25th County of London Cyclist Battalion
The London Regiment


3/25th London Regiment


The Third Line - November 1914 to September 1919.

Early in November, 1914, the Second Line (2/25th) having departed for Lewes, authority was given for the formation of a Third Line Depot, at Fulham House, with an establishment of 1 officer, 1 sergeant and 5 other ranks. This Depot, under the command of Lt.-Col. (then Major) H. A. Stenning, was created for the purpose of enlisting, though not at that time training, recruits for the First and Second Lines, which were both on coast service, and large numbers of men were enrolled, equipped and sent in drafts to the First Line at Oulton Broad, Suffolk, and the Second on the South Coast.

By December, these two battalions reached establishment, but it was decided that recruiting should be continued and the men maintained in full subsistence billets in the Fulham and Putney districts. Certain warrant officers and N.C.O.'s were seconded from the service battalions to assist the O.C. Depot with the training, which was carried out in the Bishop's Field and on Wimbledon Common, on the plan and under similar conditions adopted in the case of the Second Battalion.

Patriotic enthusiasm and, therefore, enrolment not having abated, there were between 300 and 400 men attached to the Depot by March, 1915, with more being sworn in each day, when the strenuous efforts, which the Officer Commanding had been making, eventually resulted in authority being granted for the formation of the 3/25th (Cyclist) Battalion, The London Regiment, under Lt.-Col. H. A. Stenning, with 'Capt. G. A. Turnour, from the 1st Battalion, as the second-in-command.

Training continued, all ranks still being in full subsistence billets, until August, 1915, when the battalion had grown to such proportions that a change was essential. During this month, a move was made to Butts Farm, Hanworth, Middlesex, which is, or was, a cherry farm belonging to a firm of preserve manufacturers. The men were accommodated, for the most part, in large dormitories which had previously been used by the employees of the firm and, for the first time since enrolment, experienced the mixed blessing of receiving their rations in kind, instead of having everything served up to them, complete, by billet keepers. Cooks were appointed and Aldershot ovens erected in the farmyard with the result that the troops had reason to realise they were, at last, real soldiers. It was murmured, in the neighbourhood, that several local chicken runs showed signs of depletion; in fact, it was even openly said that the Aldershot ovens were baited and that, when unsuspecting chickens entered in search of titbits, the doors were shut and the birds cooked, feathers and all ; but, in the absence of proof, this calumny must be treated with suspicion.

After only a few weeks occupation, it was decided that the accommodation at Butts Farm was not all that could be desired and a further move took place in September, to Tudor House, Hanworth, which was quite close by. This, a large mansion, included orchards and a large kitchen garden in its many acres of grounds. The troops were quartered partly in the house and, for the rest, outside under canvas. The battalion orderly room was in the building itself and the company offices and quartermaster's stores in the stables and outbuildings. These, unfortunately, were very old and leaky, necessitating, in wet weather, the use of dozens of buckets to catch the drips and prevent the stores and records being spoiled. Suitable facilities not being available in the house, the officers were quartered in private dwellings in the immediate vicinity.

From the point of view of the men, Tudor House offered many advantages. The large kitchen allowed of improved cooking, while the produce from the gardens, which included grapes and figs in addition to the more ordinary fruit and vegetables, proved welcome additions to the normal issues. The pleasant surroundings and nearness to London served to keep everyone in good humour in spite of the arduous work which was carried out in Hanwork Park which, practically surrounding headquarters on all sides, formed an almost ideal parade and manoeuvring ground.

The lighter side of life was not forgotten and mention must be made of a temporary stage which was erected on the lawn outside headquarters and on which several alfresco concerts took place, while the good weather lasted.

In this manner the autumn passed and the unsuitability of Tudor House, as a winter camp, became manifest. It should be remembered that, apart from the unsatisfactory condition of the stables and outbuildings, which comprised the company offices and stores, a large percentage of the men were under canvas-an undesirable state of affairs during the cold months in England. Feeling somewhat like nomads, who are continually changing their place of abode, the battalion, in November, once more packed up its goods and effects to move into Feltham, with headquarters at Highfield Works (late Pritchett & Gold's Accumulator Works), in which were situated the battalion orderly room, quartermaster's stores and offices, pioneer shop, armoury and cycle sheds. The distance not being great, the officers' mess remained in Hanworth Park and the troops, once more, tasted the joys of full subsistence billets in Feltham village.

