1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment (1926 - 1927 India)
In the winter of 1926 the 1st Battalion move to Allahabad. A draft of 108 men which had just arrived from England entrained for the new station direct from Bombay, so that only a strength of 15 officers and 476 other ranks marched out of Meerut on 28th December 1926. Since such a simple movement has now become to be thought of as primitive in comparison with the mobility of a modern mechanized unit, it will be of some interest to recall the story of the trek along the dusty Indian roads to Allahabad.
1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 'A' Company, Lewis Gun Platoon (1926) - Captain M. A. Hamilton-Cox seated 4th from left
(Top row second from left is Private George Frederick Jenkins (5242196) - The photo was kindly provided by Colin Jenkins his son)
The total distance covered was 384 miles in 33 marches, averaging eleven or twelve miles a day. A day's rest was taken at Bulandshahr, Akrabad, Karauli, Cawnpore, and Fatehpur, while at Gursahaiganj, familiarly known as "Goosey Gung," a much appreciated four days' halt was called.
To speed the Battalion on its long trek, the bands of the Scots Greys and Dorsets played our men out of Meerut Cantonments, while Major-General G. McK. Franks C.B., the District Commander at that time, rode out with the Commanding Officer for the first three miles.
The cavalcade of transport would indeed have been the ridicule of a new age of mechanization. Bullock and buffalo carts lumbered along piled up not only with the creature-needs of a battalion but also with an array of camp followers, and their pots and pans, chickens, dogs, and all the paraphernalia of a tribal migration! The system was that of simple contract by which the transport changed as one District was left and another entered. The Battalion mules, three private cars, the contractor's lorry, a mineral water lorry and the Officers' Mess Ford accompanied the column all the way.
1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment Signallers at Meerut, India in 1926
On most days the march would be completed by midday, leaving the afternoons for foot and rifle inspections. The transport then generally appeared, tents were quickly erected, serge donned, and dinner consumed, with time over for correspondence, sleep and shikar.
The men were accommodated in 160-pounder single-fly tents, and the allotment worked out at about fourteen men to a tent. Each day bolts were removed from rifles, and the rifles then buried in pits dug under each tent, the tent orderly sleeping over the rifles. Hay was provided to sleep on, but few men bothered to fetch it and all soon were accustomed to sleeping on the bare ground.
Shikar, though not plentiful, provided pleasant relaxation. The eventual bag covered nilghai, blackbuck and gharral as well as every conceivable species of game bird. Many of the men had long dogs and made good use of them after hare.
No description of the march would be complete without reference to a certain "pi-dog" (Indian feral dog) which fell in with the column early on, and, in spite of every discouragement from the Adjutant, the Sergeant-Major, Company guides and others, marched into Allahabad serenely determined to establish himself as a permanency. Accordingly he was accepted and promoted to the dignity of a collar.
One of the invisible assets of a dusty march of 400 miles in India was that it enabled the country folk to see the troops and the troops to see the country, an aspect of soldiering to which perhaps higher authority never gave sufficient attention. Soon after arrival at Allahabad a change of command saw the departure and arrival of two officers whose names have become very familiar in the annals of the Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel L. M. Stevens handing over to Lieutenant-Colonel W. F. O. Faviell.
MARCH OF THE 1st BATTALION FROM MEERUT TO ALLAHABAD
On the 14th December, 1926, an advanced party, consisting of "B" Company and 73 other ranks, attached from other companies, left. Meerut by rail for Allahabad to take over the British Infantry Barracks and the garrison of the Allahabad Fort from the 2nd Battalion The Queens.
This party, commanded by Major S. A. Gabb, O.B.E., M.C., was soon augmented by the arrival of our first draft of 108 all ranks, who had disembarked at Bombay on the 26th December, under the command of Major G. L. St. A. Davies, O.B.E.
Having only just arrived, and not being acclimatised, they were sent direct to Allahabad to await the arrival of the Battalion. This division of the battalion for a period of approximately eight weeks was unfortunate, but unavoidable, as the 2nd Battalion The Queen's Royal Regiment, whom we were relieving at Allahabad were due to sail for Khartoum.
The Battalion itself, thus depleted, marched out of Meerut on the early morning of December 28th with a strength of 15 Officers and 476 other ranks. The total distance to be marched was 384+ miles, and was completed in 33 marches, averaging eleven or twelve miles each. Our old friends in Meerut gave us a great send off, and the composite bands of the Greys and Dorsets played us out of cantonments. Major General G. McK. Franks, C.B., Commanding the United Provinces District at the time, rode with the Commanding Officer for the first three or four miles.
The route ran through Bulandshahr to Aligarh, and thence by the Grand Trunk road, through Cawnpore and Fatehpur.
