a manner as possible. The Colonel visited the quarters and messes and the Second-in-Command managed to provide plum puddings. The following April (1918), nine officers from France were posted to the battalion, which went under canvas on the Layers again, only this time in that part, thereof, where the Suffolk Cyclists camp had stood. In May, the War Office at last remembered that there were some officers available for overseas and four left during the following month. Just when the battalion had settled down again, it was suddenly moved up the coast to Henham Park, close to Wangford, on the Lowestoft road. This was not a pleasant spot. It was covered with troops and, the grass having been worn off the surface of the sandy soil, sand was blowing about all day and night.
There being no proper supply, all drinking water had to be brought in tanks from Southwold, so no sorrow was felt when orders were received to move south to Wickham Market, where camp was pitched in a field on the west side of the main road from Ipswich. By this time most of even the A3 men had gone overseas. The strength had dropped to about 200. Suddenly, a draft of about 300 officers and ranks from the Bucks, Oxford, Bristol and Gloucester Volunteer Battalions arrived to be attached for three months.
They were a mixture of youths under 17 and men over 50, but were all keen to learn. One advantage of having this reinforcement was that the majority of the tents, previously issued, were promptly withdrawn as not being weatherpoof after a complaint had been made to an inspecting Brass Hat. These Volunteers remained attached till the end of September, when they left to return to their units. Winter quarters were taken up in October. One company was left in Wickham Market and the remainder went to Rendlesham Park, in wooden hutments, which had been built for the Yeomanry in the early days of the war. They were badly in need of repair, but finally were patched up so as to keep the water out. They were, however, only one plank thick, so that the temperature was almost as low inside as out. Early in November, Major Sutton was transferred to the Ministry of Shipping, to the regret of all ranks. He had been the Colonel's right hand man from the start and, both in musketry and administration, had rendered valuable service to the battalion. By this time, the battalion possessed a small battery of Hotchkiss guns, and, owing to the age and physique of the recruits posted during the previous twelve months, it could no longer be regarded as a cyclist battalion. The "Battery" consisted of over 40 of these guns and, when ordered to the coast, the remaining motor transport vehicles carried not only the guns and ammunition, but also the gunners; only those who could, cycled.
When the news was circulated, in November, 1918, that the German Fleet had orders to come out, the battalion moved to the coast between Aldeburgh and Dunwich, where strong points, known as "pill boxes," had been prepared. For forty-eight hours it had a trying time, so far as the weather was concerned, but, without firing a shot, it was ordered back to hutments.
This was the battalion's last "stand to" for, a few days later, the Armistice was signed. After Christmas, demobilisation started and, by the end of March, the strength was two officers (the C.O. and a 2nd-Lieut.) and three other ranks (the R.S.M. and two store-keepers). The other officer having been sent overseas, the Colonel carried on until, left with one man only, he was finally demobilised on May 19th, 1919.
Such is the record of the 2/25th. Born in a wave of enthusiasm, raised and commanded by the man who had made military cycling his life's work, staffed and officered to a great extent by ex-members of the oldest cyclist corps in the world, the battalion ever cherished the hope of being sent overseas on active service as a cyclist unit.
Although this hope was doomed to disappointment and the 2/25th never went on active service abroad, as such, those whose patriotic endeavours raised and trained the battalion may console themselves with the thought that, in the hour of England's greatest danger, they helped to guard her coasts and, once that danger past, they sent more than a thousand men overseas to fight for her in every area of war.
With the break-up of his battalion, Colonel Gilbertson Smith saw the last of the 25th, as cyclists. The First and Third Lines, themselves soon to be disbanded, had both been converted into infantry years before and he, alone, had continued to the end, commanding a battalion of the arm he had helped to create.
Those who know the inner history of military cycling in the British Army know, also, that, without his untiring efforts, neither the units of which this volume treats nor any other cyclist battalion would have been included in the Territorial Force.
From 'The London Cycle Battalion'
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