The new H.Q. offered an agreeable change for the better, particularly so far as the various stores were concerned, all the buildings being of brick and reinforced concrete, with dry accommodation for several hundred machines, in addition to the transport and motor cycles.
It was thought., however, that the battalion orderly room was not sufficiently central in relation to the billets and, consequently, it was moved to premises in the High Street.

Despite, and during, the move, training was continued, uninterruptedly, in Hanworth Park.

About this time, it was decided to form the Army Cyclist Corps and, as part of the nucleus, 120 other ranks were transferred from the 3/25th to this new body, forming the 47th Divisional Cyclist Company, which eventually proceeded overseas to France.

This practically concludes the history of the battalion, as cyclists, for, early in May, 1916, instructions were received to return all cycles to Ordnance, as the battalion was to be trained exclusively as infantry. The title was changed to the 3/25th (Reserve) Battalion, The London Regiment. It will be observed that the First Line had already been parted from its machines in November, 1915, and that only the Second Line remained mounted.

It was understood, at the time, that the cycles were to be reissued to cavalry units for training, owing to the shortage of horses. Whether this was the case or whether, as seems more likely, it had been decided, rightly or wrongly, that infantry were of more use in the war than cyclists, the fact remains that, some time afterwards, the battalion, while on a route march, was treated to the delightful spectacle of a squadron of troops, complete with spurs, riding - or for the most part failing to ride-cycles which they, the tired foot slogging P.B.I., had been trained, from their enrolment, to handle.

With the advancement towards summer, a further move was ordered, in May, 1916, to Richmond Park, where everyone came under canvas in the old Deer Park. The battalion was brigaded with reserve units of the London Scottish, H.A.C. and R.A.M.C. It was from here that the first drafts to leave for service areas were sent, one large contingent leaving to join the First Line in India, which they did at Hebbal during the summer.

The following months were extremely hot and, in consequence, the conditions under canvas, for recruits unused to the life, were very trying, and it was well that the battalion had such neighbours as the H.A.C. and the London Scottish to "keep it on its toes." Under the new regime, ceremonial guard mounting, often under the eyes of the Brigadier himself (not to forget, as one correspondent has pointed out, the admiring throng of maidens outside the railings), became one of the orders of the day.

Three months later, in August, 1916, as the result of a general re-arrangement, it was decided to amalgamate certain London Regiments, and, to this end, the 1st London Reserve Brigade was formed with headquarters at Fovant, Salisbury. The 3/25th (Reserve) Battalion, The London Regiment, was amalgamated with the 3/l0th Battalion, The London Regiment ("The Hackney Ghurkas"), under the title of the 10th (Reserve) Battalion, The London Regiment, with headquarters at Hurdcott Camp, Salisbury, under the command of Col. H. A. Stenning, T.D. (later O.B.E.). A large number of the administrative posts were taken over by warrant officers and N.C.O.'s of the 3/25th, and that these were no sinecure can be gathered from the fact that the battalion was now about 2,400 strong and had to supply, as required, drafts for the 1/25th, in India, the 2/25th, on the East Coast, the 1/10th, in Salonika, and the 2/10th, in France.
The 1st London Reserve Brigade consisted of the following:

Line Battns. : 1st Reserve Battn. (comprising 1 /3rd, 1 /4th, 3/3rd).
                     2/4th Lines, 1st & 2nd City of London Regt., R. Fusiliers. 
                     3rd Reserve Battn. (comprising 3/3rd, 3/4th, 4/3rd, 4/4th). 
                     Lines 3rd & 4th City of London Regt., R. Fusiliers. 
Rifles- 5th Res. Battn., 3 /5th County of London Regt. (L. R. R.).
Rifles- 6th            "      3 /6th     " "
Line- 7th             "       3 /7th     " " ("Shiny Seventh").
Rifles- 8th           "       3 /8th     " "  (P.O. Rifles).
Rifles- 9th           "      comprising :-
                     3 /9th County of London Regt. (Victoria Rifles).
                     3 /11th " " (Paddington Rifles).
                     3/12th " " (Rangers). 
Line- 10th Res. Battn., comprising :-
                     3 /10th County of London Regt. (Hackney). 
                     3 /25th          " "   (Cyclists).

which, as a whole, was being called upon to supply reinforcements to practically all the theatres of war, including France, India, Egypt, Salonika, Palestine and, even, Archangel.

Doubtless the amalgamation was essential, but it was unquestionably a very great blow to the personnel of the 3/25th, and especially to the many officers and N.C.O.'s who had been seconded from the two service battalions, as it meant that they completely lost their identity with the old battalion. After the initial difficulties had been smoothed over, however, the two units fraternised exceedingly well, both during training and in the various theatres of war to which combined drafts were sent.