Major S. A. Gabb
Our transport consisted of a varied assortment of bullock and buffalo drawn country carts that changed over as we left one area and entered the next. These carts and their drivers varied greatly in efficiency, and each caused company commanders much anxiety in the necessary repacking of loads.
The mules of the Vickers gun platoon, the battalion water mules, the company Lewis gun mules, the mineral water lorry, the contractor's lorry, three officers' private cars, and the Officers Mess Ford of course accompanied us all the way and formed the rest of our transport. The last and least of these vehicles is believed to have been taken to spur the weary, and to add a touch of humour to the proceedings.
All days of the week were treated the same as far as marching was concerned, but at Bulandshahr, Akrabad, Karauli, Cawnpore, and Fatehpur we had a day's rest. At Gursahaigank, familiarly known as Goosey Gunj, a four days' halt was arranged, and this break was much appreciated.
The men were accommodated in 160 pounder single fly tents and the allotment worked out at about 14 men to a tent. Each day bolts were removed from the rifles and the rifles themselves buried in pits dug in the earth under each tent. The tent orderly slept over the rifles so protected. Hay was provided to sleep upon, but few men bothered to fetch it, and all soon got accustomed to sleeping on the bare ground.
The daily routine varied only to suit the time of sunrise, or the length of the march; Reveille was so timed that breakfasts should be over, the camp struck, all transport loaded, and the battalion ready to move off, as soon as it was full daylight. On days when we had more than twelve miles to do, a mid-day halt was made and haversack rations consumed, but on normal days we reached camp before noon, and a tea meal, provided through the activities of an advanced cooks' cart party, was soon issued. Foot and rifle inspections followed, after which the transport generally appeared, tents were quickly erected, serge donned, the dinner meal consumed, and then came correspondence, sleep and shikar.
In his "Kim" Rudyard Kipling has described an Irish battalion pitching camp on this very route, and as the camping grounds we used are old established, the extract I give below refers no doubt to one of our actual camps.
"Soldiers. White soldiers," said he "Let us see. It is always soldiers when thou and I go out together. But I have never seen the white soldiers. They do no harm except when they are drunk. Keep behind this tree."They stepped behind the thick trunks in the cool dark of the mango tope." Two little figures halted; the other two came forward uncertainly. They were the advance party of a regiment on the march, sent out as usual to mark the camp. They bore five-foot sticks with fluttering flags and called to each other as they spread over the flat earth. At last they entered the mangogrove walking heavily. " It's here or hereabouts—officers' tents under the trees, I take it, an' the rest of us can stay outside. Have they marked for the baggage wagons behind ? " They cried again to their comrades, and the rough answer came back faint and mellowed. "Shove the flag in here, then," said one. *** "Hark, one beats a drum far off." * * * At first the sound carrying diluted through the still air, resembled the beating of an artery in the head, soon a sharpness was added. At the far end of the plain a heavy dusty column crawled in sight. Then the wind brought the tune. The rippling column swung into the level-carts behind it—divided left and right, ran about like an ant hill, and* * *the plain dotted itself with tents that seemed to rise, all spread from the carts.****unearthed cooking pots, pans, bundles, which were taken possession of by a crowd of native servants, and behold the mango tope turned into an orderly town, as they watched. * * * * Kim watched the routine of a seasoned regiment pitching camp in thirty minutes."
Without trying to criticise Kipling, the foregoing is not a bad description of the 1st Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment pitching camp, with the exception that I once timed them and found it took 25 minutes to get the tents all up, from the moment the first cart reached the camping ground.
One Officer and seven men left the line of march on duty or to compete in the athletic sports at Cawnpore, seven men were admitted to hospital, so the battalion marched into Allahabad at a strength of fourteen officers and 462 other ranks. A four hundred mile march in India with only one per cent or 2 per cent of minor casualties is not a bad achievement.The shikar on the line of march was rather disappointing. The first few days we rather expected to get indifferent sports owing to the proximity of Delhi and Meerut, but we hoped for better things when we got right away from the railway. With the exception, however, of the area about Etah and Malawan our hopes were not realised and we only discovered after we had left that area how good it had really been. Fortunately for us, too, the collectors' staff and the police authorities were most helpful in the best area, and I think the general opinion was that, although the jheels were too large, any shikar party that intended to try this area again would do well to make Etah or Malawan a centre for geese or teal shooting and Karauli a base for black buck.
The bag for the whole of the officers' mess was as follows:- 1 Nilghai, 4 Blackbuck, 3 Gharial, 141 Teal, 40 Duck, 49 couple snipe, 35 peafowl, 5 geese, 1 brace B. Partridge, 3 brace G. partridge, 7 quail, 6 hares, 1 sandgrouse, and 85 pigeon.
Many of the men had "long dogs" which they used to take out nearly every evening in search of hare. They got some very good sport at this and in addition they made very good use of the four shot guns of the battalion gun club until cartridges run out.