It so happened that practically the whole of the original 3/25th, with the exception of the few senior warrant officers and N.C.O.'s who were engaged on instructional work, pro ceeded to France from Hurdcott; most of them joining the 7th Londons (the "Shiny Seventh") and the London Irish. It can well be seen that, as a result of the alterations which had taken place, the 25th was represented in practically, if not every, theatre of war and that most front line battalions had some ex-London cyclists in their ranks. Reports which were received, regarding the capabilities and training of these men, left nothing to be desired, and it is therefore to be regretted that it is impossible, here, to give any idea of honours or casualties, though it is known that the latter, especially during the later years of the war, became extremely heavy.

In November, 1916, the 1st London Reserve Brigade removed to Devon, the different units being spread along the coast from Exeter to Paignton, with Brigade Head quarters at Torquay. The 10th (as the combined battalion will now be called) was stationed at Teignmouth, in full subsistence billets, for about the first month, before being transferred to empty houses, with rations issued in kind. The arrival of the battalion caused great excitement to the townspeople, as no troops had previously occupied the districts. Moreover, the incursion appeared doubly welcome because, in the normal way, Teignmouth is extremely quiet during the winter months. A real Devonshire reception was given on detraining - a welcome which will never be forgotten by its recipients. Many were the lasting friendships made during the battalion's stay in the town and some, progressing even further than this, ended in confetti.

Training continued its monotonous course, but the battalion, though ranked as a guest, did not forget its duties on the social side and gave weekly performances on the pier through the medium of its brass band, which was universally rated the best in the brigade. This, however, did not complete the entertainment which was given to the town. The unit had a very good concert party, which gave frequent performances to enliven the leisure hours which were thus not allowed to drag, either for the troops or their friends and billet keepers (in Devon, it is pointed out, it is possible to be both!).

Owing to the geographical position of Teignmouth, to all intents and purposes situated in a saucer shaped depression, with hills on all sides except the sea, field exercises were, necessarily, extremely strenuous. Added to this, the brigade being scattered over a large area, with Ordnance at Exeter and A.S.C. at Newton Abbott, the work of the quartermaster's department, to quote one only, was very arduous. Large drafts were constantly leaving for overseas so that the battalion, at that time, probably numbered less than half the total at the time of the amalgamation.

An old adage has it that "all good things come to an end," and the battalion proved the truth of this when, on May 2nd, 1917, in response to orders, it turned its back on the sea and moved, in company with the rest of the brigade, to Blackdown, near Aldershot. As an expression of the affection in which the battalion was held (or was it of relief that it was leaving?), it may be mentioned that, although the departure took place at five o'clock in the morning, practically the whole of Teignmouth turned out to bid the troops " God Speed." This parting was every bit as memorable as the arrival ; the whole of the sea wall between Teignmouth and Dawlish, which lines the railway, was a mass of cheering inhabitants, and it may be said that the occupants of the troop train were not slow in responding.

Before finally leaving this very pleasant phase in the battalion's history, it should be placed on record that the 10th possessed a goat which, according to an authority, "smelt but did not bite," and about which a tale might be told. When the unit left Teignmouth it was decidedprobably because no one was sufficiently hardy to accept responsibility for its safe travel-that this animal should be turned out to grass on Exmoor. Some months later, when its existence was almost forgotten and the battalion was in a new station, several telegrams of such an urgent character were received from irate farmers and smallholders of Devon, regarding the alleged, but not admitted, depredations of this erstwhile pet, that it was deemed expedient to despatch a party, armed with a machine gun and a load of Mills grenades, to stalk and finally despatch it.

On arrival at Aldershot, the brigade occupied permanent barracks and temporary huts at Blackdown and Deepcut respectively-the 10th being first allotted quarters in Frith Hill Hutments. This was the first time that it had had experience of a proper military encampment, and the men appreciated the comfortable quarters, heated, as they were, with slow combustion stoves, the bed-boards to sleep upon, the canteens, recreation rooms, and facilities for outdoor sports. Situated in the midst of the Surrey pine woods, the position is ideal. Pirbright Ranges, which those who had served in the First Line, in pre-war days, remembered in connection with some cheery week-ends, was within a mile.

A distinguishing military feature, of this district, was the wonderful system of trenches, prepared during training by a miners' battalion from the North of England, which afforded excellent opportunities for training the troops who were to engage in trench warfare on the various fighting fronts.

It seemed that there was to be no rest for the weary, for, a few months later, another move took place, this time to the adjoining A.S.C. Lines, only a few hundred yards away.

It is a startling commentary on the peculiarities of memory that the main feature in connection with this camp to be recalled, at the time of preparing material for this history, was that it possessed the largest sergeants' mess in the brigade. There would be something startling in this were it not that it is the purpose for which it was used, that makes the chronicler remember it. It seems that, at about this time, it was decided that members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps-known to the world as "W.A.A.C.'s"-- should untertake certain executive work in the various battalions, with the idea of releasing as many men as possible for training and, ultimately, the war fronts. This decision, important though it was, probably would not have been recalled had the size of the sergeants' mess not reminded the writer of it. The conjunction of these two features led, after the necessary permission had been obtained, to sundry successful dances and it is this, rather than the military training, which has impressed the memory of the A.S.C. Lines, Blackdown, on the minds of the senior N.C.O.'s of that time.

Records show that a considerable number of all ranks were sent to France during this period, the majority of N.C.O.'s and men going to the 2/10th Londons (58th Division), and some to the 6th and 7th Londons. Officers, as they completed their training, were drafted to various units in all war areas.

Early in 1918, a large number of "under age" lads were posted to the battalion, the majority being ex-Air Force cadets who, presumably, had trained as infantrymen in the normal manner. Owing to the urgent need for men, as the result of the German offensive in March, a special War Office Order was issued to enable a draft of these lads, some 500 strong, to be sent to France.

A pause may well be made at this point to note that the 10th Londons appeared to have been regarded, at headquarters, as one of the best battalions in the brigade, not only for the excellence of the training given, but also as regards administration work. In many instances, ideas which were carried into effect in the battalion orderly room and quartermaster's department were put forward, by the Brigade Staff, to Higher Command and there was abundant proof that these were utilised and put into practice, not only by other battalions of the brigade, but even in other Commands.

On the training side, results were just as satisfactory. Of the considerable number of officers, W.O.'s, N.C.O.'s and men who were sent on various courses of instruction, the battalion had reason to be proud of the large proportion which were classed as "Distinguished." The brigade musketry, gas and messing officers were all supplied by the 10th, while officers and other ranks were also loaned for duty as instructors and assistant-instructors in gas, bombing, field engineering, and physical training to the Command Schools.

It should be mentioned also, at this stage, that besides its work in training recruits, the battalion also acted as the depot for returned casualties from the 1/25th, 1/10th and the 2/10th. These men, after recuperating from their wounds, did a certain amount of training and were again, in the normal course of events, sent overseas.

Although the war was now nearly at its end, yet another move was ordered and, on the 9th November, the battalion was detached from the 1st London Reserve Brigade and sent to Chiseldon Camp, Wiltshire, where it occupied huts. It will be remembered that, almost exactly three years previously, the 1/25th had moved to these hutments from Lowestoft for its final training before proceeding to India.

At this time a large number of German Guardsmen were held as prisoners at Chiseldon and, under escort, undertook many of the odd jobs around the camp.

Col. Stenning, being the senior officer, became Commandant, having under him South Africans, Trench Mortar Batteries, Royal Engineers, Army Service Corps details, Labour Battalions, R.A.M.C. Hospitals and details, with, of course, the guard over the enemy prisoners.

Before the troops had settled in their new quarters, news was received of the Armistice. Immediately Confirmation was received, the theatres at Swindon, some five miles away, communicated with the camp, offering free seats to the troops for that night. About three hundred men of the 10th, together with details of the other units, marched to Chiseldon Station in torrential rain and, after spending a memorable evening with their Swindon hosts, returned to camp at midnight. (If the historian is allowed to comment, he would call attention to the obviously excellent discipline which must have prevailed to have caused the men to return, at midnight, on such a day as that!)

The final move which the battalion was called upon to make, took place on the 27th December to Cosham, where Forts Widley and Purbrook were occupied until May, 1919. During this time, officers and other ranks were being gradually demobilised. On May 2nd, the cadre-all the men having been disembodied-was moved to the Headquarters Depot of the 10th Londons, at Hackney, where all queries relating to the final demobilisation of the regiment were cleared up. On the 5th September, 1919, the last Part 11. orders of the Battalion were issued, reading as follows :
"741099 Col.-Sergt. E. Ward, having proceeded to the Crystal Palace for dispersal, 5/9/1919, is struck off the strength accordingly."


From 'The London Cycle Battalion'


 

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