No description of the march would be complete without a mention of a certain "pie-dog" who joined us on the line of march. Some say he started with us from Meerut, others claim Hapur as his native place, but whatever it was he liked the battalion better and followed us. The Sergeant-Major shouted at him, he smiled and changed step; the Adjutant rode at him, he left the road ; company guides chased him, he dodged them ; orders were given to tie him up when the battalion moved out, he bit through the cord; he was chained up, but was released by a confederate. Whatever happened to him he was there every morning, getting visibly fatter and marching beside the drums and signallers. Presumably, having decided to adopt the regiment, he took its motto on as well, and so was christended "Old Faithful," was adopted by a sympathiser, promoted to the dignity of a collar, and now graces MacPherson barracks.
Lieutenant Speedy, R.A.M.C., was attached to us to look after our health, the success of his endeavours is ably demonstrated by the low percentage of casualties already referred to. Few of us, however, will ever fail to associate his name with the taste of chlorine. There were many episodes that served to relieve the tedium of the march. I refer to "elephant mounting," the reception of village delegations, "It is by chance," "The conjuror's snake," the attempted suicide of the mess Ford, and "Get hold of 'im," all of which are either too long or too abstruse for me to tackle.
The Essex band met us as we marched into Cawnpore and played us in, but in a laudable endeavour to show us their station, took us so far round that the transport officer nearly burst himself with pride at having, for once, reached camp before the battalion.
The Essex entertained us right royally, and when we left Cawnpore they were good enough to "speed the parting guest" by fighting a rearguard action with us. On arrival at Allahabad we were met by the Band and Drums of the 3/15 Punjab Regt. complete with pipers, who very kindly played us in. Major-General Nightingale, Commanding Allahabad Independent Brigade Area, also met us, and was good enough to compliment the battalion on a satisfactory march. Then, after a few additional words from Lieut.-Colonel Stevens, which will be remembered with pride by his hearers for many years, we marched off to company parade grounds and inspected our new homes.
The names of the Officers who actually marched with the battalion were as follows:
Commanding .... Lt.-Col. L. M. Stevens, D.S.O.
2nd in Command .... Major E. C. R. Hudson.
Adjutant .... Captain D. Chesney, O.B.E.
Quartermaster .... .... Captain C. H. Inwood, O.B.E., M.C.
"A" Company .... Captain M. A. Hamilton Cox. Lieutenant A. T. Burlton.
"B" Company .... Advance party.
"C" Company .... Major E. L. G. Lawrence, D.S.O., M.C. Lieutenant E. M. Dodd., Lieutenant N. H. Gurney. '
"D" Company .... Captain R. H. Melville Lee, Captain G. B. de Courcy-Ireland, M.V.O., M.C., Lieutenant F. S. Versfield, Lieutenant T. O. M. Edwards.
H.Q. Wing .... Major G. A. Slaughter, M.C. Lieutenant R. E. L. Tuckey.
Transport Officer .... Lieutenant A. O. W. Buchanan.
The compliments and thanks of all ranks were justly due to the excellent work performed by the Band and Drums, for the way they played us along under somewhat trying circumstances, to the Administrative department, and to the Regimental contractors.
Individuals and teams from the 1st Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment scored the following successes in shooting competitions held in 1925-1926:-
THE RING'S MEDAL AND ARMY RIFLE CHAMPIONSHIP (INDIA).
Class I.: R.S.M. M. Denning 3rd, 278, A.R.A. (India) Small bronze medal.
Captain L. J. Vicarage 5th, 268, A.R.A. (India), Small bronze medal.
Class II.: Private A. Wright 5th, 248, A.R.A. India, Small bronze medal.
1925-1926 COMPANY SHIELD.
" C " Company .... 900..... 18th.
" D " Company ....868..... 22nd.
" B " Company.... 845...... 24th.
1925-1926 QUEEN VICTORIA TROPHY.
1925-1926 KING GEORGE'S CUP :
1925-1926 HOPTON CUP.
14 Platoon .... .... 399........ 25th.
9 Platoon ......... . 396...... 26th.
1926-1927 POUPELL CUP.
6 Platoon .....193 ..........5th.
For the next two years the Battalion was to lead a settled life in Allahabad. The city had formerly been the capital of the United Provinces. It is situated at the junction of the Rivers Ganges and Jumna and with its municipality and at the time Cantonments boasted a population of 300,000. The site of the river junction known to Hindus as "Prayag" attracted an immense annual pilgrimage, in connection with which the Battalion was called on to perform duties in crowd control involving more tact than arduous force. Within the Fort was a shrine, and the task of our men was to prevent the over-zealous from overrunning the object of veneration.
The Cantonment area was well laid out, clean for an Indian station, with electric light and fans and a good piped water supply.